By Casey Reagan
It’s no secret that technology has changed the real estate brokerage business dramatically, but what, exactly, is technology? Is it PDAs, cell phones and computers? Is it software?
While those answers aren’t really wrong, they don’t get precisely to the point. Technology should be an enabler. That is, it enables you by bringing efficiency and productivity to your everyday life and business. Regardless of the size or shape of the box it comes in, useful technology must enable you to do more.
That definition should be the core criterion for evaluating technology purchase decisions. In a world where we are bombarded with the latest and greatest gadgets, it is easy for temptation to take hold. Being a true techno-geek, I have been guilty of this on many occasions. But, while there is room in our personal lives to indulge the gadget bug, in business it is critical to avoid that pitfall.
Need: give them what they want
In a real world example, the RE/MAX Northern Illinois region realized in 2003 that VOW or IDX Web sites where quickly becoming critical to competitiveness in the marketplace and that we should help our agents access this technology. We began with an extensive needs analysis and found that consumers were migrating en masse to the Internet for their home searches. What consumers wanted to find online was information. They wanted to do their own home shopping homework, and they were hungry for portals that assisted in this process. Our data also revealed that consumers rarely used the Internet to research real estate agents and offices.
What emerged was a realization that we had to give consumers the information they wanted, which was primarily access to listings. They wanted the facts and figures about each home, along with whatever photos, virtual tours, floor plans or anything else we could make available. We also determined what would make this work in the RE/MAX world. The answer was not to create one Web site, but to provide a site for every agent and office, thereby empowering them with their own turnkey Internet marketing tool. Additionally, we knew it had to be cost effective and easy to use.
Finding the right answer
Next, we began researching available solutions, looking for the partner with the best set of tools. Our key criterion was that the solution be focused on generating more business for our agents. We also wanted an efficient solution with the right mix of tools; a dynamic but easy-to-use consumer home search to draw traffic, but also one with the behind-the-scenes tools to capture, convert and nurture that traffic into leads.
Another critical issue was that the technology had to give agents the tools they needed to market themselves effectively. We were keenly aware of the time and money spent by agents in pursuing and maintaining Web solutions. It was vital that our system minimize those factors. We wanted our agents focused on their core business of selling real estate. In that context, their time is best spent on marketing and customer interaction, not on tweaking their Web sites.
Although our solution provides many tools for customization and site maintenance, even a majority of our “power users” keep this to a minimum. They know consumers care about the information the site offers, and they leverage that information as a means of building a bridge to the consumer. Over time, as you provide consumers with the information they need, they will gravitate toward you. Indeed, statistics show that the Internet isn’t reducing demand for Realtors, just altering the way relationships are built.
A paramount concern for us was the adaptability of the system. It had to be easy enough for consumers and agents to use easily while also offering advanced tools for those who required them. A critical part of this was putting the proposed system through a beta test. This helped assure that it was tailored to our membership’s needs. It also helped identify potential obstacles to adoption and address them before rollout.
To help RE/MAX affiliates get started and stay efficient, we offer ongoing training and a top-of-the-line support program. Many companies have turned their support function into a giant ticket closing system. This gets people nowhere and does nothing but waste resources, leaving issues unresolved. Our goal is to focus on resolving issues. We don’t always have the right answer immediately, but we work with each individual to find it.
The result is our regional Web program, illinoisproperty.com, which gives consumers the ability to search all residential listings in the Chicago, Rockford and Quad Cities markets. Behind the scenes, it operates as a turnkey marketing platform for every agent. Our Web program offers agents a huge list of features, but in essence it is a tool to market their services and listings and capture, nurture and follow up on business leads.
Casey Reagan is chief technology officer for RE/MAX Northern Illinois.