Interview with Bob Merrifield, Elite Customer

Interviewed by Kellian Schneider
Friday, January 4, 2008

What's your primary objective for your XSite? What results have you seen?

When people visit my XSite, it's difficult to measure the long term results for me as an appraiser. The primary thing I want to communicate to visitors (irrespective of whether they're attorneys, banks, mortgage companies or private individuals) is that I offer a variety of appraisal products and resources to help with their appraisal need. Even if an order doesn't come immediately, I feel it's important to get the exposure from people who come and use my XSite as a resource. Not only does an appraiser's XSite communicate to visitors about the services and information you offer, but it also indicates the degree of professionalism and technical capabilities you offer. For example, I've had attorneys call and say they visited my website and think it's outstanding, and now want to employ my services for their particular need. To me, it's important that people who don't know me are able to formulate some type of an opinion about me as a professional appraiser.

What does the traffic on your XSite look like? 

In the last 7 days, I've had about 109 visitors; in the last 30 days, about 500; over a 90 day period I've had around 1,560 visits. Not only do I watch the number of visits, I also monitor the areas of the site that are visited, which I feel is significant b/c it gives me an idea of what individuals are looking at and what specific areas seem to be most important to them.

I would say that the top things people look for in my site are the appraiser qualification information, and from there moves into different areas such as using the online calculator or finding information on specific topics such as tax appeals or questions on divorce appraisal. I monitor which topics are being visited and how frequently.

I keep track of how online visitors are finding my site and whether they're coming in via Google search, Yahoo, America Online, etc., I found that all the major search engines (and not just one in particular) are finding my XSite and bringing people to me.

I can also tell that within the last 90 days, there have been 75 repeat visitors with around 50 first time visitors to my XSite. It's important to me to know that people are using my site and returning to it, and I feel (as an appraiser) that it's critical to my business.

Why do you think clients & prospects return to your site?

I think there are a variety of reasons that people visit the site. Clients like banks and attorneys are looking for specific things that would relate to their profession and ordering appraisals. Individuals are looking to the site for personal appraisals for a variety of reasons, whether it be tax appeal, dropping PMI or just looking at what areas I cover.

What tips do you have for appraisers that are setting up their XSites? 

When it comes to XSites or other a la mode tools, my professional advice is that this is probably the best time for an appraiser to take time to get set up. Use the extra time you have due to this market which has had substantial decline to your benefit by setting up your XSite and integrating the various components. As business and the economy within the appraisal industry increases, you will have a competitive advantage because you've been on the learning curve ahead of time. One of the more difficult times to set up XSites and other new tools is when you're exceptionally busy because it becomes just one more thing you have to do instead of looking at it from the perspective of how much it will benefit your bottom line.

XSites take some time and effort to set up, so my advice is to set up your XSite in stages; give yourself an opportunity to understand each component you implement and how it's going to be beneficial to you. Then selectively use the XSite components that are most effective to you. I think that once your XSite is set up and you begin to use it and see direct results, then you'll want to utilize your XSite even more.

If you get confused when you're setting up your XSite, make sure to talk with someone from technical support. If you ask questions - and not just become frustrated- you'll get the information that's necessary to set up your site.

It it worth it? The responses that I've gotten about my XSite tell me that it is. Both lenders and attorneys have told me that they think my site and how it's being used is a tremendous asset. Mortgage companies, banks and attorneys like the ability to go on the website and utilize different resources with their clients. Even though it's not necessarily an immediate business transaction for me, it allows me the competitive advantage of helping them with their ongoing business and professionalism, keeping my appraisal services in front of them.

Which components of your XSite do you recommend setting up first?

Well, from my personal experience, it's critical to set up your client database with their emails. A lot of the different components of the XSite and XSellerate will draw from your client base, whether it be campaigns or e-mail notifications.

E-mail notifications, for example, are important because communication is a vital component to lenders and how much work you're going to be receiving from them in the long term. XSites allows you to constantly communicate with your lender without having to call by sending an e-mail status report on an appraisal you're completing. Therefore the lender doesn't have to call you to ask you about what's transpiring with the appraisal... you're staying ahead of the game by proactively making your client aware of the status throughout the process. 

