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charles_nitschkeIn the following interview, Charles Nitschke, CMO at Tomlinson Sotheby’s International Realty in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, discusses his firm’s adoption of a CRM system and lead response time solution.

Region Served: Idaho and Washington
Years in Real Estate: 17
Number of Offices: 17
Number of Agents: 800
Average Sales Price: This varies by market and brand, but we cover everything from entry-level homes to luxury properties in excess of $20,000,000.
Average Time on Market: Once again, this varies wildly, with the more affordable homes turning over in 30 to 60 days and the upper end of the spectrum taking months or even years to connect with the right buyer.

We interviewed you a few months back. At the time, you were preparing to get your whole office to agree on standardizing how you managed your customers. What was the first thing you implemented around lead response?
We adopted FiveStreet, implemented a five-minute response time for listing inquiries and a broadcast model that gave every agent in each office an equal opportunity to pick up new leads.

Did your agents have to change how they handled leads?
From a technical perspective, it wasn’t a big change. From an agent behavior and perception perspective, it was a huge shift. In bringing our lead response policy in line with MIT’s five-minute-for-optimal-conversion window, there was some heartburn at first. Seventy-five percent of our agents were missing their listing leads, and those leads were being broadcast out to an entire office of very competitive agents all diving for the ball. By the end of the first 90 days, listing agents had adapted to the system, claiming over 50 percent of their own leads. Agents had also adapted to the broadcast model and were only picking up leads if they were in a position to immediately service them.

What was the standard for response time both before and after integrating FiveStreet?
There was a lot of variability in response time, ranging from a few minutes to several hours, with a number of leads getting no response at all. I think agents always had good intentions, but the realities of being constantly on the go led to a culture of “I’ll answer that when I get back to the office.” Very few leads were answered in under 10 minutes, and with inefficiencies in our previous system, lead routing could take up to half an hour. When asked, our agents felt 45 minutes was a reasonable response time, but they hadn’t taken into account the dramatic shift that has gone on in the post-Netflix and Amazon consumer, who has become accustomed to getting information immediately and in a format they want to consume it in. With FiveStreet, we’ve gotten agent response times down to under five minutes if the listing agent captures it, and under 10 minutes if the lead has gone to broadcast.

How did you get your agents to agree to this? Are they seeing results?
A big part of agent adoption was education. MIT, Harvard and the WAV Group have done very comprehensive studies on the relationship between lead response time and lead capture and conversion. The numbers clearly state that there is a 100-times multiplier when you go from 30 minutes to five minutes or less. This means you’re 100 times more likely to capture the lead and start a conversation if you get in under the five minute-mark, which makes sense since the consumer is most likely still at their computer, not having moved on from the initial inquiry to whatever new distraction has come their way. The second big a-ha moment came from being completely transparent and showing agents where the leads went, who captured them, what the conversion was and what improvements we were seeing month-to-month as we transitioned from one system to another. The results were stunning, and when sharing those success stories at office meetings, success bred further success.

You’re also using Top Producer. Was this a training hurdle, or did you find a way to simplify the implementation?
Top Producer is a very powerful tool that can be intimidating to someone who may not have had any exposure to CRMs. The first thing we did was to focus on Top Producer Mobile. Reducing the program down to six very well defined and process-driven buttons made the program instantly more approachable, enabling agents to begin seeing the benefits much more quickly. For many of our agents, this six-button version may do everything they need to do with the system, and they may never have to dive into the full desktop version of Top Producer. That being said, we now have a number of agents who have begun diving into the full desktop version to start taking advantage of the additional features as they start to customize the system to fit their specific business needs. That’s the beauty of the program; it’s very flexible and can provide tremendous value in its simplest form, or be fully customized to fit the needs of your power users.

Using Top Producer, did your agents start following up more consistently? Did they get results?
Follow-Up Coach in Top Producer produced results immediately, even before we finished the first 45 minutes of hands-on training with the support team from Move. When we got to the Follow-Up Coach part of the training, an agent sent out her very first email to someone in her database and got a response back that they were thinking about selling their rental property. That was a listing appointment on the very first contact. The second email she sent out on the list of five contacts that Follow-Up Coach presented to her was met with a “I thought you were dead” response from the client. As you can imagine, this was met with much laughter by everyone in the training session, but it was completely illustrative to the state of many agents’ past client databases. They live somewhere between “I would love to do some business with you today” to “I thought you were dead.” From that point forward, we’ve encouraged every agent to use the Follow-Up Coach to contact its default five people per day, five days a week, 50 weeks a year. This is a five minute-activity, and if done consistently, you’ll have made 1,250 contacts in a year.

Where do you see this going?
Moving forward, we plan on doing continued training and diving deeper into the long-term drip capabilities of Top Producer. We’re also looking at adding Market Snapshot into the mix to provide agents with the content everyone is looking for regarding what’s going on in the market and how their specific neighborhood is doing.

What would you recommend to a broker who wants to make a change like this?
First, you need to have a lot of agent trust, which we built by being completely transparent with every facet of the program. We gave ourselves plenty of room for making mistakes and for misunderstandings. We looked for the success stories early on, and made sure to share them so the group could keep its eye on the prize. And last but not least, we set expectations that were reasonable.

For more information, please visit www.tomlinsonsothebysinternationalrealty.com, www.fivestreet.com or www.topproducer.com.

Zoe Eisenberg is RISMedia’s senior content editor. Email her your real estate news ideas at zoe@rismedia.com.

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