Here at sales progression and communication tool mio, we recently caught up with Sarah Edmundson, co-director of The AllStars Group, the nationwide provider of estate agency training, consultancy and e-learning solutions.
Sarah shared with us her insight on the importance of training and investing in staff, and the place of technology in the future of estate agency.
Top Tip 1: Break through the noise
Nowadays, estate agents have their inboxes constantly flooded with PropTech or MarTech that’s going to ‘save their agency’, and it is becoming very difficult for agents to cut through that noise.
There are so many different businesses and people claiming they know best and it is almost impossible for agents to know what the most effective approach is for their business.
Another challenge is that consumers have had their heads turned to the possibility of ‘cheap fees’ for selling and letting, initially by the online agents and their monstrous advertising budgets.
Subsequently, many high street agents have felt they have to bring their fees down in order to compete. The reality is, some of the best agents Sarah says she has worked with have actually increased their fees in recent years, mainly due to ‘breaking through the noise’ and offering clear differentiation but most of all - value.
There will always be someone who will charge less than you, but for agents, the key is to make sure that you’re doing a better job than other agents, adding more value to your customers - and making sure that your marketing and teams on the front line are able to articulate this.
So, it could be said that there is internal noise and external noise.
Many estate agents exist in a bubble, understandably given they need to be hyperlocal focused, Sarah’s advice would be to start getting to grips with and take advice on what is working in other areas of the UK, not just in their area (because then all agents start to sound the same in a specific locality).
There are some great forums on social media, although Sarah advises to proceed cautiously; some are set up as selling tools, and some advice given out is not by the best in the business!
The best idea for agents right now is to consider joining a membership or networking organisation that shares best practice and value such as NAEA Propertymark, The Relocation Agent Network (RAN) or a new emerging network such as the Federation of Independent Agents (FIA).
To deal with the external noise that customers are subjected to and that affects every agency business, working towards complete clarity on what you offer your agency clients and how you really add value has got to be number one priority.
This is also where training becomes most important, because the team have got to believe in your offering and be able to tell as many people as possible!
Once you start focusing and investing in your processes and in your team, subsequently improving performance and doing a better job than others around you, you will of course begin to see the results in your numbers.
Sarah advises that any training should have a bespoke element that fits with your individual business because the solutions will be different for everyone, depending on your clients, your internal team, the technology you deploy and the region you are in.
Top Tip 2: Invest in your team and see results
Your team needs to be equipped with the right tools and skills to be able to increase their performance (and prevent over reliance on the portals).
A great example of this is Apple; each team member undertakes 40 minutes of training every single day. When you choose to train and invest in your teams, you are adding such value to them and your customers that it is very difficult to put a price on, but the outcomes should be felt on the bottom line.
When you provide your team with not just ‘great’ training but specific and consistent training, it creates a culture where people feel valued and where they are highly engaged.
According to research carried out by Gallup, highly engaged teams and individuals are proven to be 17% more productive, achieve 20% more sales, and 21% in profitability.
Who wouldn’t want these results in their estate agency business?
AllStars monitor the results of their clients before and after training so they can actually see how they’re doing and track success. Sarah says that nothing is more rewarding than having positive feedback from their clients when they start to see results. You don’t want to spend money on training without seeing an increase in performance.
Of course - investing in your team does not start and end with training. Health and wellbeing should be high on the agenda, as should a great work life balance. In addition, some of the best businesses Sarah works with are like big families - harmonious and supportive for the majority of the time, with elements of constructive conflict that actually improve performance!
Top Tip 3: Build relationships
One of the most common reasons for poor performance is a lack of process and the right technology to support those processes.
Sarah told us that she sees many examples of reactive business models in estate agency instead of a more proactive approach, where customer relationships are nurtured.
As an industry, we are massively behind the curve with the adoption and implementation of technology that improves the experience of the customer. Sadly, the home moving process has become really transactional and agents are struggling to get the basics done well.
Many agents (not all), if they looked with a critical eye at their business, would admit that squeezed margins (amongst other factors) has created an ‘order taking’ mentality from the front office. This is such a shame.
Agents can be really good at creating relationships but what’s equally important is maintaining them. At the most simplistic level, agents should have a multi-channel contact strategy for all customers in their CRM, in a more advanced environment and actually applicable to all businesses really, agents should be investing in tech that supports a great customer experience.
Why let the portals do the work we promised we would do on the initial call? Often when someone is moving home there are highly emotional factors linked to it.
Let us not, as an industry, forget the magnitude of what we are doing to help people move.
Mini Top Tip: (which Sarah admits she stole from her business partner Bryan Mansell): You should be thinking of it like this - as soon as a property has exchanged contracts, a buyer will then become a seller therefore they should be going back into your database as a potential sales vendor - you should be constantly communicating with people in your patch.
You’ve got to have a proper nurture programme in place. You’ve got to have the tech that will take your customers through a journey and automate it as much as possible, but still make it feel personal.
Top Tip 4: Embrace technology but don’t lose the personal touch
There is a plethora of really great property technology out there, however Sarah thinks there seems to be poor application of these technologies and in other cases complete over reliance.
So many agencies invest in several dashboards for their agents to use, agents are logged in one day and forget to the next and then they cease to use them anymore. Agencies are paying out for them, but agents are not actually using it.
Undoubtedly, some of this technology is really good at shortening transaction times and increasing conversion rates, with mio being one of them, but the adoption needs to increase.
Sarah feels that if you’re investing money into these technologies, teams should be taught how to best use them, and it should be embedded into the culture of the business to ensure the right blend of automation and personal touch.
This is another example of where congruent processes and training are key.
Top Tip 5: Utilise mobile to improve user experience
As part of AllStars training and consultancy offering, Sarah carries out a lot of mystery shopping and, during this time, she has found that the Purplebricks booking process is really rather good.
It’s a very simple process; customers can book anytime of the day or night, the confirmation comes by text message and by email, you get reminders and it is forwarded straight into your calendar.
This is now something that consumers expect as everything from booking doctors’ appointments to gym classes is done on mobile.
One of the most under-utilised things in agency, from a technology point of view, is mobile: texting, notifications and actually pinging people’s phones with push notifications.
Sarah urges agents to consider how they can adopt more mobile but then keep a personal element too, always thinking about the perfect customer experience.
Sarah says that if it was her agency, she would be adopting technology that enables online booking, but she’d be picking up the phone to call the customer the day before she went to introduce herself, fact find and add that personal touch. It’s all about transparency and touchpoints in this day and age!
mio would like to thank Sarah Edmundson who is co-director of AllStars with business partner Bryan Mansell. Since 2017, they have trained over 3,000 estate agents across the UK!
*Jon Horton is product director of mio, powered by tmgroup