Achieving steady growth in this industry requires tactics to generate leads and foster relationships that last longer than the initial closed transaction. And with over 100 million leads generated last year, brokers know that the sales process increasingly relies on the use of technology to capitalize on those opportunities. Not surprisingly, the real estate tech industry reached a whopping $5 billion in deployed investments last year.
Despite this, we regularly hear the one thing from brokerages across the country: “We spent money on technology, but we don’t feel that we, or our agents, are getting value from it”.
Technology can be a game changer, but only if you have the know-how and the resources to help extract the value from that technology. With so much emerging technology, brokers need to consider what it will take to make new software a successful investment for their company. But, hand in hand with this, brokers need to understand the risks of losing a competitive edge if their agents don’t fully adopt that new technology, to its fullest potential.
Before we get started, some advice on the decision-making process:
- Keep an open mind. Viewing your current set of tools, or shiny new ones, can be fraught with bias. Critiquing your current tools and processes objectively will help you balance feelings of “We’ve always done it this way” or “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” with fear of the unknown.
- Involve your entire team. Business leaders may not always be fully aware of their team’s day-to-day challenges. And conversely, may not realize the impact to an agent’s productivity if a new tool or process adds time-consuming administrative work. Interviews with members of the team will unearth these things and provide transparency throughout the decision-making process. And as an added bonus, team members who feel that their voices are heard, are also likely to adopt the new tool or process, ensuring its success after implementation. The best tool in the world is worthless if no one uses it.
- Seek out outside opinions. Beyond comparisons of functionality and pricing, seek out reviews, testimonials and other information from your peers when evaluating technology. This information can be invaluable to judging how a long-term relationship with a tech vendor can impact your business.
Ok, you’ve done your homework and are ready to evaluate some new tech for your brokerage. Here are 6 questions every broker should be asking:
How do I measure success?
It sounds like a given, but this is one of the most overlooked steps when buying new software. Every vendor touts the benefits of their shiny new product, but if those benefits do not directly align with your business needs, it may not be a good fit. Successful brokers base their decision to purchase new software on clearly identified goals but validate it regularly against corresponding measurable results.
This vision of success and associated metrics should guide your process for the selection of technology tools, the implementation of those tools, and your team’s adoption and usage of them. Success metrics for any brokerages should include:
- Increased organic traffic to website
- Lead capture rate on website
- Lead quantity and quality of leads generated from ads on 3rd party sites, such as Zillow.
- Agent conversion / close rates
- Agent uptime and sales related activities
- Retention rates for agents and teams
- Better brand representation/recognition
- Higher agent satisfaction
- Marketshare, revenue and profit growth
The important thing is to identify a few key metrics that you can actually measure. Then, establish a baseline – your current level of attainment related to those metrics. Then, set your goals for moving those metrics versus the baseline. This exercise takes some time, but will yield better value from your technology and more focus for all of your operations.
What tools are in place now?
Over time, everything changes, and technology is no different. Technology that was revolutionary a couple years ago, is likely a standard feature for all platforms now. But, the normal evolution of software for business frequently finds users integrating a number of tools together, or seeking an all-in-one solution to more easily manage their operations. (See #4 in this list for more detail on this.).
Taking an inventory of all tools in place within your office is key to both understanding the available functionality and how costs for those tools add up. Similarly, surveying your team about their usage of those tools is also key. Sometimes, it can be as straight-forward as asking “if you could fix one thing, what would it be?” Many SaaS tools allow managers or admins to monitor usage and work output too, which can be a great way to validate those answers, and constantly monitor the ROI of their current software investment.
As mentioned above, a wise broker should balance the risk of inserting a new tool into their agent’s workflow with the potential improvements to productivity and sales growth. Rigorous review of any new tool, and its ability to quickly and seamless insert into their team’s sales process, will ultimately help that broker decide if it adds value.
What is working well now, and what isn’t?
Like many scenarios in our personal and professional lives, over time we accumulate lots of tools and tactics to get the job done. While all were probably needed, and provided value at the time we bought them, our toolbox can slowly begin to look like Frankenstein’s monster…bits and pieces all wired together. And unfortunately, some tools may have become cumbersome to use, or no longer provide the value they once did.
As mentioned above, the volume of leads generated has significantly increased over the past decade. And the number of sources for those leads…options consumers have to inquire about a property… means properly routing them to agents for follow-up, entering them into a CRM for long-term nurturing, and reporting on the full lifecycle of any one lead, has become overwhelming for some brokerages.
This is not to say all of your current tools and processes need to change. Prior to selecting any technology for your team, it is essential to identify weak links in your sales process. Key questions to ask are:
- What is holding you back from success, causing missed opportunities?
- Where in the process from lead generation to close are you losing to your competition?
- Can you directly attribute revenue gained, or situations where opportunities were lost, to the technology/tactics used?
- What is your market share in your sphere of influence, and against your competitors?
- And even if you are confident that your existing technology fits your needs, where is adoption or correct usage by your agents, impacting your close rate?
