If you’re a rental prospect, Peggy Hale and the rest of her Morgan Properties staff is ready for your phone call and for your business, but if you’re looking to get some information, or even set up an appointment via email, you might as well forget it.

Beginning this year, the King of Prussia, Pa.-based owner/operator of 30,626 units has sought to eliminate virtually all email leads coming into the leasing office. For Hale, Morgan’s vice president of sales, marketing, and training, the abandonment of email was based on simple math, but did not come without a certain amount of trepidation.

“It was one of the scariest decisions I’ve ever made,” says Hale, who conducted an analysis of the 114,000 leads Morgan Properties received in 2009 and discovered some shocking conversion ratios that led to the firm’s email dump. According to the analysis, 61 percent of all Morgan leads were coming in through the phone, with prospects making appointments 47 percent of the time. Comparatively, 29 percent of leads were coming in via email, but appointments in those cases were made less than 5 percent of the time (an additional 10 percent of leads were coming in through VaultWare, 15 percent of which made appointments, but those prospects were much closer to the final closing process).

So the company retrained its staff in 2010, and they're starting to show results that indicate they may have made the right move by shutting down their virtual inbox.

A New Mindset
Moving to a no-email lead follow-up mentality took some work. "We retrained: You always follow up first with the people you have met or have visited the community because they are that much closer to making a commitment,” Hale says. “Second, follow up with prospects that have called us directly or through Level One because they have already spent five to eight minutes with you, and they are narrowing down their selection. Third, go after VaultWare leads because even though they might not convert into appointments as highly, you are dealing with a prospect that already knows which corner of your community they want to be at, which unit they want, which view and amenities they want, and they know their price point."

But email? "Emailers are simply just much earlier in the cycle, sending out cold calls to see what’s happening out there,” Hale says.

Morgan Properties also took measures to change rental prospect behavior, asking national ILS and marketing vendor partners to remove the “email me” links and buttons on their sites, or at least place those buttons far down on splash and information web pages. For any email that did not come directly from morganproperties.com, senders received an automated form response pointing them to a web chat or phone service to obtain faster, better services. “We were basically saying that we don’t want an email,” Hale says. “We looked instead for the phone numbers to be more prominently displayed: 'Call us 7 days a week, 24 hours a day.' We just wanted to entice that phone call.”

Positive Signs
Results in the first quarter of 2011 have been telling: Morgan Properties leads year-over-year are slightly flat to up, with a portfolio-wide increase of 3 percent. Phone leads increased 24 percent, email leads dropped 65 percent, and the firm’s appointment ratio jumped by 25 percent.

“It was phenomenal,” Hale says. “We got more phone calls, and we set more appointments, and when we saw the results we had a high-five party.”

Next up at Morgan Properties is the completion of an LRO revenue management systems roll out, and Hale expects pricing optimization to further benefit rent fundamentals that see occupancy across the Morgan Portfolio at 95 percent and rents for 2011 thus far beating budget even after experiencing sizzling 2010 rent improvements.

Also completing an LRO integration this summer is Phoenix-based Alliance Residential, which sees revenue management technology as a key to unlocking opportunities in automating renewal processes across the firm’s portfolio of 49,600 units under management. 

“I think like most multifamily companies, we’ve gotten the basics covered in terms of online services for our residents: online work orders and online payments both have seen extremely high penetration through our Yardi Portal system,” says Alliance vice president of technology Scott Pechersky. “There is a renewal workflow in the system and within the next six months, we expect to have renewal quotes populated into that workflow by LRO and put out on our portal sites. We’re looking forward to it.”

Editor’s note: For more on automated renewal systems, check out the July 2011 issue of Multifamily Executive