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Wondering what today’s customers are most concerned with? Curious how others are retaining top-producing agents? In the following interview, RISMedia columnist Barbara Pronin interviews Broker/Owner of CENTURY 21 Sunbelt Barbara Watt. Read on to learn how Watt keeps her agents fully equipped and her consumers satisfied.

Barbara Pronin: Barbara, tell us a little bit about your career path.
Barbara Watt: I started out as an Oregon farmer’s daughter, but I always had the urge to travel. I got my real estate license in 1976 and started working as an agent for CENTURY 21 in Key West, Fla. It was a great career for me, as we were raising a family, and in the mid-’80s I opened my own company—CENTURY 21 Sunbelt—with a grand total of four enthusiastic agents. Now we are up to 315 of the best agents anybody could want. We are consistently among CENTURY 21’s Top Ten companies, even during the recent downturn years. In fact, we were No. 1 in Unit Sales in 2005, despite the slower market.

BP: What is your competitive differentiation?
BW: Experienced and dedicated agents who are well known, trusted and very knowledgeable about the four counties we serve in Southwest Florida. We are very much a visible part of the community we serve. In addition to all the real estate information that is available through our company website, we have had our own community website——since long before websites were commonplace. It has certainly helped to cement our place as a caring part of the community.

BP: What are today’s customers most concerned with?
BW: Everyone wants a good buy—or to get the best price for their property. That’s something that never changes. We are fortunate to be doing business in a very desirable area—400 miles of canals and waterways, and a laid back suburban ambience that is airport close. For the most part, consumers realize that as inventory decreases, prices start going up, and everyone is anxious to take advantage of today’s deals.

BP: How do your sales associates meet consumers’ needs?
BW: The majority of our agents have been with us for a long while—some as many as 15 years or more. They have seen prices and inventory cycle, and they are able to offer the kind of insight people need to make the best buying and selling decisions. They are able to communicate with their customers through the most current media available, but they know and appreciate the value of face-to-face contact.

BP: How do you keep the sales force equipped to succeed?
BW: We have a full-time trainer who keeps us up-to-date, and we meet weekly, if not more often, with new and experienced agents. We also have a full suite of Internet training programs and a lot of high-touch mentoring within our offices, which is often the best way to learn.

BP: How are you retaining your top-producing agents?
BW: If you treat people the way you want to be treated, they will have no reason to leave—and that, in a nutshell, is what keeps our best producers with us. My door is always open. No assistant is screening my calls, so agents know they can reach me at any time to discuss whatever is on their minds. In addition to all the recognition programs offered through the franchise, we have our own reward systems and a lot of accolades to show our appreciation for their efforts.

BP: How has your technology evolved to meet the demands of agents and consumers?
BW: We have made it our mission to be there first with the most cutting-edge tools—the tools that keep our agents ahead of the curve and our company in front of the competition. We had our iPhone app up and going even before other offices did, and our agents were among the first to be equipped with all the mobile and social media capabilities. We’ve been successfully using QR codes for years, and our barcode technology is a big boost for our agents and their customers. We have also been working to establish a paperless office. Everyone’s information is stored and saved online, at our expense, because when agents are better organized, they don’t have to be paper pushers.

BP: How have you evolved your marketing and promotional strategy to better connect with today’s consumers?
BW: We just contracted with the local paper for a four-page wrap, and I think that promoting our properties in print will always be part of our operation. At the same time, we are committed to getting information to consumers in the most timely and efficient ways possible—and that includes the constantly updated RREIN (RISMedia’s Real Estate Information Network®) material available on our website and our iPhone app that keeps our customers connected to local listings and transactions. Also, we have a pretty big presence in the community though our fundraising efforts for local charities, our support of Easter Seals and our attention to volunteer opportunities.

BP: What are your plans for the future, Barbara, for yourself and for continuing to grow the company?
BW: I can tell you I have no plans to retire. I love this business and I love this company, and coming to work every day is what keeps me young and energetic. We are always open to acquisition opportunities, but we are primarily focused on growing from within and maintaining the technological edge that enables our agents to work effectively from their homes, their cars, their desks, or wherever they happen to be. In the end, I think, growth comes inevitably from quality, and we are fortunate to be blessed with quality people in every aspect of our business.

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