In case you haven’t been keeping up with my posts this week, last Thursday I was lucky enough to be invited to the Estate Agency of the Year Awards 2011. Sponsored by the Sunday Times, this is one of the most coveted awards in the industry calendar, particularly for smaller agencies, devoid of feedback from shareholders and a board.
The day began with the ‘Leadership Summit’, and some well-known industry figures sharing their thoughts and experiences, and I’ve summarised four of them daily this week.
Today I’m going to talk about my take on where the industry is going, and what it means for both agents and their clients.
Agents will need to embrace technology or they won’t survive
When an agent asks me to assess their marketing performance, I always review how they are using Social Media to win instructions and build trust. I have yet to see a comprehensive social media strategy implemented by an estate agent. Harsh, I know, but when 80% of agents are not using Twitter and those who are, are only tweeting their properties for sale, I can assure you that they have a long, long way to go. The good news is, there is so much opportunity out there for a forward-thinking agent to really grab some market share by adopting and sticking to, a simple but effective social media strategy. For just half an hour a day, they can promote their brand, be associated with worthy community events, and build up a strong reputation as the ‘go-to’ place for buyers and sellers to receive trusted advice. Whereas before the advent of social marketing, brand-building would be done by expensive adverts and sponsoring, today the best exposure is free of cost, and requires instead effort and consistency to get results: results that in this market, are precious indeed.
Agents need to improve their marketing for buyers, in order to win the loyalty of their sellers
Property marketing in the UK is largely an amateur affair. Flimsy, office-printed details, snapshot-quality photography, and a slapdash approach to the portal adverts. I met with a very prestigious agent this month who told me that his clients think brochures to be a waste of time. He explained that instead, they preferred to print details off themselves and that they are “not the kind of people who would be swayed by a glossy brochure”. I asked him what he used to promote his brand to new sellers, and he proudly pulled out a beautiful, oversized A4 glossy brochure – without a trace of irony.
The fact is, that buyers like to feel important when they are looking at houses. It’s not about the transaction, it’s about the experience. Look at all today’s major ‘lifestyle’ brands – Abercrombie and Fitch, Starbucks, John Lews – they have accepted the fact that the customer experience, and not the product, is what customers talk the loudest and longest about. Customers who are loving the ride won’t want to get off, and any bumps in the house-buying journey will seem less painful with an encouraging and helpful adviser as a passenger. Win the hearts of the buyer, and create a lifelong fan of the seller.
Agents need to stop selling and start engaging
It’s a fact that people do not like to be sold to. They do, however, love to be engaged with. Think about the last time you went into a phone shop, where two assistants pounced on you as soon as you walked through the door. The first thing I want to do, is to turn round and walk out. It’s very confrontational. Instead, if you are greeted with a nice smile and eye contact, then left free to browse, you can start to relax and concentrate on buying a phone. If the assistant then gently offers to show you a working model of the one you are holding, you are more likely to be in a more receptive frame of mind, and even to feel grateful for their help. Whilst they are unpacking the phone to show you, asking you about who the purchase is for, and what you had in mind will then be perfectly normal and relaxed. That is engagement.
So what engagement do buyers and sellers want from agents? Firstly, they don’t want to feel like just an entry in a database. So when a buyer calls up and asks to register (and let’s face it, these calls are becoming a lot rarer these days, aren’t they?) asking them in a monotone voice how many bedrooms, receptions and do they need off-road parking is not the best way of capturing the opportunity. Engagement would sound something like this: “why don’t you tell me what kind of house you’re looking for”, or “describe for me the perfect home”. Similarly, when on a market appraisal, do you ask the vendor why they are moving? We do, at HomeTruths, and the answer often takes half an hour or more to tell. But it’s half an hour well spent, because you are trust building.
When conducting viewings, ask yourself, who’s doing the talking here? Because if it’s not the buyer, you’re not engaging. The agent’s job is to listen and respond appropriately. Buyers love to talk about their hopes and plans, so let them.
These three changes in the industry are packed full of promise and opportunity. If you’re an estate agent and you’d like to chat about how to use these new rules of engagement to win instructions, let me know here.
It’s the little changes that can reap the biggest rewards, and it starts with a willingness to embrace the change in mindset. Dean Mackie was absolutely spot on when he talked about the “2 mm difference at the club face” which as any golfer will tell you, can be the difference between triumph and disaster on the green.
I’ll leave you with one of my favourite quotes from Gandhi: Be the change you want to see.