Should I “rip and replace” with a single all-in-one platform or integrate a new piece of technology into my existing stack?
Real estate, like other industries, has experienced an explosion of vendors providing technology to address every stage of a customer’s journey. From marketing an agent’s personal brand, to the “Uber-zation” of the consumer’s search for properties, to the myriad ways an agent can follow-up and nurture a lead through to a closed transaction. Brokerages can opt to partner with a large vendor who offers an all-in-one platform or integrate several that each excel at one piece of that.
There are pros and cons to each approach. These include the price tag for an all-in-one platform (which may be prohibitive for smaller brokerages) and the disruption to your team’s daily sales process during roll-out. Plus, it is possible the all-in-one tool you can afford has limited functionality in each module, reducing your competitive edge.
On the other hand, integrations, via APIs, have made it increasingly easy to unite several vendors into an overall technology stack. And when vendors partner together, the brokerage can benefit from cutting-edge technology without the price tag of an enterprise-level solution. But, too many tools to maintain, and incomplete (or silo’d) reporting of a lead’s progress may present other challenges to achieve a high ROI for a marketing spend.
Every brokerage is different, and solutions are never one-size-fits-all. Integrations can take effort to implement, but may allow you streamline and enhance your current processes. You should balance the benefits of any given technology platform’s functionality with the impact the change will have to your agent’s daily sales process. This will help you create the best technology stack for your team.
Can the vendor’s solution grow as your business grows?
Akin to the focus of #3 on our list, a product’s flexibility can be key. If you invest in technology, can the vendor’s solution adapt as the needs of your team changes? While no one can predict the future, one of the best indicators to a vendor’s ability to constantly improve their product’s functionality is what their customers have to say. Peer-to-peer reviews can be invaluable when deciding on new tech.
Read the case studies, ask for references, find out how loyal their customers have been as the technology has evolved. They have walked in your shoes, have faced the same challenges, and likely evaluated the same options for their team. Pay close attention to comments about implementation, ongoing customer support, and where the functionality allowed them to keep a competitive edge as business needs changed.
What resources are needed for successful implementation, user training and ongoing support of the new software?
As important as what the technology provides, your team’s capabilities to rollout and support adoption of new software will be key to its success. Here are a few things to consider:
- Technological expertise. Do you have someone on staff who can configure and set up software to meet the needs of your company? Or will you need your tech partner to do that for you? Most likely, your answer will be both. Small to medium sized brokers may not have full-time IT resources. They will rely on the vendor’s support initially, or as they team’s needs change. But, “power users” or tech-savvy admins to the tool can also provide guidance to new users during the rollout. They can also “translate” how the new software or mobile app works, in comparison to a previously used one.
- Internal marketing. Just like what is needed to drive steady traffic to your website, you will need a constant stream of internal marketing initiatives to get your agents to use the technology. Sales people generally don’t want to use tech unless they see that it can lead to more sales/income. Your internal marketing efforts cannot be a one-time event. It must be a constant, continuously driving home the value of the technology to your agents.
- As we said above, the best tool in the world is worthless if no one uses it. Who will train your staff to support your agents? Who will train your agents? How will you get new agents trained after the initial roll out? What can you do, and what will you require your technology partner to help with? As new features and functionality are added to the software, training will transition from knowledge transfer to internal marketing initiatives. Most SaaS and mobile app vendors provide robust online support documentation, but some also provide on-site training and 1:1 chats to solve problems. And, once the power users are comfortable with the new tool, they can support others on their team. These “agent champions” should be rewarded for their work, and for the impact their influence can have on other agents’ usage.
- Leadership Resources. Who will be the executive sponsor ensuring the project stays on track and who can convey the strategic vision internally and externally? Who will be the project lead driving the day-to-day activities that will lead to success? Have you budgeted the time needed for both?
- Money and time. How much money are you willing (and able) to invest in achieving the outcomes you have identified as success? When do you need to be live with the new technology? Have you budgeted enough time to go through a buying process, a configuration process, and a roll out process successfully?
Once you have an honest assessment of your resources, identify any gaps. Make sure the technology partner you choose can fill all of those gaps for you. This exercise will help you plan for a successful implementation. It also will give you more control over the entire technology process. This helps you minimize risk of unexpected expenses (which are always costlier than planned expenditures).
If you have gone through these 6 steps prior to approaching potential real estate technology companies, you will find it much easier to cut through the marketing noise and identify the partners who can best deliver on your vision for success. This means you will have more control of the buying process, are more likely to get the best price because there’s less perceived risk with an educated buyer and will develop a relationship with your tech partner to ensure a pain-free roll-out.
The best solution for your brokerage will provide the expertise and resources to guide you on a clear path to success, allowing your team’s needs to evolve and grow over time. Those vendors will have a vested interest in your success and will help you extract more value from your technology investment.
But it starts with you. Stop having the cost conversation and start having the value conversation with your partners. Stop buying technology and truly focus on buying success.
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