Are there any critical things appraisers need on their homepage? 

When setting up your homepage, the theme is not necessarily what's going to draw somebody to your site, but should reflect the type of image you want your business to portray.

Keep in mind that if you're going to use language in your homepage that is consistent with other appraisers' language, then you're going to be pretty consistent with all the other appraisers and it's not going to set you apart in your profession.

I think it's critical to answer these questions on your XSite homepage:

1. What is it about you, your company, or the people who work with you that makes you worth hiring?
2. What makes you different?
3. What makes you a valuable asset to someone else who would want to hire you to do a job?

Consider carefully what somebody would be looking for if they needed an appraisal for a specific purpose or in a specific location. Think in terms of "If I were the one doing a search for an appraiser, what words would I enter to find the particular appraisal that I need?"

When you set up your homepage for the first time, consider it to be your rough draft. Then monitor and see what's happening. If you're not getting a lot of visitation to your homepage, think about why and then revise. Keep revising it until you get to what you consider to be one of your final copies.

I've changed my homepage several times to see what kind of responses I would get. I would continue to revise it until I got it to what I felt was the final copy for a temporary period of time which gave me the most visits to that homepage. My experience is that the more I revised the language within the homepage, the better I learned what words were most effective and how to position the words within my homepage to get the most people visiting.

It's like doing an appraisal report: if the project is broken down into segments over a period of time, it is not overwhelming and gets done and done well. Just like turning out a professional, competent appraisal report, you now have professional software and tools from a la mode that provides you with elements to enhance all aspects of your business.

What were some of your more successful XSellerate campaigns?

The most successful campaigns I've sent include information or a personalized note to attorneys, mortgage companies or individuals. I believe the campaigns need to be more personalized than just a form type of e-mail. I've found that it's very effective to invite people to my website... I've received calls from attorneys and other clients complimenting the site. They think it must've taken a lot of time and money to set it up. I get people asking who designed my webpage so well. Many comment on how informative it is. The positive reinforcement that I've gotten has been exceptional.

The purpose of my campaigns is to let the contact know that I'm here to provide professional services, and invite them to contact me if they need my services. I also invite them to my website and 90% of the time, people will visit. It's been very successful for me.

What tips would you pass on to appraisers about using XSellerate to create a campaign?

I think you have to think through carefully how you're going to set up your campaign and consider what your goal is. What are you trying to accomplish with the campaign? Because campaigns allow you to send notices out on a recurring basis, you have to look at the fine line between being informative and being a nuisance.

Also, when you're starting a campaign, before you send anything to anyone, send it to yourself first. Make sure that it comes to your e-mail and that it's exactly what you want people to receive.

Can you talk to us about the attorney work you're doing?

Attorney work can be difficult to establish if you don't already know a number of attorneys. My experience has been that the attorney work I receive is based off of specialized ability and knowledge as well as attorneys knowing the competency you offer as an appraiser. I've found that initially it starts off with working for one or two attorneys who then recommend you to other attorneys because of the quality of work, performance, and high degree of professionalism that you provide. 

How do you get your foot in the door? 

For an appraiser who doesn't know attorneys or have a lot of connections within the legal world, a good way to become established is by asking bank clients and mortgage companies what attorneys they use for closings. Many lenders don't keep their own attorneys unless they're a large lending institution; they'll typically hire independent attorneys to come in and do the work. Try to get a connection with an attorney through these lenders that will hopefully become many connections. Word of mouth within the legal profession travels quickly; therefore if you can get established as an appraiser who's very good in terms of foreclosure, divorce, probate, tax appeals, etc., then normally the word travels. That's how I got established and now I work for a number of attorneys, which is diversifying my profession.

In a situation like this, I recommend sending a professional letter on your letterhead as a first step to introduce yourself. Follow it up with your XSellerate and XSite communications to keep yourself in the mind of that particular attorney, reminding them that you do the type of work they specialize in.