By Maria Patterson
Back in 2010, while most brokers were still mired in the real estate downturn, Ed Forman was preparing for the future. Observing nascent signs of improving market conditions, Forman and his team at Florida’s Watson Realty Corp. positioned the company for real estate’s imminent recovery with a serious investment in technology and marketing. The goal? To create a turnkey, integrated marketing system to help position Watson Realty’s sales associates as the go-to choice for consumers when they were ready to start buying and selling again. To accomplish the mission, Forman and his team selected Denver-based SharperAgent.
Watson Connect, a customized, online marketing hub designed specifically for Watson Realty by SharperAgent, a veteran in the creation of digital marketing and customer relationship management (CRM) programs, was launched in 2010, putting Forman and Watson’s 1,063 sales associates ahead of the curve as the market began showing signs of life.
Of course, timing market conditions and responding accordingly was not new for this Northeast Florida-based firm. Established by William A. Watson in 1965, Watson Realty has seen its share of real estate markets. So has Forman, a 39-year veteran of the real estate business who, today, serves as the firm’s president. By implementing Watson Connect at the first signs of the market’s improvement, Forman enabled his agents to be well prepared and ahead of the competition once real recovery set in.
Apparently, the timing couldn’t have been better. Today, says Forman, local market conditions have greatly improved. “We have a strong investor market, rental rates have increased, and prices are very good. This is starting to fuel the market. People are buying in the high-end market, and oceanfront and waterfront properties are doing very well. We are starting to see multiple offers and a shortage of listing inventory—dynamics are in play that are starting to fuel the market.”
Like many smart brokers, Forman shifted his approach to marketing during the market downturn. “The down market brought some advantages,” says Forman. “It allowed us to totally analyze how we run our business and how we operate. We moved away from print to online marketing and social media. We’ve created a very powerful website and have become very agent centric. For example, only our sales associates’ names now appear on listings from Realtor.com®. We also implemented a mobile strategy for agents so that leads can go directly to each agent’s individual mobile app.”
According to Forman, this new marketing strategy is built around the idea of partnership—branding both Watson Realty’s sales associates and the company for maximum success. To implement this strategy, Forman shifted dollars away from print and toward technology. “Sometimes I laugh and say we are in the technology business—our product just happens to be housing,” he explains. “However, our online marketing and mobile strategy, and our back-end operation to manage Internet leads is paying dividends.”
The creation of Watson Connect represents a critical component of Forman’s technology-based marketing strategy. For SharperAgent—now a Market Leader company—the goal was to put a broad, technology-based system in place that would integrate all critical functions for Watson Realty’s agent base.
“Integration is critical because everything should be seamless and automated,” says Forman. “Seamless, automated systems increase our sales associates’ efficiencies. Everything they do needs to be streamlined and automated.”
“We looked at Internet marketing and wanted to have systems in place that would allow our sales associates to have a drip marketing campaign, organize their postcard mailings, organize their email campaigns, print flyers and more,” adds Forman. “We chose SharperAgent, who created our own customized system, Watson Connect.”
Not only do Watson Realty’s sales associates take advantage of the turnkey system by simply uploading their client and prospect lists, but so do the firm’s managers who use the private-labeled program for tracking and staying in touch with potential recruits.
The logic behind the creation of Watson Connect is simple yet supremely significant. According to Forman, “We were looking to generate more leads for our sales associates and have a system to help them manage those leads. Lots of times, Internet leads need to incubate for 12 – 18 months, so sales associates need a system to stay in touch with consumers until they are ready to buy real estate. Back in 2010, we felt like the market was beginning to turn. We had done a great job of navigating the downturn and felt like it was time to invest in moving forward. You don’t grow by staying in survival mode. You grow by investing. We felt that 2010 was a good time to start investing in growth. And investing in our sales associates’ business and helping them grow is the best way to help our company grow.”
Selecting SharperAgent as the firm to partner with in this project was a detailed process for Forman and involved bringing in a select team that consisted of Watson Realty’s marketing director, IT director, IT staff, regional managers and several sales associates.
“We brought in SharperAgent to investigate opportunities with Web technology and bringing in the team was necessary to help us evaluate and make the best decision,” explains Forman. “We felt that SharperAgent had the best product and system on the market. And now that the company has been bought by Market Leader, we feel like we really made a good decision, as we now have access to even greater marketing advantages. It’s ending up to be an even better choice than we originally thought.”
According to Forman, SharperAgent’s programs proved to be the most user-friendly and offered an easier solution for those “non-techie” sales associates. “Some of our sales associates are techie, but you must choose a system that almost anyone and everyone can use,” he explains. “Everyone needs to embrace it. As we investigate systems and look at how they can be used in the future and how well we can integrate them into our existing technology, we must also look at the individual user experience. The sales associate working with the system ought to be able to use it to full benefit. You must have excellent traction with any system you implement so that it can increase the income of the sales associate because that increases our income as a company. You may have the greatest product in the world, but if the learning curve is too great, then agents won’t use it.”
While Watson Connect is extremely user-friendly, there are also ample opportunities for sales associates to receive whatever degree of training they need, in both live and online formats. Agents can access training videos online at Watson Connect and new agents can take advantage of monthly classroom training. Online training courses remain on the company’s intranet, making them available at any time by agents of all experience levels.
While Watson Connect streamlines marketing tasks for agents, it also helps agents effectively reach today’s consumers with the information they need, when and how they need it.
As Forman explains, today’s consumers are looking for immediate information…on their terms. “What I like about Watson Connect is that it allows the agent to communicate with the consumer in the way in which they want to be communicated with, whether that means texting, email, video or snail mail,” says Forman. “This helps the agent build effective relationships and stay in touch.”
Watson Connect promises to continue evolving to better assist sales associates in increasing business. “SharperAgent is bringing some good enhancements to the table,” reports Forman. “Their website strategy, their sales associate website strategy and their CRM will now enable Internet leads to go right into each agent’s own Watson Connect. We’re looking forward to the future enhancements that Market Leader and SharperAgent are bringing to the table. We look forward to having even more seamless integration with other lead generating tools.”
For more information, visit www.sharperagent.com.
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