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Editor’s Note: The RREIN Broker Spotlight Series offers industry insights from members of RISMedia’s Real Estate Information Network® (RREIN), an elite network of leading real estate companies united behind the belief that Information Share Equals Market Share. In this interview, featured in the September 2010 issue of RISMedia’s Real Estate magazine, Prudential Palms Realty and Prudential Lakewood Ranch Realty Owner Helen Sosso, shares her insights on adapting and succeeding in a changing marketplace.

Helen Sosso
Prudential Palms Realty and Prudential Lakewood Ranch Realty

Maria Patterson: Please synopsize your career path and how you came to lead Prudential Palms Realty and Prudential Lakewood Ranch Realty.
Helen Sosso:
I started in Pittsburgh in 1976 as a sales associate for two years then went directly into management with a Century 21 brokerage. I was with Merrill Lynch Realty when it was sold to Prudential in the late ’80s and, at that time, I became a partner in the firm—Prudential Preferred Realty. In 2002, our family decided we wanted to own a real estate company in Florida. We bought a four-office existing company in Sarasota, which we have primarily grown by acquisition. At Prudential Palms, we’ve raised our agent count from about 75 agents in 2002 to 225 agents today. Last December, we purchased Lakewood Ranch Realty from a large developer’s residential resale division and converted it to the Prudential brand. Today, we run both companies in this marketplace as sister Prudential agencies.

MP: How has Prudential Palms evolved and grown over the years to adapt to the marketplace?
The last few years have been very challenging because Sarasota was ground zero for the real estate decline. As the marketplace went backwards, consumers and agents gravitated to leadership and strength. The change in the marketplace enabled us to learn and grow into a much stronger company.

MP: What would you point to as your competitive differentiation in the marketplace?
Customer service. Consumers don’t see the difference between most real estate companies. Frankly, we all offer the same products. That’s why we’ve committed to 100% of our people being part of the Quality Service Certification (QSC) program, an outside organization that surveys consumers to rank customer service. In fact, our company won the national QSC award.

MP: What are today’s consumers most concerned with?
Consumers really want three things. First, they want an agent who can prove what they’re purchasing is a great value. Second, the more information our agents have at their fingertips to disseminate to consumers, the more credibility they’ll have. Third, the consumer is looking for a credible agent who is professional and has the ability to follow up and knows where to go for information, whether it’s legal statutes or tax laws.

MP: How do you equip sales associates to meet consumer needs?
We have a lot of technology products in place, which helps agents with the dissemination of information. Information is the hardest thing to get a handle on because each consumer is searching in a different neighborhood so the information needed varies. Agents have to stay up-to-date on all of it. That’s why we’re involved in RISMedia’s Real Estate Information Network® (RREIN) and why we’re a part of RISMedia’s Top 5 in Real Estate Network®—because these programs help us provide timely, relevant information to agents and consumers.

MP: What is the company doing to keep agents equipped to succeed?
Brand-new agents have a separate office they work out of, and until they have a certain number of transactions, they stay with one manager who works with them on an individual basis. Consumers can be assured new agents are well supervised. For our existing associates, we have an intensive training program. We offer webinars two times a week, videos and regular classroom training.

MP: How are you retaining top-producing agents?
We try to be very agent-centric and very adaptable to the changing needs of top agents in the marketplace. Even though I have over 200 agents, I try very hard to make them feel part of the Sosso family. You can’t just look at them as top-producing agents—you have to look at their personal needs as well in order to understand what makes them tick. Top agents work really hard and need to know that they’re more important to you as people than they are for the money they’re bringing in.

MP: How has your technology evolved to meet the demands of agents and consumers?
You have to make sure you develop a technology initiative that agents don’t get so engrossed in that they end up spending all their time working on the technology and not with the consumer. Our place right now is to educate all the agents, as well as ourselves, on integrating offline and online media. There’s always a place for the personal touch and a place for technology.

MP: In your opinion, what do today’s agents need to focus on to succeed?
Their people skills. You can hire people to do the technology and hire people to do the marketing, but you can never hire someone to replace you. One of the reasons why I’m so excited to be affiliated with Prudential is that it’s one of the only financial institutions that stands unscathed in this financial mess. That’s going to give us and the Prudential franchise a big seal of approval.

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