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TODAY'S OTHER NEWS

PropTech Today: Is PropTech ‘atrocious’ at marketing, or do we need to relax?

An interesting debate has been sparked in PropTech this week.

It started with an interview, published on YouTube, in which Kristjan Byfield and Christopher Watkin discuss how PropTech firms are poor marketeers and that this is a key reason for reluctance to adopt technology in the property industry.  

Is this true, or do property professionals actually continue to sleepwalk into a future which simply innovates around them? 

If true, the comments are quite damming of the PropTech industry. During the interview, Kristjan speaks very eloquently about an ongoing confusion among professionals as to how most PropTech solutions actually benefit them on a practical level. 

“[PropTech companies] often go about building an entire business model...without coming out of the micro-bubble of their own personal little world. They have no industry knowledge, no industry experience.”

This, he suggests, is how many entrepreneurs approach the property industry, interested more in how they can become a ‘millionaire in five years’ than how they can truly benefit those within the industry. 

This lack of knowledge and experience, says Kristjan, leads PropTech companies to market themselves in flawed, industry-inappropriate ways. It is no surprise, then, that many property professionals remain unimpressed by the countless pitches they receive.

Kristjan says, for example, that many don’t understand that ‘80% of the [agency] market is made up one-or-two-branch agencies’ and that pitching to them is profoundly different to pitching to a corporation. 

Their lack of industry knowledge also forces them to act based purely on their knowledge of the technology world - often they look at the true giants of this world and mimic their successful marketing methods. 

The problem here, according to Byfield, is that most tech giants are B2C-focused, selling directly to the consumer. This is ‘radically different’ to the common PropTech need of selling to businesses.

Difficult to identify a good fit

At this point, the interviewer, Christopher Watkin, suggests that PropTech marketing is ‘atrocious’, a comment which, at first, made me jolt. 

But then I put the question to the Unissu community and it seems some people agree with him.

Gavin J Gallagher, Head of Innovation at Earlsfort Group, had the following to say:

“I’ve had quite a few PropTech entrepreneurs in front of me pitching their businesses in the last twelve months. I always welcome the conversation because I am curious about PropTech and I enjoy the discussion, but a number of them were very poorly prepared, struggled to clearly articulate the benefits to me (the customer), and did not have clarity on the problem they were claiming to solve...the shortage of skills in areas such as pitching or structuring the offer have made it difficult for me to identify a good product fit.”

First things first, it is completely unforgivable to arrive at a pitch without knowing exactly how your customer benefits from your offering. Absolutely appalling.

In fact, it’s so appalling that I struggle to believe it’s that much of a common occurrence. How does one go about forming a company and building a platform without even knowing why you’re doing it? 

I don’t think you can; and I certainly don’t think it’s a common theme throughout PropTech. In truth, I think we all need to calm down a little. I think both sides have unrealistic expectations of the other. 

I say it’s unreasonable to expect a technology founder to have an equally intimate knowledge of an industry as the professional who has been working in it for fifteen years.

Equally, it’s unreasonable to expect that a property professional shares the tech entrepreneur's nuanced appreciation of technology. 

And yet, these are commonly cited as reasons for the ongoing tension between the two sides. 

Two heads are better than one, and certainly better than none

We need to understand that each party is coming from a different angle, a different background, and brings with them different knowledge. And we need to understand that this is a good thing! It’s where all the power of technical disruption comes from.

If an agency, for example, is going to dismiss a PropTech platform because they perceive them to lack industry knowledge, they’re not going to make any progress at all.

If their knowledge is flawed, why not help them improve it? It is, after all, for everyone’s benefit.

At the same time, PropTech professionals can’t enter a pitch and talk in technical jargon about algorithms and automation only to act stunned when the audience fails to see the practical benefits of such cerebral concepts.

We are all flawed in our own way, yet, if we’re willing to look, we’ll see how all our edges happen to fit neatly together.

We need patience - I’m not convinced it’s a virtue, but it’s certainly an ingredient to prolonged success.

I admire Kristjan a lot, and not just because of his enviable, glorious, two-tone beard. He is a rare breed; someone who has a detailed knowledge of the property industry alongside detailed knowledge of technology. We can’t, however, expect everybody to be like Kristjan.

I do want to clarify that I agree with many things he says, he raises some really important points and I recommend everyone watch the short interview.

But, I also believe that, if some agents are seeing this as a recurring theme, it might be worth re-evaluating what’s really going on.

Are you just hearing what you want to hear? Is there an underlying prejudice towards technology that leads to selective hearing? A certain schadenfreude from their inability to match your industry knowledge?

I ask the same of PropTech, too. If you are repeatedly failing to execute successful pitches, perhaps you need to reflect on why, rather than angrily penning contrived articles about contemporary luddites in which it is suggested that ignorance is the new wooden clog.

Why must one side hold the power?

At one point in the interview Christopher Watkin, more or less scoffs at the idea of a technology provider wanting their customer to be more open and flexible, as if such a thing is utterly unreasonable.

This is a problem to me. Because the answer is yes, you do need to be open and flexible. Technology isn’t an option, it is completely essential.

Unless we work together, share our different expertise to co-create a complete vision of the future, we’re all going to collectively fail.

