It's coffee o'clock! Group of coworkers having a coffee break

Inman Connect NY in January for me was one of the best Connects I have experienced in quite some time. I am admittedly jaded. I have missed but a handful of Connects.

I also have an insider’s point of view. I am a proud Connect alumnus. I was fortunate enough to be recruited by Brad Inman in 1997 to take charge of marketing, sales, and PR for the first full-blown Real Estate Connect held at the San Francisco Hilton.

Connect NY 2020 felt like the glory days.

Like the first Connect when Guy Kawasaki, the original Apple marketing guru for the Mac, took the stage and said, “Beta 1.0 means never having to say you’re sorry.” Or when Charlie Rose interviewed the founder of Netscape and online wunderkind, Marc Andreessen.

And how about that iconic moment when founders Sergey and Larry, of a then, little-known firm called Google took the stage at Connect? At the time, Google was just starting to figure out how to monetize all the traffic it was generating.

Or how about the time right before the dot-com boom went bust, Dave Liniger, the founder of RE/MAX, took the stage at the Sheraton Palace in San Francisco and called bulls—t on all the online firms.

Dave told the Connect audience that he didn’t buy the claim that earnings didn’t matter, that there was a new business paradigm, and it was all about market share. Earnings still matter, Liniger said. He was soon proven more than right, and it feels like we could use someone talking the truth about why NET earnings, not fake earnings called EBITDA, are just as important as ever.

Connect NY this go around had moments like that. I talked with many folks who said the same thing.

There was one takeaway that was a bit of a surprise. It was a theme that I heard from broker-owners and agents repeatedly throughout Connect.

It was about getting back to the basics.

It also was about tech fatigue. Several brokers talked about how we have spent so much time and energy in our industry on technology that is agent- or broker-centric.

So many of the tech tools we have created, they argued, have been designed to help agents save time, save money, become more productive, unshackled them from their computers so they can spend more time in the field.

So, we have inundated agents with technology. Even though we already know they may have dozens of apps on their phones, but they typically use only a few of them regularly.

Brokerages provide them with tech tools agents fear will steal their contacts, so they balk at using them. There is so much technology for agents, yet a superior tech adoption rate is considered 30 percent. That’s a miserable number unless you factor in how many agents only do one or fewer transactions a year. It’s a scary number.

Still, tech fatigue is real as the amount of dollars brokerages, and agents have been throwing at tech solutions.

What if, more than one Connect NY panelist asked, we took the dollars we are investing in new tech and redirected to something that directly benefits our clients – the consumer.

One broker-owner mentioned that they took one-third of their tech budget and redirected it to an annual client party. It was a huge hit, and now people want to get “on the invitation list” because it has become that kind of event. Better yet, they found attendees feel indebted to the brokerage and are highly motivated afterward to refer folks. The business from this one event outpaced any metric from technology that was related to creating new business.

What they discovered should not be a surprise to anyone who knows the real estate industry. That was working within your sphere; reaching out and connecting in a personal way to past clients will cause one’s business to spike. Study after study shows that the majority of most agent’s real estate business comes from their sphere and past clients.

The surprising takeaway at Connect NY for me was that sometimes technology is not the answer. It can be distracting or overwhelming. That it can prevent agents from doing what works best: like writing a personal thank you note or congratulating a client whose child just got accepted into a major university.

We are in a relationship business that begins and ends with the consumer. Whatever an agent can do to enhance that relationship is what will score that agent’s new business. The personal, little things still matter to clients, and they are more crucial, in many ways than all the tech tools that we tell agents they should be using.

Ask this question: How is this new technology going to help my client? If it won’t, it may be time to pass on that tech. Your business just might benefit a lot more by continuing to practice putting yourself in your customers’ shoes.

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