Brokers Face Technology Adoption Challenges Head On
By Deborah Kearns
Real estate has been an industry in transition as new technologies emerge almost daily to reshape the way buyers and sellers search for homes. The price of this progress has been one of changing not only the industry’s attitude about technology, but our adoption of it.
From big data-driven search portals to mobile apps to 140-character social media marketing, the way agents use technology to attract and serve clients is also in constant flux to keep up with consumers’ demands. It begs the question of how brokerage leaders are identifying and overcoming roadblocks that impede the successful embracement of new technology within their firms.
The biggest hurdle, perhaps, for most brokerages is getting their membership’s buy-in. Brokers must provide training, support, follow-up and constant monitoring to take the pulse of how new programs and products are being received – or panned – in the field.
Age gaps, lack of time pose greatest obstacles
While most agents see the value in things like big data, SEO-enhanced websites and social media, there are still hold-outs among older agents who need extra convincing when a new app or client relationship management system comes down the pike.
That’s why in-depth training and constant communication are critical components of any new rollout, says Joan Docktor, president of Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices Fox & Roach REALTORS®, which operates in Pennsylvania, Delaware and New Jersey.
"I think age can be a factor in technology adoption," says Docktor. "The younger generation has grown up with it so they tend to be power users. Some of our seasoned agents may find it more difficult or even overwhelming when they are first introduced to a new tool. They prefer to do things the old way. We stress, however, that if they want to stay in business for the long run that they must be able to connect with the new generation of buyers and sellers who are using these tools.”
Mark Hughes is seeing a similar trend within his brokerage, First Team Real Estate in Southern California. Compounding the generational and confidence roadblock, he says, is that top-producing agents are too busy to carve out the time needed to master a new system.
“Agents are typically so busy working in their business that they get rare moments of uninterrupted focus to work on their business,” says Hughes, First Team’s chief operating officer. “They learn and adopt new technology only when they have to, and even then their attention and focus is choppy. And, unfortunately, that negatively affects how well they understand and implement new tools.”
Building early awareness leads to adoption
For brokerage leaders, getting a dozen or even hundreds of agents on board with new tech offerings can be a daunting task. For a large, international real estate franchise like Coldwell Banker, effectively communicating the value of companywide tech investments is an undertaking of monumental proportions.
David Siroty, vice president of North American Communications for Coldwell Banker, has an entire team of communications professionals who take on the critical role of playing messenger to the franchise’s 88,000-plus members worldwide. In late 2014, when the franchise unveiled CBx, an exclusive iPad app that uses big data to paint visual pictures of market activity for sellers, Siroty managed a detailed communications plan to create a buzz around the new app in the days, weeks and months leading up to its release, he says.
CBx underwent extensive pilot testing with 20 Coldwell Banker associates from markets big and small around the country before it was launched. Then the app was rolled out gradually to brokers, managers and, finally, to agents, accompanied by targeted messaging and guides to reinforce the value of CBx to the entire membership, Siroty says.
“After you create awareness of new technology, then you focus on that initial engagement between the broker and the agent who will go to the broker to ask what the new technology does,” Siroty says. “Once agents have heard about it, you’ve got them hooked. You have to create a continued dialogue using success stories from their peers, and you have to communicate it over time, so they see what your tools can do for their businesses.”
With an internal blog, an agent-facing Facebook group 12,000 members strong, and an active YouTube channel, Coldwell Banker is practicing what it preaches to its agents about adopting cutting-edge technology by leading through example, which is a must if you expect agents to buy into what you’re trying to sell them, Siroty says.
Finding the right tech takes trial and error
With the relentless flow of new tech gadgets, apps, programs and services inundating the industry nonstop, it’s hard for agents to determine where to best allocate their time and resources. They’re not alone. Brokers struggle with making the same decisions for their offices.
Finding what works takes trial and error, as well as time, says Tom Skiffington, broker/owner of RE/MAX 440 in Perkasie, Pa. Skiffington says he made the decision back in 2000 to move his office to a paperless system long before it became hip or the industry touchpoint. While it’s difficult to judge the return on his initial investment, the anecdotal evidence points to increased savings of time, money and workload – not to mention the credibility the paperless move has engendered for his company, Skiffington says.
“Brokers should be spending about 10 percent to 15 percent of their time investing in new technologies and training,” Skiffington says. “When new agents join, we set everything up for them – their website, social media pages, search portal profiles, their blog, and LeadStreet [the RE/MAX network’s proprietary lead-generation system].
“I sit down with each agent and our IT department to walk them through everything, and I offer one-on-one coaching in small groups for all of our agents with instant implementation of our tech offerings. This helps ensure they actually know how to use it and the knowledge isn’t lost on them.”
Tech a game-changer in recruiting, retention
Agents want to align themselves with companies that are viewed as progressive and ahead of the market, and that now includes access to the latest tech. Whether it’s a paperless office, a mobile app or digital signature software, brokers must offer recruits and existing agents services and support they can’t get anywhere else, says Jodi Dines, chief information officer of Real Estate One in Detroit.
“If an agent is sold on our tools and sees those tech offerings as a good value because the broker has communicated the benefits in the recruiting talk, that’s a solid reason to join us,” Dines says. “If each of our current agents finds one or two tools we offer that they can’t live without, it can mean the difference between them staying with us or looking elsewhere. That’s why encouraging adoption is so vital.”
Docktor agrees, adding that recruiters and managers must be proficient in using tech tools to better explain how they can help agents become more profitable and productive.
“It’s another arrow in our quiver,” Docktor says. “Technology may come with a cost, but it can help agents become more profitable and productive. Although real estate is still a relationship business and referrals will always be the golden standard of gaining new business, having certain technology is a baseline requirement. You’re simply not in the game if you don’t offer the right tools.”
Deborah Kearns is an award-winning writer based in Denver with more than a decade of experience in corporate communications and news journalism. She has covered the real estate industry for more than seven years. For more information, visit www.deborahkearns.com.
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