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“Part of our role as real estate professionals is to get out there and network and find other thought leaders with whom we can share and learn from,” said John Featherston during RISMedia’s Power Broker Forum in Washington, D.C., last week. “And then we have to repeat that process over and over again. We have to remain open to learning.”

From left to right: Russ Cofano, Joan Docktor, Jon Coile, Tom Skiffington, John Featherston, and Lennox Scott

This was the overarching premise of the Forum, which was held during the NAR Legislative Meetings & Trade Expo in Washington, D.C., where leading brokers candidly shared hands-on strategies for leading their companies to success.

This year’s Midyear Forum, “Seizing Key Market Opportunities,” was moderated by RISMedia President & CEO John Featherston, and Move, Inc.’s SVP of Industry Relations, Russ Cofano. Broker panelists were: Jon Coile, CEO and president, Champion Realty, Inc.; Joan Docktor, president, Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices Fox & Roach REALTORS; J. Lennox Scott, chairman and CEO, John L. Scott Real Estate; and Tom Skiffington, broker/partner, RE/MAX 440 and RE/MAX Central.

Evolved and Involved Leaders

From big-picture growth plans to hands-on agent training, panelists agreed that the key ingredient to sustainable success is broker involvement at every level, leading to more productive agents and more satisfied consumers.

As Docktor said, “We have always believed in getting to the consumer first and serving consumers in extraordinary ways and to do that, we have to attract top salespeople and provide them with the tools and services they need. Our firm is built on the core principles of trust, integrity and stability. Our word is gospel.”

“We want to control our own destiny,” said Scott. “It’s all about our trust with the individual client. We want to out-com the dot coms. People want instant information—our mantra is real-time real estate is the only time. If it isn’t instant, it’s not fast enough. Six years into the mobile-app world, while everything has changed, the core of our business has stayed the same, and that’s the trusted competence of the real estate professional.”

In John L. Scott’s Seattle and Portland, Wash., markets, homes are in big demand. According to Scott, there is a one-month supply of homes for sale in both areas, with some specific market areas at a 2.5-week supply. The keys to coming up with a market strategy that will drive more listings? Positive mindset, skill mastery and personal engagement activities.

“Agents could talk about how there’s nothing to sell, but then they place themselves as the victim,” explains Scott. “Don’t live inside the situation. Focus on skill mastery—if you want to get more listings, you have to have a great listing presentation.”

For Jon Coile, the key to success begins with a very simple mandate: Hire happy people.

“People are like a mirror. If you smile at someone, they’ll smile back.”

Coile promotes a positive culture in a variety of ways throughout his firm, including an ice cream recess during the summer, where the newest employee earns the job of ringing a school bell and calling everyone to “recess.”

“Some people just aren’t eligible for hire because they’re not happy,” explained Coile. “Hire happy people—your life will be so much better.”

A Culture of Caring
Perhaps the biggest component to success for Docktor is caring, which is built into the company’s system through its Agent Care program. “When an agent first comes to your company, it’s a hard adjustment and change for them,” explained Docktor. “When an agent joins our company, we immediately start a drip program, which sends out messages from me and other executives, the marketing department, etc. This goes on for two weeks to get them introduced to the company. We also have a welcome specialist, who is another agent who takes them by the hand—it’s like a buddy program and it’s really worked well.”

Docktor also feels that it’s important that she and the executive team are made aware of important events in their agents’ lives, so managers are tasked with sending regular emails to a group of company leaders alerting them when an agent has experienced a tragedy, celebrated a milestone or received good news of some sort. “This gives us the opportunity to call the person or send flowers, congratulate them or send little notes and sometimes letters,” says Docktor. “It’s a great retention tool, but more than that, we really do care and this sends the message that we do.”

Coile maintains a close connection to his agents with the weekly Champion 411 video, an informal video on YouTube that highlights important news and happenings at the company for the week. The Champion 411 also includes a viral video that has no connection to real estate, but that is fun to watch and engages the agents.

All of these strategies are aimed at helping agents better serve consumers. And, in the face of increasing consumer reviews, this is more critical than ever. Consumer trust in the real estate professional is at the crux of success, and therefore, agent reviews stand to gain in importance. “There was a recent article in the Washington Post about the decline of trust in our national economy,” says Cofano. “At the same time, you have the growth of Airbnb, which is based on people going into other people’s homes to sleep, and Uber, where you ride in other people’s cars. This is going on this thread of reputation management. People are trusting less in others and trusting more in crowds. “

“Reviews are testimonials on steroids,” says Scott. “Clients want to make sure they’re finding the right agent and that’s where reviews come in—so we’re going to amp it up.”

Training and Coaching

Power Broker panelists also discussed their commitment to coaching and training, a key element in helping agents seize market opportunities. “As an owner, you have to decide the type of culture you want in your office,” says Skiffington. “I think it’s important that the managers are involved in the training and coaching—that helps develop a relationship with the agent. Agents that appreciate the services you offer are the ones you’ll retain.”

When it comes to training, Skiffington offers a variety of different options to suit the various needs and styles of agents, from webinars to a 10-week class to brown-bag lunches at each office where Skiffington sits around the table with agents and talks about the issues they’re having.

“Every class has homework,” says Skiffington. “Everything we teach has to be implemented that week. It forces them to understand it.”

Docktor also believes in coaching, and has had a program in place for several years that is mostly run by managers. “The agent has to voice to the manager what they want to achieve—it’s not about what the manager wants.”

Embracing Technology
For Skiffington, smart technology investments are critical to growth in any market. “Most of our growth occurred between 2008 and 2012,” he explained. “The key in any market, whether good or bad times, is reinvesting in your business. In the good years, we implemented a lot of new technology, and when the market changed, that paid off for us.”

However, when it comes to technology, what pains brokers most is not necessarily finding the right tools, but getting agents to use them.

Scott provided a new twist on the 80/20 rule—20 percent hear about something and do it, 60 percent hear it and don’t do it, and another 20 percent, hear it, know how to do it, and still don’t do it. “The challenge is, how do you get the rest of them to implement?” he said.

Docktor agreed. “What good are the tools if no one’s going to open them? We have a portal with one single sign-in and everything is there, including training videos on every topic you can imagine. We hired a gaming company to give out monetary prizes if you open and watch a video and take some action afterwards. Agents are enjoying it and making money.”

As a selling broker, Skiffington has a first-hand perspective on what works and what doesn’t. “Most of the technology we’ve implemented, I’ve used personally to see if it works or fails. That way, I’m the experiment, not my agents. So when I implement something for agents, they already know that it works.”

Skiffington also has an automated social media strategy in place for agents, so as soon as someone joins the company they are sending out blogs and YouTube videos. According to Skiffington, it all pays off. “Our average agent sells 21 homes a year, well above the national average,” he said. “I think a lot of that is because of the automated service they are getting from us—we take that task away from the agent.”

When it comes to technology, you must ask, “Is it helping our process? Is it making us money?” advised Coile. “You can only get your agents to do so much, then they need to get back to selling. You have to be careful not to trigger ‘shiny object syndrome.’ Focus on one thing at a time, and make sure it drops money to the bottom line.”

“When using technology to make more money, response time to online leads is critical,” added Cofano. “Every hour you wait—sometimes every minute you wait—you lose the ability to close on that relationship.”

“We have to carry forward this idea, that it’s not the technology—it’s the technology that’s not adopted that becomes worthless,” added Cofano. “You have to find the technology that is usable, but also partner with the people and companies that can provide consistency over time.”