So where is all this Technology taking us?

I predict it will have a bigger impact on our internal policies and philosophies than our marketing efforts.

Technology was supposed to help us to be more productive, to save costs and reduce the number of people required to do mundane jobs. Yet I bet you feel like me. Each time you buy a new computer you’ve got to employ someone else to run the thing.

To date our businesses have been influenced by the progressive introduction over the last 20 years of systems that started with organizing our listings databases. This was quickly followed with Trust Accounting, Payroll and Property Management Systems and basic Client databases.

The initial systems contained Buyer/Client screens with property/client matching programmes. Most were little used at the time because sales people were reluctant to provide client details into a central system because of internal distrust with their colleagues. “These are my buyers.”

Then came the marketing add-ons and all the flash stuff that made the material we produced take a quantum leap in quality. Colour printers, colour brochures, digital photography and the ability to load directly to internet databases that the pubic can filter through. Next came intranet systems that stored all the data in a central file server which saved individual branches storing their own data, and allowing cross referencing to occur. But the client cross-referencing isn’t happening as the offices seem unable or unprepared to demand the contacts all get loaded. These databases now allow for greater interaction, between our current/future clients and the information we control.

When I started in Real Estate in 1981 we controlled everything.

You had to visit an agent to find out what was for sale. Not any more, we’ve passed that over.

You needed to visit an agent to find out how to buy and how to finance it. That’s been passed over too. No need to visit us any longer to find out those answers. How many of us waited 90 days for Housing Corporation and then Post Office Savings bank to process the 2 mortgages commonly obtained at that time?

Now all we control is the experience! And looking at recent media articles, that’s going to come increasingly under the spotlight too. In some instances that is well overdue as internal systems and processes are often maintained to protect the interests of the salespeople (Who were so hard to recruit in the first place) to the detriment of their clients.

Every week that goes by the public get more and more access to our material and listings database. You only have to cruise the major real estate search engines and the corporate sites to see the wealth of advice freely available along with their ability to filter through the listings database without talking to a salesperson. You can do it all, except feel and smell the house. All that is missing is a button that says BUY NOW.

It is in my opinion, right here that technology will have the greatest impact on the current real estate industry. Already we have active systems where buyers can leave their details, to be advised of any future listings that match their criteria. These are communicated directly to them without a salesperson necessarily being in contact with them. And it seems to be working.

But it is internally, in how we operate that there needs to be some adjustments made if they haven’t already occurred.

I wrote a few months ago about database Marketing and reflected only briefly on the issued of contact ownership. Many people have long been grappling with the question of whether the database should be owned and operated by the sales person, or whether it should be run by the office, but protected for the individual salesperson, and placed in an open system that provided a marketing edge.

Perhaps it is time to start the debate about some of the issues that predicate this position now that technology is forcing us to take notice of some practices that are just plan counter-productive today.

Real estate is a fiercely competitive business and recruiting the right people has been the number 1 strategy for many operators. Others have already taken the quality path with strong internal rules and processes that put the clients first, with strong, quality marketing and high skills demands.

However the majority of the industry is still faced with recruiting, then retaining enough people to be viable or maintain enough market share to be credible with clients. The ability of top performing salespeople to move from office to office and thus be lost to their current “manager” means that these salespeople are able to place some demands upon their managers for special treatment and preferential pay structures. (Funny isn’t it how managers who tell salespeople they are not allowed to negotiate the fee, are quick to give some of the office share away when recruiting a top sales performer.) This I believe impacts on some offices ability to make full use of the technology tools available to them.

Commission based salespeople in any industry seek to protect their patch and take the approach that he/she is “my” client. And once a client is being managed by a salesperson guess who decides which houses that client sees? You got it!

I would comment too that I recently saw a classic example of sales people protecting their interests in a direct conflict with the marketing assertions of their brand. The brand urges clients to list with them Exclusively because their sales team and network of offices all share the listings and target all known buyers in their database. I guess that’s a pretty standard approach.

What the seller doesn’t know it that each individual salesperson makes a decision as to whether their buyers get to hear about the property or it’s left until the advertising does its job. They also don’t know that that the salesperson gets paid more to sell a General listing in some companies than an Exclusive, if it’s listed by a colleague. So recently I saw an example where on the very day an Exclusive went General after 90 days on an Exclusive listing, 3 offers arrived from other branches of the same company. I thought that arrangement went out at least 10 years ago.

