We can all learn some lessons about suburban prospecting from the ladies on Wisteria Lane. The hit series Desperate Housewives ran for eight seasons on ABC from 2004 to 2012. With a reported 120 million viewers worldwide, it was a television phenomenon. Haven’t you ever wondered if the BRAVO Real Housewives franchise was inspired by the series? In both shows, suburbia reigned supreme.
The rationale for suburban prospecting
Why choose to prospect in the suburbs? Simple: Agents and advisors are faced with choosing between two markets when looking for new clients. Prospect where you work or prospect where you live. You know the rationale for the office-based approach. Prospecting where you live is compelling because you and your family spend most of your time in the area. Your children attend local schools. You play golf on weekends. You know more people close to home.
Nine strategies for suburban prospecting
Earlier articles on metro area prospecting and small town prospecting highlighted traditional organizations and approaches. Most transfer easily. Certain other strategies make even more sense for suburban prospecting.
1. The elementary and high school connection
One of the major reasons people move to the suburbs is the quality of the schools. Edie Britt, the realtor on Desperate Housewives would likely have made that case for moving to Wisteria Lane.
Action Step: Many parents get involved at their children’s school. According to Child Trends DataBank, in 2012, 87 percent of parents attended at least one meeting and 42 percent volunteer. They join the PTA. They are sideline parents cheering on their children during rainy football games. There are plenty of opportunities to get to know fellow parents casually. A logoed shirt or ball cap silently advertises what you do. One advisor brings an extra logoed umbrella to outdoor school sporting events. If the skies open up, at least one parent forgot to prepare. The umbrella is lent out and now the other parent is advertising for the lender.
2. Religious organizations
It’s estimated that 84 percent of Americans are affiliated with a religious faith. Father Dugan made occasional appearances on Desperate Housewives giving spiritual counsel to various characters. Your faith offers plenty of opportunities to raise your visibility through volunteerism.
Action Step: Assuming you are involved in a religious organization, find a way to give back. There is usually a need for lay ministers, lectors (readers) and choir members. Your volunteer role gets you recognized by the wider congregation. People often associate your volunteerism with your profession. “That’s Jane, she’s an insurance agent. She must be an honest person because she does the readings in church.”
3. Cultural organizations
Bree Van De Camp of Desperate Housewives often organized the gala for the hospital. Everyone dressed up and mingled with deep-pocketed donors. This is a ‘see and be seen’ activity. On this occasion you aren’t volunteering as a candy striper, you are gaining access by writing a check.
Action Step: Plenty of community organizations hold galas. Check the town website and ask around. Build a list and note costs. Certain ones are big draws. Learn about sponsorship. This might be high cost (buying a program ad) or low cost (buying a slightly more expensive ticket and appearing on the patron list. When attending community events, a New Jersey advisor usually approaches an established friend and asks, “Is there anyone here you think I should meet?” They get the message and introduce him to the heavy hitters.
Wisteria Lane was home to several “ladies who lunch.” They often visited a day spa. These places attract people with lots of free time and disposable income. If you fit into the same set, the spa you frequent might be a good market, too.
Action Plan: It’s been said, “There is no free lunch.” Some advisors hold informal lunch and learn seminars at their favorite spa. It’s publicized through the spa. The advisor absorbs the cost of lunch. The ladies who lunch need to eat. It’s a good way to position how you help people.
5. Country clubs
Carlos and Gabrielle Solis belonged to the country club. Later, Carlos worked at the country club. Private clubs are part of the suburban mystique. People like the exclusivity they imply. Golf and tennis are two major club activities. Assuming you have talent, this can be a good way of raising your visibility. There are other opportunities, too.
Action Step: If golf isn’t your sport, consider sponsoring a trophy, as a financial advisor in the Sacramento area has done. Join the social committee. You will meet lots of people helping to organize events.
6. Holiday parties
When December rolled around, someone on Wisteria Lane could be counted on to throw a party. Awkward guests and infidelity don’t need to be part of yours. Parties are an ideal opportunity to repay people who have had you over for dinner if, unlike Bree, you aren’t the best chef in the neighborhood. This theme also works with summer BBQs and garden parties if you don’t want to wait until December.
Action Step: Maintain a list of people you have met and would like to cultivate. I like to also include local merchants along with genuinely nice people who might never be clients. Buy party food at the big box stores. Transfer their food to your platters. Hire some extra help for serving.
7. The obvious choice
Edie Britt, the realtor on Wisteria Lane, established the lane as her turf. If you were listing your house for sale or rent, you did it through her. By raising her visibility she became to “go to” person for real estate.
Action Plan (1): People need to know Who you are, What you do and Why you are good. Gradually over time, get your message across.
Action Plan (2): Realtors know everybody, especially the new residents who often need local service providers. Newly arrived homeowners often have plenty of insurance needs. Many people prefer to work with people they know.
8. The poker circle
The ladies of Wisteria Lane had their own private club. The got together regularly and played poker. What did they talk about? Problems they were facing. The other players offered advice. Once people get comfortable you might be invited into a small group like the book club or even the poker circle.
Action Step: This is an ideal opportunity to discuss “the common problem.” I have children. You have children. We’ve been concerned about college expenses. We set up savings plans at the start of the year. What are you doing about the twins’ college expenses? It’s normal for people to talk about common problems and seek solutions.
9. Beyond Wisteria Lane
Other opportunities for raising your visibility present themselves:
Scouting – Many teenagers belong to Girl Scouts or Boy Scouts. Parents act as scoutmasters and their assistants. Camping involves carpooling and overnight stays. It’s an ideal opportunity to get to know the other moms or dads.
Sports bars – Lots of people like to cheer on their favorite team surrounded by other fans. Sports bars give you the opportunity to hang out with like-minded people. Remember, they are there for the game, not financial planning. Let them draw you out.
Homeowners Associations – An ideal way to get to meet your neighbors. Learn the issues important to them. Develop friends. Have them over for a BBQ. Attend the annual block party.
The gatekeepers – If you are new to the area, join some local cultural institutions. Write some checks. Introduce yourself to the membership and development directors. They know everyone. They can introduce you to the movers and shakers.
Murder and infidelity aside, we can learn a lot from the residents of Wisteria Lane. Do you think there’s a reunion episode in the works?