This article was originally published on Inman News.
Focus is critical in a time of fear. Your peace of mind and the survival of your business depend on it. But anxiety can zap your productivity and put your brain in flight mode. It needs something to fight for.
It’s time to write your plan for sustainability and growth. The businesses that survive this downturn will be the ones with a plan to follow. So, write it down. Post it somewhere conspicuous. Paper is one of the best accountability partners you can find.
Those who recognize what they can’t control — and plan around what they can — will be poised to come out of this downturn in growth mode. Focus on the future you want to see for your business.
For now, just keeping a business running is a win. Allow yourself to accept that reality and feel good about it. Envision where your business could be six months or a year from now.
Traditional consultants would tell you to make cuts quickly and deeply, but these are not traditional circumstances. There are government loans and incentives to keep staff employed. There’s hope that we can get back to semi-normal life in a couple of months. The real estate market may be one of the first to bounce back.
Be protective of your finances and also of the equity you’ve built in people and services. Rehiring, retraining and restarting your people and systems is a costly process. Be decisive, but not rash.
Acknowledge that this is a sustain-and-plan period. Recognize achievements of employees and peers through this lens.
This is an unprecedented time of physical isolation and social opportunity. People are struggling to fill their minds with productive or comfortable thoughts.
Find a way to provide value to them, even if none is returned in the short term. There’s never been a better time to interview and survey your current and prospective customers about what they need. It might have nothing to do with your business, but it’s still an opportunity to help.
“Be a painkiller, not a vitamin,” has never been more appropriate. Find your unique problem-solving service that lodges in the pleasure receptors of your customers’ brains. Make it your singular marketing theme.
Sharpen your marketplace knowledge while educating your customers. Every hour spent on market research instead of on news websites is an extra hour devoted to your success.
Themes to explore to get your planning started
Focus on leading consumer trends in the industry and the world. What’s dominating current conversations?
What can your organization do to improve remote access of services? This isn’t a temporary trend. Work-from-home is already well-established in the real estate industry. It will only grow.
Review every one of your services and see which components could be moved to a digital format. Don’t assume that your customers enjoy in-person transactions. Which services can you provide with options for both digital and traditional?
Virtual tours are a no-brainer, and virtual open houses are a logical next step. A seller or listing agent can walk through an empty home on live video, answering questions on the fly and adjusting the tour to viewers’ requests.
At RESO, we’re in the final stages of converting an on-site national conference into a purely digital event. If you need advice on planning your event, feel free to reach out for advice.
Remote services can still deliver a human touch. Consumers expect personalized experiences. Are your communications and outreach dialed in to each customer’s needs? Do they feel like they interacted with a real person after they’ve worked with you?
You have more time than ever right now to do a full communications audit. Accept it as a gift to your business.
Every interaction with a potential customer can be improved by a word or phrase that makes it feel human. Don’t let a single communication go out without asking how it makes the recipient feel.
Speed and certainty of services
The iBuyer phenomenon has made it clear that some consumers will pay for certainty. Others just want to know what those options look like.
What can your business do to provide more clarity and certainty in your services? Can you add guarantees, shorten timelines or provide insurance to cushion customers from volatility?
Alternatively, what can your business do to aggregate information about competitive services and provide that information to customers in an organized fashion? How can you format and deliver that information so that it’s an educational benefit to the customer and not a just sales pitch?
The business that provides the facts gets to deliver the storyline that surrounds them. Find ways to add certainty to the services you provide, and practice clearly explaining the trade-offs of all of a consumer’s options.
Consolidation of market share
The best businesses continue to take larger percentages of market share, from MLSs to brokers and agent teams. Building your knowledge of the competition is important, as is building your internal skillset and professionalism to be able to manage a larger share of customers.
Step up your professionalism and knowledge to be ready to thrive in an increasingly competitive landscape:
- Professional education and webinars (free or significantly discounted)
- Commitment to Excellence (C2EX) program
- Current crisis resources for business people and employers
Data reporting and insights
Real estate businesses are sitting on troves of actionable data. Only a fraction of it is being organized and distributed in an informative way.
What are brokers, agents, clients and consumers doing today that points to what they’ll be doing in the future? Digging into data can give us these answers:
- Scheduled showings
- Agent/consumer apps
- MLS interfaces
- Consumer portals
- Broker websites
Explore your reporting tools. Can you deliver listing or showing activity reports to customers that point to needed changes in a listing? Combining online listing traffic data from all of your technology tools can provide a unique value that most consumers aren’t receiving.
Analyze the same ideas on a broader scale. Which tools can provide new insights on multiagent activity and buyer demand? How can you encompass that into an easily-understandable format that you don’t need to sell? Deliver a unique set of information points and consumers will come looking for it.
You probably already have some of these tools available to your customers. Many of them probably don’t realize it exists. Craft marking about the data reporting and insights your products can provide to your customers, and how they can provide it to their customers. It’s a perfect opportunity to proactively drive customer retention and help them strengthen their businesses.
The MLS is uniquely positioned to bring data transparency to the industry at an unmatched scale. A one-stop-shop for marketwide activity and predictive modeling is just an interface and a cooperative broker agreement away. There’s a roadmap to kick start the technical process in RESO’s Internet Tracking standard.
Aggregating and sharing anonymized activity data will require brokers to come together and agree to greater cooperation. Look at the success of Buyside and RealScout’s Buyer Graph. Brokers want this data.
There’s no magic path to surviving and succeeding in this market. With the right mindset, though, you can write your plan to forge ahead with confidence. However far away that light is at the end of the tunnel, it’s there if you focus on it.
Sam DeBord is CEO of Real Estate Standards Organization (RESO). He has served as the National Association of Realtors President’s Liaison for MLS and Data Management, President of Seattle King County REALTORS, and Managing Broker for Coldwell Banker Danforth.