If you are a mega broker, with thousands of agents, you will have an IT department that watches over your software and technology infrastructure. If you are a small or medium size broker, that chore usually falls to you, much like it does for us, in our consulting company. We watch real estate technology on a daily basis and advise some of the best technology companies in the business on how to improve their product’s user interface, how to put together marketing and communication plans and many other services, and even for us, this is a daunting task. Every time you turn around there is another new vendor coming out of the woodwork with another new widget, approach or process.
I mentioned that large real estate companies usually have their own IT departments but they are not immune to the complexity of our technology world either. The reason is simple, the solution not so simple. The reason we have such a mess in the broker technology world is the way our technology has evolved and the many layers of services and needs that have to be addressed.
Over time, many brilliant solutions have been offered for accounting, contact management, CRM, drip marketing, IDX, VOW, lead management, lead generation, showing systems, back office systems, forms products, transaction management, document management, custom CMAs, broker/agent websites and on and on. These products may have been best of breed in a given moment but the way most brokers have selected and implemented technology is like building a car out of unrelated parts, from technologies and standards that have nothing to do with each other. In the case of a car imagine one with four different wheel sizes or an engine computer that can’t talk to the electronics or seats that aren’t made for a body style, etc. It would be a mess and in the case of broker technology it is also often is a mess even though our very talented broker professionals find ways to make it work, with gum, paperclips and scotch tape pulling the whole mess together.
Brokers all know that having a hodgepodge selection of unconnected products and services is not the way to do manage their business services but change isn’t easy when it comes to technology. They have made investments; there may be cost implications to change, and change brings a whole host of other issues from implementation to training users to integrating with other systems. Where do you start?
I recently was talking with a large New England broker who happens to be with a franchise. I won’t name which one, as it really doesn’t matter. We were talking about a totally different topic but during our conversation he asked me for some advice on some specific real estate technology vendors. He wanted to know which ones to consider. The first thing I asked him, as any consultant would, is what are you using in your company today? I didn’t want to know just about that one specific area he asked me about, because that is just part of a much bigger picture. I asked him to tell me what his company was using from back office to the website touching his customers. He couldn’t do it and that is not surprising. He could tell me some of the products but he really didn’t have a full, at his fingertips, inventory of everything his company was using. He also didn’t know the answer to the second question I asked him, which was, “How much is this all costing you today?” He had a general idea but the truth is, there were a lot of moving parts so he said he would have to get back to me.
During our conversation another key element rose to the surface, which is something we see all the time in our consulting practice. As a franchise owner his company receives certain technology and services as a component of what they pay for with their franchise fees. Whether they like these products and services or not, it is very hard for those paying for them, to go out and shop “best of breed” products if it means paying for a product all over again, if it is supplied through the franchise, even if it’s not the best. So once again, we see another element of complexity in the technology world for our industry. With so many companies tied to franchises for some of the technology they use, they often feel they pretty much have to ride the franchise horse. The problem is, technology needs to be looked at from a total, company wide perspective to really work the way it needs to today so this can be a very limiting decision.
A First Step To Your Technology Future
Given that statement, I want to suggest a simple exercise for my broker friends to do ASAP if they haven’t already done it already. Do a simple audit using the following questions as a guide. Even if you aren’t ready to make a technology change this is information you should have at your fingertips if you do it yourself. If you have the luxury of your own IT group and they can’t answer these questions without getting back to, you may want to make this as part of their expected activities and knowledge. It will come in handy.
Broker Technology – A Simple Audit
Take the time to inventory all of your current broker/agent technology and services. Keep it up to date so that any time you go to a conference, see a new demo, hear about a new technology, you know where things stand today. You will definitely be in better control of your business if you have this information at your fingertips. Use the following bullet points to create a simple inventory list of your company today.
- Technology company name
- Software/service name
- Technology description, i.e, Document Management, Broker Website,etc.
- Note whether this is part of a franchise package or license independently
- Underlying technology, i.e. HTML5, Flash, etc
- Number of customers
- Change in customers year to year, i.e, growing? How much? Losing customers? How much?
- Date installed
- Upgrade policy
- Number of new releases/upgrades since installation
- Contract expiration
- Early termination available? Terms?
- Original Cost
- Current Cost – if different
- Other installed products this software integrates with
- Data available for sharing/integration
- Level of support provided by Technology Company, i.e., staff, agent
- Overall satisfaction with product
This is by no means a complete list of the items that should be considered when evaluating your technology but having these basic facts at your fingertips will put you in a much stronger position to evaluate and consider alternative approaches. To help even further, take the information from your original list and do a comparison and ranking process to build a complete technology picture.
Comparison and Ranking Process
- Determine your individual and total technology costs from end to end.
- Do the “life boat test”. Have staff rank each product from best to worst but don’t allow any ties. When I worked at Microsoft this is the way we did employee evaluations. We had to pretend we were on a lifeboat with everybody in our department. We had to rank order our employees irrespective of rank, so managers were lumped with sales, administrative personal, developers etc. The question was simple. If we have to get rid of one person/item out of this list, which one would I toss overboard first? Do the same thing over and over again until you have a complete ranking of your products.
- Do a simple survey with your agents to see if the staff rankings are consistent with the agent rankings. Consider the results and see if the ranking should be adjusted.
- For each product/service put a level of urgency on it, to indicate how important it is that this technology/service be upgraded.
- For each product/service identified for upgrade make sure to consider every product that it touches or is dependent on for data from that product. You may find there is a domino effect across several products as a result.
Once you have this simple set of answers and a clearer picture of what is really lacking in your technology picture you are ready to start looking at alternatives. If you are using any technology in your business that is older than 5 years it is highly likely there have been tremendous advances in the industry that you may not be aware of. Put together your wish list and set of requirements, or better yet, hire a company like WAV Group to help you, and take a look at what is available and how you would power your company if you were starting from scratch today.
Create a “perfect technology scenario” based on best of breed technology to see what you would do today if you were starting fresh. Having that ideal picture in front of you will help you determine how you can go from where you are today to that ideal you want to be at tomorrow.
Keys For Choosing Great Technology
Here are a few simple keys that can help you manage this process from end to end. While you will, of course, need to dive into the details of companies, products and services as you do your due diligence, if you keep these guidelines in mind as you do, you won’t go wrong. Make sure as you look at each potential technology or service that you drill down on the following keys:
- Company Snapshot – Look at company’s performance/growth for a minimum of 3 years to see how they are trending. Talk to at least 3 current customers. Never select a product without checking user references.
- Product Birthdate – Look at when the product was created and make sure to understand if it is using current technology. There are a lot of products in our industry today that look “full featured” but when you look under the covers you realize they are build in outdated code and are at the end of their product life. You don’t want to be on the “bleeding edge” you want to be on the “leading edge”.
- Value – This isn’t just cost. You need to take into account where the product is today, the likelihood the product will keep pace and evolve and overall support costs.
- Integration – this may be the most important. Whatever a product or service does for you in and of itself, what ability does it have to easily share data with other areas of the business? Can a lead management program, for example, easily interface with your accounting system, to determine ROI on marketing campaigns?
- Ease of use – whether it is for staff or your agents if a product is not easy to use, walk away from it. There is a big difference watching an expert show you how a product can dance and sing from the experience your staff and agents will have when they use the product on their own. Good companies get this so make ease of use a huge priority.
I hope you find this information helpful as you wade through our industry technology and services with your company. If you have any questions or would like additional information feel free to contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org or call me at 716-839-4628.