Back in 1983 when I first started in the estate agency industry as a keen but raw recruit, I was lucky enough to be trained by a gentleman called Anthony Ekins, whose influence on my career has been greater than that of any other individual. Such was the charisma and inspiration of the man, that despite having three simultaneous job offers from agents at the time, it was only him I wanted to work for.
Amongst other things during his training and mentoring, he imparted the first rule of estate agency, which is as valid today as it has ever been…”If you have the best stock of well-priced properties, the buyers and tenants will find you.”
The subject matter that my existing and new client firms are requesting us to cover on our forthcoming training sessions serves as a clear barometer as to the typical challenges that the market is throwing their way, and there has been a high demand for courses aimed at increasing the quality and quantity of instructions, in both the sales and lettings sector.
Throughout 2015, we have worked with a large number of agents on this crucial element of their businesses, reviewing and perfecting the key stages of their “instruction operation” or “listing process”. How to win the business by being seen as different from the competition has been one of the most significant areas to be given attention.
Many firms are already good at what they do, however my constant mantra with these companies is that “good is no longer good enough”. Pretty much all agents who came through the challenging market of the last five years must probably be “good” to have done so, therefore any agent who conducts business to a “good” standard will almost certainly be perceived as the same as everyone else. In turn, if landlords and vendors perceive potential selling/letting agents as similar in standard and approach, those clients tend to base their judgement on which agent to instruct upon the most basic differentiator – the fee.
This is a disaster for most agents, assuming you are not one of those who are looking to rely on getting instructions by being the cheapest.
The best practice principles in securing quality instructions against high price/low fee competitors that we cover in our training are too numerous to list here, however a few essentials should be borne in mind.
One exercise we have conducted on recent training courses has been to issue a questionnaire to all the attendees that asks about the detail of their company’s services as well as those of the main competitors. Questions include ones about opening hours, number of property portals used, years of trading, number of completed sales in the catchment area over the previous twelve months, amount of combined staff industry experience, membership of trade bodies/affinity groups and lots more. It has been fascinating to see what a struggle it is for a large proportion of valuers to answer the questions accurately with confidence – even the ones relating to their own proposition let alone that of their rivals! One company’s valuers, when asked how many associated branches their firm had, gave a range of answers from 200 to 1500!
The old adage that “People buy differences” in selling is as relevant now as it has ever been. It is hard to see how a valuer can sell the “differences” of their service offering against a competitor when he/she has not grasped the detail of either. This is an example of a lack of knowledge which makes a valuer vulnerable to a superior clued-up rival. Plugging this knowledge gap is relatively easy with a well-structured training session (and perhaps a mystery shopper call or two to local agents). Once full knowledge is in place, it becomes clear which elements are your strengths versus the weaknesses of the other agents. This in turn ensures that the competent valuer can highlight those important differences between his/her services and the competition’s. The result of that approach is that the potential client perceives clear, tangible differences between agents’ offerings leading to them weighing up whose services will secure the best result in terms of price, speed and quality of buyer. The ultimate upshot of that deliberation is that the fee becomes of less central to the decision making process.
There are many other behavioural improvements that we have instilled in valuers which contribute to success – suffice to say that they are all geared to ensuring the individual stands out from the crowd.
Be different, be memorable, be successful. There really is no other option.