Firstly, a huge thanks to everyone who shared and commented on my first blog and for all those that emailed me directly. Over the coming weeks, I'll focus on the different solution offerings and some of the products within those.
First and foremost, it’s essential that I start with the most important part of any agent’s PropTech - software.
If, for any reason, you are not currently using an agency software platform (or you are unhappy with the one you are using) make sure you make this your number one priority for 2018.
No matter what stage you’re at - start-up, growing or established - you must have the best tools to work effectively, be compliant and embrace even the most basic elements of tech within your business.
Trust me - this will be the most valuable investment you have ever made in your business!
Who to pick…or rather, how to pick?
It would be wrong for me to sit here and say forget everyone else, just use ‘x’. Aside from the fact I have no hands-on experience with each platform, the main reason for this is that I don’t know you and I don’t know your agency.
Contrary to what many members of the public think, we are far from all being the same and therefore the software that is right for us is as unique as the team we have assembled.
A brief search online has revealed over 20 software brands/products that I am familiar with and about the same again that I have never heard of. So, before you even think about searching them out, these are the key questions you need to answer.
I recommend sitting down as a company for (at the very least) 30 mins to discuss some of these points openly:
• What areas of agency do you operate in - sales, lettings, lettings management, block management, commercial?
• Do you prefer one provider that handles all of your offerings, or are you happy to use the best products applicable to each service?
• What are the five tasks (per service) that take up the most staff hours?
• What are the tasks that you and your staff hate doing the most? Don’t undervalue job satisfaction.
• What are the most common questions/requests you get from your clients? (e.g. ‘What is the status on x?’ or ‘I can’t find May’s invoice’ or ‘What’s the progress pf my sale?’)
• If you’re honest - where are the most common ‘human errors’ within the business?
• Do you have a budget in mind - if so, what is it? This can be per user, per branch or for the company as a whole.
• Do you use any standalone tech services that you are adamant you want to retain? Examples that spring to mind are the likes of BriefYourMarket.com, Fixflo, Goodlord, EyeSpy360 and so on.
• Do you simply want an office- based product or do you want a more mobile platform?
• Does it need to have an accounts solution or integrate with one you already use? This could be industry products like PayProp or broader offerings such as Xero, Sage or QuickBooks.
• Are there any particular services you would like to offer that you can’t at the moment? This could be things like utility switching and conveyancing referrals or app-based solutions for tenants/landlords/sellers.
• Do you want/need the software to be compatible or even integrate in to your website?
• What type of reporting would you like or need to be able to generate through the software? This could be anything from pipeline and banked revenues, negotiator performance, property performance, marketing reports, etc.
• When is the best time of year to adopt or migrate to a new software? I have always found the quietest times of year are the best as these enable you to focus and commit to the job at hand.
• Who in the company is most suited to oversee the research, demos, product selection and migration? This may be one or several people - and none of them are necessarily the senior decision makers!
By answering these, and any other questions you may have, before going on the hunt will help you dramatically narrow down the best products and suppliers for your needs.
The reality is that, short of building your own platform, it’s highly unlikely you will find the perfect product/partner (sorry, software guys) so you may want to create a table to establish who your ‘leaders’ are.
From there, you can go about reaching out to them to discuss your needs in more depth, arrange demos and (very importantly) speak to several of their existing agents to find out what they do and (top tip) don’t like about the platforms.
When asking to speak to agents for referrals try to ensure you are given ones of a similar size and market level - there’s no point hearing what a 150 member agency thinks if there’s just four of you and vice versa!
Adoption - the more you commit, the more you will be rewarded
I remember early in 2011, about 18 months after adopting our software, sitting in front of my screen thinking: I haven’t used about 70% of this yet, what are we doing?!
We weren’t even using basic tools like creating documents and tenancies because we hadn’t dedicated the time and resources to set them up. From then on, we have made a commitment to regularly explore our software, look at features and elements we don’t use and (if deemed beneficial) set about adopting their functionality into our processes. This has seen us constantly evolve and become ever more efficient internally, delivering service features our consumers love and rave about.
I’ve said it before and I will keep saying it - you have to treat every single product you adopt as a member of staff. You can’t just have them start, expect them to integrate themselves, expect staff to adopt to their new processes and get frustrated and angry when they don’t.
You have to take the time and effort to embed these platform into your business and use as many of their features as you can find value in. This is not just a process when you start but, like all good staff, an ongoing process that you keep coming back to.
Much like staff, these products will evolve and learn new tricks - so you should never run out of things to improve.
Everyone benefits from feedback
You wouldn’t expect a member of staff to change and improve without giving them constructive, detailed and insightful feedback. Your software is exactly the same.
Despite being one of our supplier’s smallest customers, we have contributed incredibly to the way their products have evolved and also to the development of new products and features we deemed essential.
Great software companies understand that making you and your clients happy is how they succeed - so take time to give feedback to your supplier whenever you can.
Over time, you should see the benefit of this effort as the platform, features and offerings evolve - and take time, at least once a year, to discuss the software as a company or (at the very least) in departments.
Next time and beyond…
Next time, I intend to look at sales progression and tracking tools, key features to think about and tips on how to embed them in to your agency successfully.
I want to ensure these blogs deliver interesting and helpful insight to my fellow agents, so please do get in touch and let me know what you have and haven’t liked so far, and also what else I can include to help you on your PropTech journey.
Much like the products, your feedback will help me make this better for you!
*Kristjan Byfield is company director and co-founder of base property specialists