Transaction numbers are the crucial factor and estate agents have to accept that the size of the sales market has condensed to a figure that is unlikely to grow for some considerable time.
Of course, those that survived the last downturn can pride themselves for having done so while a vast number of their competitors have failed. There is no doubt that these agents are each of a reasonable standard, for they would not have survived if they weren’t. However, good is no longer good enough. If the market proves as difficult as many commentators expect in the next few years, it is time for agents to establish their X factor and stand out from the crowd and thereby win a greater share of their diminished market. In short, it is time to be exceptional.
There are many fundamental principles that exist in thriving agents, two of which are that they have a clear set of agreed performance targets and hold regular sales-focused team meetings. Agents without these elements in place tend to lack a unified vision and direction, and on occasion a healthy team ethic.
If every team member understands what needs to be done to keep their business profitable, they can all ensure that they contribute to the overall team performance. This knowledge of what has to be done and the continued awareness of the correlation between performance and target fuels motivation and also helps prevent staff from becoming distracted with thoughts about the future safety of their job
Companies who took this arguably radical step to make their business strategy more transparent among staff in the last downturn describe the move as an essential element of their survival strategy.
A daily, or at least regular, team meeting allows business owners or managers to fulfil a number of their key duties in one hit. A good team leader motivates, communicates, organises, problem solves and prioritises, which is all possible during a well-run team meeting.
But it is easy for these meetings to drift along and leaders to go through the motions without achieving their objective, which is why they must ensure they focus on business opportunities,
Leaders’ primary objective must be to review all hot buyers and to ensure everything possible (beyond relying on a software match) has been done to find them a suitable property by reviewing previous valuations, forthcoming valuations, withdrawals and targeted leaflet drops. Every hot buyer represents a sales opportunity – if your company does not do absolutely everything in its power to create a sale to them, that buyer will do business with a competitor, leaving you with one sale less with which to deal and one less prospective recommendation. Replicate that scenario a few times and the result is frightening.
Spending time with the right applicants is crucial, but it requires staff to understand the right applicants with whom to spend time. This is based on an agent’s ability to qualify and categorise effectively new applicants.
It is vital that agents understand how to sort the wheat from the chaff and actually do so on a regular basis and in a consistent manner. I’ve lost count of the negotiators I continue to come across who are unable to show me their top 10 buyers without considerable hesitation and trawling through the applicant database on their computer.
I come from a generation where as a successful salesperson I knew my best prospects from memory, often taking their information with me to valuation appointments so that when I had signed up the instruction I could stop at a phone box en route back to the office to call my applicants and line up viewings before my colleagues even knew the house was on the market. This may be considered an archaic approach when the computer can match the new instruction in seconds and provide a list of all potential buyers, but when that list runs to dozens and sometimes hundreds of people I know for a fact that many agents resort to blanket emailing. Successful agents will be those who can harness the positives of both manual and computerised sales approaches to ensure that no sales opportunity is ever missed.
Exceptional agents also understand their vendor clients better than ever before, and they do this by simply honing in on them as people and not on their property.
Successful listers are typically those who spend more time with potential clients, getting to understand them as people, establishing their real reasons or problems behind the move and ultimately demonstrating that they will be the best agent to find a way to help them move and put their problems behind them. It is this skill of rapport building that has come to the fore in an uncertain market – vendors are confused and need clarity of answers; winning their trust is critical to an agent’s success.
This approach stands them in good stead as they battle for instructions against competitors who are resorting to overvaluing and undercutting on fees. These tactics are dubious in any market, but as it tightens they become highly dangerous. Agents who ceased trading in the last downturn tended not to be those who priced their instructions correctly and charged appropriate fees for doing a thorough job.
Can you honestly say you do a thorough job? I hear some horror stories of agents spending 15 minutes or less valuing a detached property, arriving late or on the wrong day, failing to tell the vendor anything about the housing market or how they reached their valuation figure, claiming that they have not lived in the area long, or taking a week to send a valuation letter.
The common denominator throughout these tales is that they were all told to me by the agents who successfully won the instruction in the face of such inept competition. Listers who are winning instructions at the right price and the right fee are inevitably the most knowledgeable about the local and national property markets. Thus, agency bosses should endeavour to keep their staff up-to-date with key national and local market data so that it can be used to inform and impress customers.
There is a raft of other best practice ideas that I have witnessed across the market that have made a positive difference to agents’ sales performance, including putting offers forward to vendors in person, supported by evidence about why the offer should be seriously considered if indeed it should, and securing more mortgage appointments as a means by which to vet applicants to ensure they can put their money where their mouth is. A structured approach to vendor care calls is also essential – poorly-trained staff can do more harm than good.
The time has come to identify what is exceptional business practice, to instil it, to monitor it and to reinforce it until it becomes habit. Agents who do so will be equipping themselves for the challenging times ahead, leaving those who don’t venerable prey to superior competition.