One particularly stubborn barrier to mutual success is highlighted at another point during the interview, when Kristjan suggests that PropTech’s attitude towards property professionals is, you need to work harder to get us.

If this is the vibe PropTech companies are giving off, shame on you. But, if I’m honest, I really don’t understand the purpose of such a statement.

By saying what Kristjan says, is he not implying that he thinks the opposite is in fact true - that PropTech should be working harder to woo property? Because that’s not the case either, and an equally unhelpful standpoint.

It’s a team sport that we’re all playing, and we’re all in the same coloured shirts. I don’t know why so many people seem so very keen for us to don different colours?

This should not be about who has the power, or who has the upper hand in negotiations, or who needs whom the most. That’s old school business-speak, unfit for modern practices.

You should read the fabulous book, The Digital Transformation Playbook - it will explain very clearly how this traditional attitude towards competition and collaboration is completely outdated.

The modern world demands we work on a symbiotic basis - when I succeed, you succeed. This requires both sides to lay down their weapons and talk constructively.

I’m fascinated to hear what you think about all this. Do you agree with Kristjan and Christopher that PropTech is failing to market and pitch itself? And that this is due largely to a lack of industry knowledge? Or do you think property professionals are hearing only what they want to hear?

Or, do you agree with me that it matters not who is failing to do what, because the whole point of this PropTech movement is that we combine the expertise of technologists with that of industry professionals to create something far beyond anything we thought previously possible?

*James Dearsley is a leading PropTech influencer and commentator, and is co-founder of PropTech platform Unissu. You can follow James on Twitter here.

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    It’s taken me 20 years of working with agents to finally get to understand what agency is actually about, and it’s almost impossible to put into words. Yes, PropTech firms don’t understand agency. But that’s not their fault. Unless you have been an agent it is all but impossible to understand what their life is like.
    The other point I would add is that even agents don’t understand agency as an industry, they understand their own business and their own market. I have multiple clients whose businesses are very successful, but operate in completely different local environments with different customer profiles and this dictates a unique set of approaches in each case. Every agency is different. They are at the behest of highly emotional and irrational clients with ever increasing expectations and ever decreasing fees. I understand why PropTech doesn’t understand agency, and vice versa. But progress is coming, and I agree with Kristjan that the onus is on the supplier (PropTech) to understand the client’s (agent’s) problems, not the other way around.

  • Mike Georgeson

    Hi James,
    You might want to introduce Kristjan Byfield to the readers so they know why his views are relevant.

  • Kristjan Byfield

    Hi Guys- for those who don't yet know me I have been an agent for nearly 18 years, 15 of which have been with my own agency 'base property specialists' which my partner and I launched back in 2004 in Shoreditch. Over the last 10 years we have transformed our business through the adoption of (prop)tech and I am passionate both about our profession and the benefits that the right tech can deliver to each and every agency. Over this period I have consulted with several major tech suppliers to help identify and develop product ideas- some of which have proved very successful for those companies and which form a major part of our operations. Three years ago we identified a missing element of our tech stack at base (and in our profession)- that there were no 'end of tenancy' solutions and so, over that time and working in partnership with TDS, we have built, tested and improved a platform that delivers just this which we hope to soft launch in the next couple of weeks and then publicly roll out later this year called The Depositary. I am a huge proptech advocate and am equally passionate about our profession evolving bot internally and in the eyes of our consumers.

  • Kristjan Byfield

    To add some input from me regarding the interview....
    -My biggest frustration with many tech operations is that they either don't engage agents in the development of their platform/operation or do it too late. An integral understanding of agency operations (and how this varies from business to business) is essential in delivering what agents want/need and the tech getting rapid adoption.
    -When I talk about the 'right tech' this is on an 'agency by agency' level. As an agent you need to understand your business, your challenges, your objectives and your target market and adopt the solutions that deliver on those. Just because a product is right for one agency certainly doesn't mean its right for the next.
    -As for marketing, my issue is that actually it is often too 'pretty and flowery'. Agents are currently under immense pressure from many angles, on top of that we are constantly getting sold services be that office operations, marketing, 3rd party services or proptech. As such, for the ease of agents and benefit to the (tech) supplier, the message often needs to be really clean and simple: adopt X and see your sales success rate average 80%, use Y and we will reduce your tenancy set-up admin by 65% or save an hour per tenancy.
    This is a symbiotic relationship for sure and, as this marketplace matures and agents increasingly understand the value of tech within every aspect of heir business, this will improve.

  • Andrew  Estate Agent

    Having adopted Proptech in 1996, not a typo - in my own agency, the leverage it gave us was that each sales person was in fact creating the business of two. We were quicker and more responsive and the general public loved our innovative style blended with traditional service levels. But, the cost of the bespoke software, ongoing service/maintenance/updating systems and time given to all of this, including headspace time given by the company owner has to be factored in.

    If you have multiple branches Proptech is a good solution, but even now I find there is very much a one size fits all approach, ie, I have a solution Mr Estate agent to all of your woes, without spending a day with Mr Estate agent and finding out how his or her empire actually works. Bespoke solutions for bespoke businesses will be the way forward.


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