It’s an exciting time to be a real estate broker. Once a relative wasteland, the technology marketplace for real estate is growing rapidly, with more beautiful and powerful solutions appearing every day. In an industry as diverse as real estate, this is obviously a good thing — but it’s not without its downsides.
With so many new technologies to learn and options to choose from, building the right online presence for your real estate business can create chaos not just for brokers, but also for the agents they manage and the clients they serve. Consequently, many real estate professionals feel like they’re working for their digital marketing solutions. Here are six strategies to help you flip the script for your brokerage:
1. Take the lead
In the past, broker-provided software left much to be desired, with outdated features and clunky, complicated interfaces. However, today there are dozens of terrific, team-oriented solutions for everything from CRM to social media, and agents want more of it. Last year, 45 percent of Realtors said they wanted more technology from their brokers.
Unfortunately, many brokers are failing to fill this demand, partly because they lack the experience and the knowledge to make informed choices in a growing market.
“There’s a battle for attention online,” said Raj Qsar, owner of The Boutique Real Estate Group in Orange County, California. “With so much noise, it’s difficult for the old-school leadership to find the right tools for their agents. So agents try to do it all themselves.” This fragmentation creates added challenges for brokers trying to coordinate their teams and market their brand consistently.
Instead, brokers need to take the lead in providing digital solutions for their teams, including websites, analytics, lead management, cloud storage and marketing automation. No matter your tech experience, this means you must be willing to take risks on software and strategies that might not turn out to be a fit for you and your business. You’ll learn what works by iterating on your technology, and, over time, you’ll build up a strong set of tools for your team.
2. Educate your agents
Tech adoption is higher than ever among real estate professionals — 91 percent of Realtors now use social media in their business — but that doesn’t mean agents have nothing to learn. To build an effective digital strategy, brokers need to provide their agents not only with the right software but also ample opportunities to get educated about it.
“Too many brokers don’t give their agents enough technology support,” said Scott Beaudry, broker-owner of Universal Realty in Las Vegas. “The average Realtor is 56. You just can’t give (technology) to somebody and expect them to learn how to use it.”
Furthermore, the education shouldn’t stop at a three-ring binder or even an online course — after all, no teacher has ever inspired students just by handing them a packet. To truly set agents up for success, brokers have to take a hands-on approach.
For instance, Beaudry does a one-on-one technology audit with every new agent on their first day. In addition, he also holds regular group workshops on Facebook, all while managing over 100 agents. By actively participating in your agents’ digital education, you’ll encourage accountability and show just how committed you are to their success.
Finally, it’s important to frame your agents’ education in terms of value. That is, it’s not just about learning the nuts and bolts of digital marketing tools — it’s about learning how those tools create value, both for agents and for the clients they serve.
3. Educate yourself
Your agents can’t do it all alone, but neither can you. That’s why you need to set aside time to educate yourself, particularly if you’re no longer “in the trenches.” Educating doesn’t mean taking one or two tech-oriented courses for your license upkeep.
“At the leadership level, you have to be absolutely entrenched in technology and continuously learn,” Beaudry said.
Luckily, there are plenty of resources out there to help brokers stay informed about digital marketing and tech for real estate. Start by following blogs such as Inman and Placester’s Real Estate Academy, as well as real estate podcasts such as The Water Cooler.
To stay on the cutting edge, you should also be attending conferences including Inman Connect and NAR’s Realtors Conference & Expo. Finally, build relationships with other brokers and agents who are using digital marketing effectively in their businesses. Share your knowledge and experience, and you’ll receive insight in return.
4. Use the right tool for the job
“You must incorporate the digital component because people have come to expect it,” said Nick Segal, president at Partners Trust in Los Angeles. “The question is how to do it artfully.”
Many brokers try to answer this question by maintaining a presence on all the popular tools and networks. But marketing successfully online isn’t about being everywhere at once: It’s about choosing the right tools for telling the right story to the right audience.
When considering a tool or channel to market your brokerage, don’t just choose the biggest or cheapest option. Instead, ask yourself how and whether it will help you promote your brand. For example, Partners Trust has invested in video marketing to not only enrich its listings, but also help agents connect with consumers. “All of our associates do short videos that warm the waters and help them build trust with people who have never met them,” said Partners Trust VP of Marketing Audie Chamberlain.
Nevertheless, what works for Partners Trust might not necessarily fit your brokerage or your audience. Before you dive into your digital investment, spend some time thinking about your positioning in the marketplace: who your customers are and why they choose you over your competitors. Then, use this information to find tools that will best communicate that value. “You’ve got to play to your strengths,” Segal said. “Video is a scalable component, just as Instagram is a scalable component. I think technology just scales a message.”
5. Collaborate and listen
Visionaries including Steve Jobs and Elon Musk have developed a cultlike following in business circles. But the truth is a certain group of people are central to the success of every great company — people who believe in and contribute to its overall mission. A great digital culture doesn’t flow in one direction — it’s a collaborative effort, one that requires input from the whole team.
“As an agent, you want training, you want experience, but you don’t want to be controlled,” said Sean Wiegert, Realtor at Circa Properties in St. Louis.
Instead of imposing digital tools and policies on your agents, offer them a seat at the table. Encourage questions, suggestions and experimentation. By getting buy-in from the start, you’ll save yourself a lot of time, money and trouble — but more than that, you’ll foster a culture of digital collaboration, with agents working together to achieve more and better results.
“Our company was founded on the spirit of collaboration,” Chamberlain said. “All of this technology just amplifies our opportunities to collaborate.”
6. Recruit wisely
We might be a culture that increasingly values instant gratification, but make no mistake: Digital marketing is a long-term strategy. To be successful, you need to assemble a team that will continue to push and improve that strategy in the years ahead. That means actively recruiting agents whose digital priorities and presence line up with your own.
To attract great talent, you first need to see yourself and your brokerage from your prospects’ point of view.
“Agents today should be looking for a brokerage that’s heavily invested in tech, online and creativity,” Qsar said. With that in mind, start by searching for your brokerage on Google — not just by name, but by the geographic areas you serve. What results come up? Do they paint a positive or negative online picture of your business? Is this a brokerage stuck in the traditional past, or is it a brokerage that values growth and innovation?
The flip side, of course, is that you should be looking for agents committed to embracing technology as much as you are. “I interviewed someone recently who basically had no online presence,” Qsar said. “That agent may do good business, but they’re just not the right fit for us and what we’re trying to do.”
Look for applicants who not only have a website and profiles on major social networks, but are actively promoting and using those tools to engage with consumers.
Finally, at the end of the day, brokers should recruit with integrity top of mind. “Younger people entering this business don’t have bad (technology) habits, but they’re impressionable,” Nick Segal said. “And when you consider the amounts of money we’re talking about, it’s very easy to be seduced by those dollar signs and do whatever it takes to achieve a result.”
As you build a team to carry out your digital strategy, don’t forget your ultimate goal: to give your clients an amazing experience, both online and in person.