It costs, on average, seven times more to sign a new customer than it does to retain one, and this stat rings true for vacation rental managers. But in today’s market, homeowner retention is far more than a huge cost saving – it’s survival. Just as it is essential to have a plan to recruit new owners, property managers need strategies to keep them in the rental program.
As Amy Hinote writes in “Owner Acquisition Strategy: B2B + B2C =B2O”:
“The relationship with the homeowner has both business and personal elements, so a healthy owner acquisition strategy combines business-to-business (B2B) and business-to-consumer (B2C) sales and marketing tactics to create a business-to-owner (B2O) plan… The B2B purchase process tends to be rationally and logically driven, while consumer choices are typically emotionally triggered…Design the messaging to highlight the advantages of your program and appeal to the homeowner in both a professional and personal way.”
Owners do not shed these needs once their contract is signed, so neither should a property manager’s internal marketing. Recruitment never really ends; it simply becomes owner retention, which is always “re-recruiting” ahead of the next contract renewal. Here are some easy-to-implement strategies to ponder when creating a retention marketing plan.
Show owners what you do—don’t just tell them.
While traditionally used to help writers improve their storytelling, this advice is just as relevant in retention. As Jimmy Maymann writes, “the age of talking at consumers is over.”
Owners can only hear a property manager vaguely say what they’re doing so often before the words start to lose meaning.
But what if an inspector texts a photo of a housekeeper elbow deep in dust behind a fridge? Or what if the company posts a video on social media of the maintenance crew tying down deck furniture before a hurricane? Or what if a guest service team member emails an owner a group photo with a family reunion wearing matching shirts with their home’s name on them?
That personal, visual engagement has staying power, which inspires warmth and confidence. Implementing show-don’t-tell practices like these across communications is a relatively simple and often enjoyable way to maximize owner retention activities.
Pay attention and communicate with specificity.
“What are you doing for my home?” Every property management staff member gets this question regularly. Of course, much of what a company does for one home is the same as what it does for all, and owners understand this. Still, owners deserve to feel like someone is paying attention specifically to their home, which will go a long way in keeping them in a program.
Communicating with specificity can convey just that—that they’re being paid attention to.
Consider the following messages:
Company A: “We market your home online.”
Company B: “In addition to our standard digital marketing activities, we’ve been pushing Beach House’s two open summer weeks in two email campaigns on 4/16 and 5/6 and in a social media feature on 5/11. We’ve also begun actively promoting your fall openings in some pet-friendly and fall events campaigns.”
Company A: “We completed all deep cleans in early spring.”
Company B: “Molly and a housekeeping team completed Mountain Lodge #43’s deep clean on March 5. We noticed quite a bit of dust buildup, so we recommend replacing filters more often this year; but your floors, bedding, and appliances are all in great condition.”
Company A: “Pool pump inspections are done before pools open for the start of the season.”
Company B: “James is scheduled to inspect your pool pump on April 3. He will be checking all mechanical equipment as well as the filters and chemical levels while he is there, and we anticipate having his full report to you by April 5.”
While both companies may be doing the exact same things, which one would an owner likely prefer to do business with? With owners in your program, you have a huge upper hand in being able to communicate with each of them at this personal level of detail. Your competitors don’t, so utilize this gift at every opportunity. In an owner retention marketing plan, build in systems to keep detailed notes on each property so relaying information to individual owners is quick and thorough.
Be proactive and demonstrate integrity in identifying and solving problems.
Letting a problem occur is excellent marketing—for competitors. One huge advantage a vacation rental company has over its competition is intimate knowledge of its homes and the opportunity to be proactive. Staff can spot a potential problem, solve the root cause before it becomes a crisis, and then tell the owner specifically what they did. Not only does this demonstrate that they’re paying attention (see above), it minimizes any temptation for that owner to respond to competitors’ marketing.
Proactivity is an opportunity for everyone to participate in owner retention. Basic departmental cross-training and an easy reporting process will help teams work together better and faster, which will go a long way toward maintaining owners’ trust in the care of their home. Training for proactive communications can include empowering housekeepers to catch leaks and report them to maintenance on the spot, developing data reports that help management uncover weakening booking patterns before it is too late, and implementing thorough inspection protocols in the off-season to prevent major issues down the road.
Be willing to customize management (within reason) for high-profit homes.
In his article “Key to Exponential Growth: Fire Your Owners Regularly” in the VRM Intel Winter 2018 issue, Wes Melton talks about categorizing owners on two scales, low-effort/high-effort and low-profit/high-profit, when deciding which owners to let go. The same concepts can be applied when deciding what owners a company most needs to retain.
The high-profit, high-effort category is where managers may find themselves devoting most of their retention marketing energy, and this can likely mean personalization for members of this group. I don’t mean completely overhauling operations to cater to a single property, but rather being open-minded and not being limited to a standard PMA at the risk of losing a valuable client.
Perhaps your portfolio includes the only event-capacity home in the market, complete with a caterer’s kitchen and carriage house, and the homeowner wants to hire a live-in estate manager. If the home has the potential to generate a healthy profit and provide a huge competitive advantage in rentals, why not find ways to customize services (within reason) to accommodate the owner’s requests? Openness and flexibility could make the difference in retaining owners as well as reveal creative solutions that can be implemented in future recruiting negotiations.
Provide exclusive tools and resources to help homeowners grow their own vacation rental business.
Owners are running their own vacation rental businesses, and when they do better, property managers do better. As their business partner, you can be the key to their businesses’ growth. Go above and beyond for them in this area by delivering quality resources that their businesses can’t live without or get anywhere else. In other words, be their dedicated Expertise-as-a-Service (ExaaS) provider.
To uncover all the possibilities this affords, first ask owners what their biggest vacation home challenges are. They may reply with a lot of FAQs, but they may also reveal some hidden sore points, such as Mr. Smith struggling to find a good contractor or that some owners want to be more informed about what’s happening around town when they’re away.
Property managers can easily provide solutions, but only if they know what owners need. It’s likely that others are facing the same challenges or they will at some point in the future, so thoughtful ExaaS can offer immense value.
My favorite question to ask in this area is for staff: “What do you wish owners knew?” This, too, is a goldmine of information. In his article, Melton shares an example of one putting a $500 duvet in her rental home. A housekeeping team may share that this is a common issue and slows laundry processes. With information like this, the PM can create easy guides that benefit its entire portfolio and make the staff’s jobs easier. Who wouldn’t love this information?
Developing informational tools like these does not need to cost significant time or money. Quick video tutorials, monthly newsletters, quarterly town-hall style webinars around FAQs, or download-and-print checklists can be easy, affordable, and even fun ways to share information.
Integrate owners into company growth.
Just as vacation rental managers can invest in owners’ business success, owners can be invested in theirs. This is especially effective in retention of high-profit, high-effort owners. Invite them to focus groups, give them exclusive early access to test new products and programs, send them surveys, or simply ask for their feedback from time to time. Giving owners an opportunity to be heard and offer their own ExaaS will further strengthen the owner-manager relationship. As a bonus, the company could also find a deep well of valuable ideas it may not otherwise have tapped.
Completing the acquisition-retention loop, property managers can also use this integration by way of referrals. Owners talk with others in competitors’ programs, and they have the power to be more influential than any other recruitment marketing campaign. Consider making evangelizing your company an extra sweet proposition by offering a referral fee in return for every lead or signed contract they provide.