First things first, a big happy New Year to everyone. Welcome to 2020! It looks set to be another interesting year in the property world, and we’ll be across all the latest news stories on our publications.
2020 is the year agents should embrace tech/automation more than ever before. Talking of which...
VTUK, founded in 1989 by Peter Grant and one of the UK's leading independent property software companies, recently launched a new product – Openview – which it claims is the future of the fast-changing estate agency sector.
The excellent video below explains it all in much more detail, but I also took the chance to catch up with Peter, who more than 31 years later is still the Oxfordshire firm’s chief executive and chairman, to find out more about Openview.
“Openview is the result of over 10,000 business consultancies with property professionals applied to the most advanced technology - not only currently available, but in development over the next five years,” he says.
“The software as a service nature of the product and the highest level of automation in the market will combine to make this a low-maintenance and cost-effective way of our clients delivering to their clients.”
He believes the future will be about knowing your customer, being a ‘genuine and professional’ property adviser in every aspect by resolving the issues of staffing, compliance/licensing, profit and being the ‘centre of the property universe in your locality’.
This happens, he thinks, with intelligent communications and not with admin systems and staff sitting behind desks.
“Openview connects everything to everyone all the time and automates all of the boring stuff.”
Peter has some bold claims, too, when it comes to the potential benefits of the system. “We predict that customers using our platform will reduce their costs by 37.5% but, more importantly, will increase their income by over 40%.”
But what are the main USPs of Openview?
“If we had to choose a USP, it would have to be our 360° Technology, technology that identifies a person to be a person, and a property a property, and every opportunity this presents.”
“However, USPs imply that this can be compared to something else, but with a unique proposition, whereas this is completely different. This is automated, this is collaboration, and this is ‘I.T does IT’, so that staff can tangibly communicate with every stakeholder in the business.”
It’s aimed at the full market, Peter says, with modular architecture which allows full service to be provided. Equally, agents can opt for just certain key activities to fit around their current systems if they are still viable.
“We are looking to build a community of property professionals with skillsets across all disciplines, but particularly with the most innovative and ethical agents who want to deliver a transparent service for the next decade. Size isn’t important to us, quality is everything.”
What makes it more newsworthy than other CRMs already on the market, though? “We’ve provided a fully integrated system that customers can now use either in its entirety, or can cherry pick best of breed functions, to enhance their current systems,” Peter tells me.
“All software updates and support are managed centrally, reducing the burden on clients’ IT teams. It’s more newsworthy because it’s not just a CRM. The market is full of ‘PropTech’ looking to use agents’ data, bolt on third party apps, all delivered in a drop and go fashion. The Openview EcoSystem is the complete opposite of this.”
Peter says many elements have already launched and are being used by VTUK’s clients, with Openview already automating over 6,000 tasks. “But the central data source which brings this into the realms of the data revolution is launching very early this year and the system will continue to evolve with constant development in-house in our offices in Oxford. As we have said, this is client driven. Not created by university graduates in a dark room but forged at the coalface of agency.”
The video talks a lot about the fourth industrial revolution, and a data revolution – I asked Peter what was meant by this?
“Our current industrial revolution is an information technology shift that revolves around data. At the epicentre of this is the need to feed the next technology leap of which machine learning is the starting point, moving towards artificial intelligence, to get where we need.”
For this reason, he says, data is the new gold or oil and agents are not always aware of the value they have in their businesses.
“This is allowing many computer systems to mine their data for resale. Openview does the opposite. We source, import and combine data to create automation. To maximise the value of this is a huge asset in every business.”
“It is very simple for an agent to get on board, they just need to call us. They can either jump in with both feet, or just have a little flirt with the future,” Peter concludes.
You can find out more about Openview here.
Creating a social media buzz
Wesley Muchimwe, digital strategist from specialist town and country estate agents Michael Graham, recently got in touch to say how social media is helping the company to thrive even despite increased competition from online-only estate agents.
Following a marketing audit, the company found that their social messaging was often unaligned to other marketing activity, leaving its audience confused. Deciding to take a leap, Michael Graham – which has 14 offices and approximately 120 staff in key market towns - cut its £1 million print budget in half and decided to invest the money in social instead. The results quickly spoke for themselves, the agency said, with an 100% increase in website visitors, a 10% click-through rate from social campaigns, a sharp increase in valuations and viewings being booked via the website, and a 50% saving on ad spend.
What would you say to agencies who are afraid or wary of social media?
Wesley: Social media is nothing to be afraid of, as long as it’s being used in the right way, for the right reasons. For it to be effective, it must be guided by strong business acumen and an understanding of how it will support the overall business goals of an estate agency. The only time I believe it can become an issue is when the management of a social strategy occurs on an ad-hoc basis.
For it to work, it must be seen as a business priority and embraced across the whole organisation.
Is it now necessary to really embrace these avenues?
Wesley: Absolutely! Just think about how much time people spend on social media in their personal lives. It helps us to know just how many people we could be potentially reaching with our message and content.
However, for a brand to resonate across each platform, there must be an understanding of what the audience is interested in, what content they are most receptive to and what they use each channel for. The insights we’ve been able to obtain from our social platform Hootsuite has been integral to us understanding our customers better. This means we’re able to tailor our content to suit our customer wants and needs, ensuring we are targeting the right people.
Will agencies who don't use social media (or don't use it wisely enough) simply be left behind?
Wesley: We live in a world dominated by digital, so I do think it's fair to say agencies not investing in social are likely to get left behind.
If an estate agent isn’t using social media, or isn’t doing so wisely enough, then you can sometimes notice other elements of their digital marketing starting to suffer. For instance, websites aren’t kept up-to-date, they’re not innovating, not using the right communication channels or using effective marketing collateral.
Social media should be used to foster relationships with customers, as it's one of the most effective ways to communicate. Ultimately, a positive interaction could result in a customer clicking through to an agent’s website and converting into a well-qualified lead. Therefore, not using social media could expose an estate agent to redundant ways of marketing, resulting in them falling prey to more tech-savvy competitors.
Is there one social platform that is best for estate agents to use?
Wesley: All platforms are equally important and should be used concurrently. If used properly, customers can see your brand at different stages of their buyer journey, therefore gaining a clearer picture of what your brand represents and how you can answer their needs.
How frequently do you post across your social media accounts?
Wesley: We vary how often we post dependent on the social channel being used. The minimum post per channel per week is four, and the max is seven. We find this way helps us achieve a balance of being informative to our audience while not oversaturating them, which could have a detrimental effect.
Is there a fine balance between quality and quantity when it comes to posting?
Wesley: Quality will always precede quantity. It’s easy to fall into the trap of posting for the sake of posting, however this will result in an extremely diluted brand message. The best way to avoid running out of quality content is having a robust content strategy and posting schedule that is constantly being reviewed to discover what is being interacted with most by customers.
This should be communicated freely up and down the organisation, to ensure social is performing at its best.
Thanks to Wesley and Peter for their contributions – a fine start to 2020!
Until next time…
*Nat Daniels is the Chief Executive Officer of Angels Media, publishers of Estate Agent Today and Letting Agent Today. Follow him on Twitter @NatDaniels.