Then there are those sales people who actively discourage their colleagues from showing buyers through their listings, and it’s supported by their management. I wonder if the sellers were told that was company policy in the presentation? It’s a different call if the listing agent has access to all the buyer databases and the vendor knows they will be the only person showing the property, but still there are offices where “Senior” salespeople, actively deny their colleagues access to show their listings.

I guess that’s why the next challenge of using the power of technology to drive the next part of your business growth is scary for some. “I might lose some sales people.”
Once the clients understand that most databases are not integrated, and indeed some sales people have theirs at home and not integrated with the office system, and that they have practices that protect the interests of the sales people ahead of the client, then the easier those clients will be attracted away by those businesses that have already adapted.

So, how is that working already in some businesses that have transformed their businesses by taking a more open approach?

Firstly they have one database – open and viewable by their entire sales and marketing team. You mean there must be some client protection. Absolutely! Yes, you can’t complete a transaction with somebody else’s client without their agreement. This gets all the contacts and clients into one database, and I mean them ALL, along with their known and potential requirements. Then we can create some real target marketing as promised in the listing presentation.

All appraised properties, known future listings, unlisted listings and other companies listings, especially if you appraised them and missed out, are all entered into the database. These are called pending listings and then we can eliminate the term “Sleevies” from our vocabulary.

Now this database can start to be useful as a sales generator, if we use it. But firstly we need all the contacts.

I was in Australia recently and visited an office that was having a Sales Meeting at 1pm on a Saturday afternoon. The meeting table was covered with a brochure on every listing. Each salesperson had a computer printout of all known buyers in the system, regardless of which salesperson had put them in the system. Sure there were only 6 salespeople but within 30 minutes they had made 12 appointments with buyers to show them properties they should have already seen, and 11 appointments to visit vendors and provide them with some market education. They understood the risk of leaving the decision of which homes their buyers would see to the individual salesperson who was making a subjective decision for their own buyers. That way we ceased hearing the complaint; “Nobody else is taking their buyers through my listings.”

So we are now seeing offices that generate a Prospective buyer list for every new listing that comes in. These buyers are rung on day 1 of the Listing as part of the office programme, despite who has the buyer. With carefully prepared scripts they qualify the buyer for each new listing and then make appointments for the appropriate salesperson to show the property. And their business is prospering!

Others prepare a catalogue each week of all their new listings and the coming weekend’s open homes and distribute it to all active buyers’. And their business is booming. With technology today you can automatically produce a flyer or e-mail for each new listing and send it to all qualified buyers in your computer match, and have it appear it came from the salesperson handling that buyer. That’s simple to do, but in some cases the listing agent actively discourages that until they have had their buyer s through. Hardly using the capacity of technology to attract the best price by giving preferential treatment to their own buyers is it?

So what is the next step and where is this technology taking us?
Look at what I saw demonstrated yesterday. A software package that allows you to download listings and sales data onto your WAP or CDMA phone or Palm device. As you sit in your car with clients you can now scroll through the office listings database to check for new listings etc, search sales statistics and send e-mails with details requesting a contract gets typed up before you get back to the office.

To be truly effective it needs to move beyond your office – your database needs to be at least national, and eventually international - capturing people
once and keeping them for a chain of transactions. As the costs of storing such large amounts of data reduces, and the ability and costs of shifting large amounts of data quickly improves you will see this aspect grow much faster than you imagined.

If some operators are not careful they will suffer as customers start to gain access to more information than their consultant is providing. This is the fastest way to make sure technology eliminates you from the transaction. In some cases it is well overdue that the internal practices and habits of some in the industry are modified in an environment of trust and client focus, rather than protecting the interests of some sales people .

And the upside for the salesperson? You will have a system that is managed for you, that assists you in maintaining a strong marketing presence in your personal and geographic network. You will be part of a team that works together knowing whose clients are who. That way the need to move offices so often may not be necessary. That way too you will be able to deliver buyers and sellers a service that is more automated and so create time for you to do what really matters– talk with people and list and sell property.

For the Manager it means you know who is really talking with whom and whether they are doing anything with the contacts they have. That way you will really be able to help them focus on the key tasks of listing and selling more property. Not a bad objective.

In the meantime there are technology developer actively designing products that will give your clients greater access to property information and services. The clients will be able to make decisions without those agencies that don’t adapt.

And the window of opportunity is not as long as some would have us believe.

IAN KEIGHTLEY


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