It’s not like people haven’t been working on an alternative to LoopNet. Some have crashed and burned, others are built out waiting for “them” to come and more are in the works. But nobody is using them much less showing any interest. Why? I’ll tell you a few of the major reasons why.
Nobody Knows Your Name
This is a chicken/egg game. If you’re a new site and you have no name recognition, no one wants to waste their time providing listings because no listings means no visitors so you go nowhere. The best path is to start in one market to prove you’ve got what it takes then branch out (a la 42Floors).
But you still have to do something about LoopNet’s dominance in Google Adwords. Maybe try social/local campaigns or a mobile app path.
Your Data Entry Options are Limited
Granted most brokerages and agents are terribly disorganized when it comes to keeping track of their listings. So if all you have is manual data entry, no one is going to bother entering listings anywhere but LoopNet – especially if no one knows about your site.
You at least need a spreadsheet import so create a nice, simple template with the minimum fields you need. (That might even be the start of better listing organization overall…). Add XML/RSS, PDF extraction or virtual assistants – whatever it takes to get the data in. Better yet, figure out a way for me or you to get my data out of LoopNet.
No Website Search Options
No, I’m not talking about your site, though I hope it’s got a mobile friendly search. I’m talking about an alternative to LoopNet’s template/offsite URL LoopLink so I can get my listings on my site. I’d even settle for an iFrame set up. Or giving me XML/RSS, exports, an API – more advanced options (because we’re not all disorganized) to get the data back so I can use it to create my own search interface would be nice, too.
Crummy Lead Notification/Management
Agents get an email. Then they have to log in to see their “reports.” Great for them, but the company may need to view all their agents’ activity so where’s my company account? And why can’t I add a CC notification for all those emails to sales managers or marketing staff so they can follow-up? Throw in some export options so the data can be used in the office or with other sources while you’re at it.
Agents are Cheap
Still stung by LoopNet’s bait and switch, agents believe that since they’re “giving” you their data, you should provide your platform to them for free. Sorry agents – there’s no such thing as a free lunch. You should expect to pay something to market your listings. It’s called an advertising expense.
And developers – LoopNet is not just a listings search/lead generation site. They’ve got or had marketing tools, sales comps, property information and basic market reports. It would cost you a bundle to create the same thing and you’d be hard pressed to survive by not charging agents for your platform when you’re offering free search. Because if you’re going to depend on agents buying “enhancements” – or even sponsors or ads on your site – to make money, it’s not going to work.
What’s The Solution?
You have to do something different and it has to be something agents and brokerages are willing to pay for. That would be their listings in a free national mobile listings app.
Figure out a way to get basic listing data, a photo and contact information, throw it into a database and then build a search app. Take a look at Zillow’s of Realtor.com’s app for inspiration. (Bonus points for verifying listing addresses first either via a map or matching on pre-populated building data.) Develop it on Android first since it has a bigger market share.
Charge a flat fee per listing, cost per impression or click – or something. LoopNet says it has 800,000 listings, but let’s say they really only have half that number. If you charged $1-2 to display a listing for 60 days, you’d have – well, get out your calculators, crunch the numbers and make it work.
Once you’re up and running, you can scale from there. Offer mobile ads that show up with the search results. Focus on social marketing tools and integration with commonly used reporting, mapping and marketing apps. Do you really think you can build something better than MailChimp, Salesforce or Google Earth?
I can’t be the only one who’s tired of looking at updates to the last century’s commercial real estate marketing technology. It’s time to stop reinventing the wheel and start building something new for CRE.