We recently conducted a survey and discussion session with estate and lettings agencies called Agency panel - Cut through the noise and get to the point!, with the aim of finding out how well suppliers are meeting the needs of agencies, how agencies themselves interact with their management systems, and how MRI as a supplier could adapt to better suit the needs and expectations of our clients.
This was followed by a panel discussion with myself, Simon Whale, founder of management consultancy Kerfuffle, and Iain White, founder of the Innovation Collaboration Group, an estate agent consultancy.
The results gave us a lot to think about, with questions arising around training, building partnerships, and collaboration with other suppliers.
However, one of the most surprising results of the survey was the number of technology and software suppliers that agencies are committed to – the highest number recorded on the survey was 30 suppliers, with an average of 11, although when respondents were asked to list them, there were on average an additional three suppliers more than they originally thought.
The volume of suppliers
This figure raises a lot of questions: why do agencies need so many suppliers? Are all of the products agencies are signed up to used enough to justify the expense? What can both suppliers and agencies do to make this more manageable?
To answer why agencies have committed themselves to so many software products, it’s worth looking at the different PropTech solutions that are available.
In the past, many suppliers have sought to satisfy particular sectors within the property industry, whether that’s lettings, sales, etc, and carve themselves a niche within the space. This has then resulted in a number of companies existing to find breaks within processes and developing fixes, which is one way in which agents are driven down the path of signing up to and paying for a multitude of tech solutions.
The answer could lie in collaboration between suppliers. While suppliers working together is something that is gathering pace, the previous practice of blocking collaboration has meant that we’ve potentially lost 20 years of development, resulting in an overly diversified market where finding fully joined-up solutions that truly solve a particular problem from end to end is a significant challenge.
Many agencies will attest that there is no solve-all solution in existence that will do everything an agent needs, so it’s important therefore that suppliers are honest about what exactly their product will solve, and ensure their solutions are able to integrate with the products of other suppliers.
Are all the solutions being used?
Iain White said: “Estate agents are estate agents – they’re not technological gurus. They often know what problem they want to solve but they often buy a platform that doesn’t really solve their problems.”
Frequently, the result of trying to find fixes to create a fully joined-up process without the proper guidance from suppliers or consultants means buying a lot of different, cheap products, that may not be suitable, but are such a small monthly expense that agencies don’t think about it too much.
Simon Whale added: “It becomes expensively cheap…because it just adds up and adds up…at Kerfuffle when we work with an agency, over 1 in 5 realise that they’ve been paying for a supplier that they’re just not using at all...this starts to have a serious impact on your business, not just from a financial point of view but also making sure you’re liaising with these partners to make sure you’re getting the best out of it.”
How do we make this better?
There’s blame to lay at the door of both the suppliers and the agencies. As White explains: “I think there are lots of PropTech firms taking money from estate agents and knowing that the product isn’t being used. There’s two wrongs there, no one’s measuring that properly on the estate agent’s end and the supplier should be having some form of success team to make sure that the product is providing a return.”
The solution here then is two-fold. First, suppliers need to accept the responsibility of ensuring their products are right for their clients, and agencies need to ensure that the suppliers they work with are partnering with them. As White says: “The right suppliers are partners in your business, they’ll take the time to understand you, they’ll work with you and they will help you drive your business...If it’s not a proper relationship with your supplier then look somewhere else.”
Secondly, agencies need to be constantly evaluating the value that a piece of software is providing them. If the product isn’t providing a real return on investment or driving efficiencies within the business, then it’s time to look for a different solution that will.
That being said, it’s also important to include your supplier in your evaluation. Communication can often solve many of the issues you find within your systems, and fully committing to a product can result in fuller, more valuable usage from it.
Choosing the right CRM is one of the biggest decisions an agency make because it has such a profound effect on how the business operates. It makes sense, then, to fully commit to a system that may take some time to fully implement before you start seeing any ROI, but will give far better benefits your company a plethora of dis-jointed, “plug and play” style products.
*Trevor Youens is Senior Director of Residential and Partnerships at MRI Software