PropTech is failing to help an industry it doesn’t understand. Agents can change that.
When a new supplier doesn’t work out, everyone loses. It happens.
By Charlie Wright
Just as taking on the wrong instruction can become an expensive nightmare that loses money, choosing the wrong tech supplier can be even worse, for both parties.
No one is to blame for this situation. Estate and lettings agency is impossible to fully understand if you’ve never done it. Tech suppliers want to help, for obvious reasons. When they get it wrong, it’s a case of being under-informed about how their product fits into a client’s agency business.
At the BestAgent Marketplace supplier conference in the video clip above, the clear message from the agent speakers was that PropTech suppliers aren’t listening. Perhaps that’s true of some, but it’s more a case of suppliers not understanding a long, complex, risky, repetitive and unpredictable process.
Agents desperately want better tech, suppliers desperately want to sell it to them. What’s going wrong?
Agents really want tech that fits their individual business needs better. Collectively they are not happy with what they currently have.
The first problem is, each and every agency business is different and unique. As Perry says in the video above, a product that’s not right for one agent might be perfect for 20 others.
The second problem is that each tech product needs to be considered as part of that agency’s overall collection of products. So new suppliers need to accept how they fit into that unique collection, or perhaps don’t.
The third, and possibly largest, problem is that agents are being forced to use multiple different logins, passwords, dashboards, and websites. That’s because until now there has been no way to connect them all into one place.
Agents are too busy with day to day business to consider all the options.
There are around 15,000 small agents, most of them experiencing desperately difficult market conditions, drastic changes in legislation, rising portal costs and furious competition. Together they represent the largest market segment for suppliers, and the best opportunity to recover from the lost income from downsizing of large corporate clients and chains.
For older small agencies, changing how they run their business is daunting. It’s expensive, fraught with uncertainty and carries no guarantee of success (a bit like moving home). But they are facing competition from lean, new, low-overhead agencies starting from scratch, prepared to do whatever it takes to win new listings and get their business off the ground. But doing nothing is no longer an option. What to do.
Done carefully, picking the right selection of tech tools is time well invested and will transform your business.
Every agency is different. Just like our smartphones, the selection of apps we choose is unique to each one of us. (How many of those have we downloaded and never used!) As the owner of your own business, it falls to you to work out what products to choose, what to ignore, what to trial and what’s too risky. It will take time, there’s no way around it, but if you get it right it will pay off far more in the long term than any other decision you have ever made.
What NOT to do when choosing tech: the 3 golden rules
- Do not outsource the responsibility of choosing your tech: it’s a huge, expensive mistake. No one knows more than you about how your business runs and what you want for its future. Do not listen to anyone’s recommendations or advice about what products you should choose. Even if they work very well for the agent giving the recommendation, that does not mean it will work for you. Their business is different, so using the same products as they do won’t necessarily work for you.
- Do not join any organisations that restrict what products you can choose. You will be at a disadvantage over other agents with more freedom to adopt the best new things that come along. Discounts are not a reason to join a club. You can use the supplier products they offer without being a member, and the tech combination that works for your business will be unique. There is no “one-size-fits-all” selection of products that will work the same for a group of agents. (There are some great organisations and clubs to join, just ensure they don’t restrict your choices.)
- Do not sign up to any product if you can’t afford for it not to work. Calculate the total minimum cost of signing to a new product. Then consider the cost of the worst-case scenario, including leaving costs. Check you are able to risk that amount if it doesn’t work out how you had hoped.
How to get your own supplier selection just right and transform your business
- Begin by only considering supplier products that will not only improve your business in expected ways, but will also directly improve your moving service to customers. Anything which enhances, shortens, simplifies or otherwise makes your customer experience better (including training your staff) will give you the best long term return on your investment. Until you have done everything you can to improve your actual service delivery, ignore all other products. Only when you think you’ve enhanced your service offering to the best of your ambition should you allow time to consider other products. But then it is time to look at the rest.
- Sit down and take a moment to write a list of the three biggest operational problems you want to solve. Focus only on solving these three problems before you allow yourself to be distracted or seduced by sparkly new offerings promising the world. There’s time for those later. Only spend time talking to suppliers who have products that they can specifically show you how they may solve your top problems.
- Only deal with suppliers who demonstrate a willingness to get to know what’s different about your business, before they pitch their service. If they don’t listen, or can’t show you how their product meets your particular business style, then at best you will be adding a layer of extra work, cost and complexity to your business, and at worst you will waste money and get distracted by something that didn’t meet your primary needs in the first place.
What can you let go of?
The survival and growth of your business is the priority on which your staff, suppliers and customers depend. Sometimes that means making the tough choices of cutting things out that aren’t making the difference you need. Run through a list of all your outgoings and check that they are all really making the difference you need. You’ll be amazed at the things you’ve always used which are no longer as effective as they used to be. Don’t just add new suppliers in, make sure you are clearing out the old if it no longer works.
I will be recording a talk at Future PropTech on this topic, and on how to work out which portals your business should and shouldn’t be on. Just as with your other suppliers, it’s a different answer for every agent.
In the meantime, I wish you all the best as you refine your business to get it ready for the next era of agency.