Over the past few weeks I have been doing a lot of work with both vendors, brokers and agents evaluating different technologies. In some cases this involved helping vendors improve their products and on the other side involved helping brokers and agents choose new products. Something that hit me over and over again in both cases was the fact that our industry has over engineered products over and over again. Why? Because we don’t really listen to what users want. We think we know better. We understand all of the complex features that need to be included in websites, and transaction management and MLS systems. But what is really enlightening is when you see products that go against the grain for accepted design and there is major product adoption, even though this product may not have every bell and whistle another product has.
When we do research with brokers, agents and consumers one of the key things they ask for is simple and easy access to information and help in getting through the real estate transaction. They don’t want to become “real estate software users”! They don’t want to learn systems. They want to buy or sell real estate or help someone that is buying or selling real estate. Our industry though makes an assumption that we have an engaged audience just waiting to sit down and learn their latest and greatest software approach. This isn’t the way it works.
All of us have access today to websites and data that is as simple as asking a question on a Google search. We look for this type of access and ease or we move on. When we find it, we stay and come back again, because it gives us what we are looking for easily. I saw a recent example of this in the so called Transaction Management arena. I say “so called” because TM has morphed over the years. The traditional model is that it is software that manages the entire transaction process from beginning to end, document management, forms, scheduling, communication, digital signature, etc. That certainly seems to make sense. But, as we all know, the really robust transaction management systems have not been widely adopted.
In 2005, when WAV Group did its first Transaction Management adoption study, we recommended that vendors modularize their products and present them in smaller chunks. Separate out the Document Management, eFax and Forms, etc. This has happened and adoption has improved in these different segments but you don’t see too many people really using the whole package. A newer company, DotLoop out of Cincinnati, Ohio came into this arena with a different approach. They looked at the transaction space and what seemed to be a hassel for agents and consumers and put a package together that addressed some of these issues. It let you involve agents on the platform even if they weren’t a subscriber yet. It didn’t provide full forms management but it did make filling out forms pretty easy. It didn’t really track every single step in a transaction but it made using digital signature simple and accessible. And, most importantly, it is really easy to use. What really stands out for me though is that it is not nearly as complete a transaction product as many of its competitors. It doesn’t have loads of features that other, deeper transaction management products have, but here’s the key….very few users ever learn or use those deeper functions. They may be checkboxes that have to be included to win a deal but in the real world they don’t get used because they take too long to learn and may not provide an “immediate” benefit, etc.
In Lexington, KY I interviewed Katy Jones, the Communications Director with the Lexington Bluegrass Association of Realtors where they are using the DotLoop product for all of their members. They had used another transaction system previously from a very reputatable company with a very good product. The problem was adoption wasn’t very high. When they switched to the DotLoop platform adoption went through the roof. According to Austin Allison, CEO of DotLoop, they have nearly 75% usage! When I asked Katy what the key was for this adoption she said it was definitly the fact that the product is easier to use and that agents can get real help from the product almost immediately. She acknowledged it didn’t do some things she would like it to do, like auto populate data from the MLS system yet but said that was OK because what it did to, it did well and people use it.
By way of disclosure we have done work with DotLoop but we don’t get paid to sell their product. We just think the approach and the fact that it is different from the mainstream should be noticed. Success leaves clues!
So the key that I would leave vendors with is this. Look at what the people you are trying to help are actually doing, and listen to what they are asking for. Don’t create a product and then tell people how the product will provide them a “new” way of doing things. Look at what they are doing already and make it better, easier, faster and they will use it. Also, don’t try to do everything, it just makes things too complicated. Your product may win a competition in a checklist if it has every feature in the world but if it isn’t simple and if it doesn’t provide benefits very quickly they won’t use it.