We have made a fairly profitable business out of servicing Realtors over the past 18 months...
Every area is a little different, but here is what I have found to be true for our area:
What does NOT work:
-Cold calling or calling at random. We are in competition with a LOT of vendors for the Realtor's money and get phone solicitations all the time and are likely to not even pay attention to you - Even if they want virtual tours. Realtors don't want to miss a call from a prospective buyer and will usually answer the phone at even the most inconvenient times (we have called when agents are in the middle of meetings, closings, lunch, vacation, and even one was in the middle of a doctors appointment.) All in all, I feel that calling agents who you have had not prior contact with can be a real discouraging waste of time.
-Sending regular mail or post cards - I have never gotten any results out of this
-Advertising in the newspaper, phone book or real estate magazines. - I have spent a lot of money here and seen no results - Not just poor results, no results. You would think that Realtors would look at the home magazines/publications that they advertise in themselves, but this is apparently not true. On the contrary, we have had a couple companies advertise our virtual tours in these magazines and target the ad to home sellers mentioning that our tours are a part of their marketing plan and even putting a screen-shot of the tour window in the ad. This has benefit to both us and the Realtor/company.
Here are some things that HAVE worked for us:
-Email Marketing - There is a lot of controversy between what is considered spam and what is not, but when I say email marketing, I don't mean sending an email ad to all of the Realtor email addresses that you can find. I would send personalized emails, which do take a lot of time, but it's also free to do. One of the MLS areas that we service has a website that all listings show on and you can click a link to send an email to the listing agent. We do this a lot and send a short note to the agent (For new listings) to let the know that we are available to provide photos, tour, floor plan, etc, and place a bit of urgency (since the listing is new). We have also done this for listings that are not new - The key is to keep the email really short, provide a sample link to a tour so they can see one, and put your contact info - Give them just enough to get them to call you. The results we have achieved from this are FAR better than anything else we have tried and not to mention, free which sure beats $200 worth of flyers for the same results.
-Visit offices frequently - Always have some kind of small flyer or post car or brochure available to take to real estate offices. Again, something simple and cheap. Rarely has a flyer got us a phone call, taking them to the offices gives us a chance to go to the office frequently. You never know who will be there and who you might meet. Sometimes you just have to be in the right place at the right time. Staying in from of the people and becoming familiar is very important. Get to know the receptionist near the front door (some offices Realtors take turns doing this) - the office staff are generally who the Realtors may go to to ask who to call for a virtual tour, so be their friend! Don't leave too many flyers behind... Just a few at a time so you have a reason to come back soon.
-Office sales meetings - Usually offices have weekly or monthly sales meetings - Most of them have a sponsor for each meeting. Sometimes there is a cost, most of the time they just want you to bring food for breakfast or lunch, something simple and cheap like bagels. In exchange, they will let you give a 10-20 minute presentation on you services. This has worked very well for us. We typically offer a special deal if the order that day - 'Today Only save 20%' or something like that.
Over all, to answer your question of what's the best initial point of contact, I feel it is face to face. Second, I would say email as they can check it at their convenience. No matter how high-tech our product is, simple & old sales techniques still apply - Remember that no matter how great your product is that they will not buy it if they don't like, and more importantly, trust you. In a service based business especially, people are buying YOU more than they are buying whatever it is that you are selling.
I hope this helps.
I would sure like to hear about anything that is working for anyone else in terms of marketing to the real estate industry.
Virtual Impressions Inc.
Real Estate Virtual Tours and Floor Plans