“From the beginning, it’s been a progressive group of great brokers who found that it made sense to leverage the horsepower you get when you become a larger company,” says Charles Nitschke, CMO of Tomlinson Sotheby’s International Realty in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho. We recently caught up with Charles who explains why his company is a bit different than most in the industry.
Region served: Northern and Southern Idaho, Eastern and Central Washington
Years in real estate: Since 1998
Number of offices: 17
Number of agents: 800
You have one of the most interesting brokerages we have come across. From what we understand, your group owns a Sotheby’s company, a Coldwell Banker and a Century 21 brokerage. How did this come about? It’s been coming about for a while. The first Tomlinson Real Estate office was founded in 1938, and over the years, Bob Tomlinson (founder of the Tomlinson Group) has expanded the company by becoming part of the Coldwell Banker brand, partnering with Jeff Bond to open the region’s first Sotheby’s International Realty office, merging with the region’s dominant Century 21 group and most recently rolling up all of our partnered offices to become the 800-agent, 17-office group we are today. From the beginning, it’s been a progressive group of great brokers who found that it made sense to leverage the horsepower you get when you become a larger company.
How long has online marketing been part of your business plan, and how is it working for you? Online marketing has been part of my business plan since the beginning. We were one of the first real estate groups to have an aggressive website, and this was back in 1999. In fact, the site was voted as one of the 10 best real estate websites by Realtor magazine. That being said, technology has always been at my core, and that’s what ultimately attracted me to this group of people. The Tomlinson Group is making a huge investment in technology by having a real regional website and making technology available to its agents. This has been the cornerstone of everything we do.
Where are the opportunities to get a better return for online marketing? When it comes to online marketing, the biggest opportunity comes from measuring what we’re doing. There’s no shortage of companies that want to sell you leads, but in the end, the leads are all the same, which caused us to spend a lot of money in different directions. To measure where our leads were coming from so that we could determine how to best spend our money, we initially integrated Realogy’s LeadRouter into the mix, a system we have since outgrown. Since then, we recently made the decision to invest in FiveStreet, a more modern tool that has gotten rid of all the pain points we experienced in the past.
Many brokers have come to the realization that without both a quick response and a plan for cultivating customers to the point of closing, the odds of success are not good. Has this been your experience? This has absolutely been my experience, so we’ve made it a huge part of our ongoing training. The first step toward being able to respond quickly in order to cultivate customers is investing in a lead routing tool that allows us to get leads to agents within 10 minutes, with a goal of grinding that down to five. It’s also important to remember that claiming a lead doesn’t necessarily mean the agent has acted on it. In going through our logs, we found that five or six hours would pass between the time an agent claimed a lead and they got around to following up. As consumers continue to demand information and expect it to be delivered at a moment’s notice, the first person to get them the info they’re looking for is the person they tend to work with. If you can make contact with the person while their fingers are still on the keyboard, that’s when they want the info. By using FiveStreet in conjunction with Top Producer, our agents can accept a lead and follow-up instantaneously, which ultimately leads to better conversions.
Are your agents on board when it comes to implementing technology solutions that ensure follow-up? Just because a solution is recommended at the broker level, there’s no guarantee that agents will endorse the plan. However, with Top Producer and Five Street, the agents were the ones demanding that we make the products available to them. This is the first time we have had an overwhelming response to using new technology, so we spent the better part of six months working with them before we actually rolled it out.
How were you able to get agreement with all of your agents? Was there some sort of epiphany that made them see the value in what you’re doing? At Sotheby’s, everyone decides to do something, or we don’t do it at all. While we weren’t necessarily expecting everyone to jump on Top Producer and FiveStreet, we had a number of agents who expressed how difficult it is to follow-up with a lot of people when they don’t have a CRM in place. We had one agent in particular who had been working with a prospective buyer for six months. The one month the agent didn’t follow-up, the individual ended up buying a home in an area where they hadn’t even been looking. This agent lost a client because there was no system in place to keep track of people over a long period of time. This was something we were hearing from a lot of agents, and there weren’t any agents within our offices who didn’t understand that having these systems in place would help them do more and ultimately bring business back to them.
You’ve seen Top Producer go through a lot of changes. What are you and your agents seeing now that makes this an improvement over what Top Producer was years ago? We had a number of agents using Top Producer in the past, and many of them said it was too much to absorb. I’ve been using Top Producer myself since 1999, but I’d be a liar if I said I was really using it. In fact, I hired an assistant who knew how to run it and keep us queued up to what we needed to do. In showing agents where Top Producer is today—specifically the mobile side of it—it’s easy to see that Top Producer is the most powerful CRM out there. One of our pain points has always centered around finding a technology solution that fits everyone, but Top Producer is a flexible system that can grow with agents. Agents can do as much as they want within the system, and for those that take advantage of the integration between FiveStreet and Top Producer—without ever logging into their desktop—the value is still there.
What kind of improvements in response time and lead conversion are you expecting to achieve? This would be a very interesting question to revisit in six months as we’re in the process of rolling out these systems, however, I anticipate that it’s going to be a very immediate thing. We’re currently working with our agents to set the system up to be as demanding as they want it to be. For instance, the system can be set to pull leads back if contact isn’t made within 5 – 10 minutes. We’re huge believers in transparency, so there’s no part we’ll do without input from our agents. I truly believe that our agents will self-manage at a high level very quickly.
Were you given help and support from the folks at Top Producer? Were they available to you after you signed the agreement? The folks at Top Producer have been fantastic. Not only have they made themselves available to help us set up the program, the tools and training we have access to through Top Producer Campus have been instrumental throughout the process. The training they provide is fascinating and deep, in addition to being designed for multiple learning styles, something I’ve never seen from a tech provider. Agents absorb new information in a variety of ways, and with Top Producer Campus, our agents can access information through the medium in which they feel most comfortable.
How will you keep agents on track to ensure success? The measurement and management tools built into the program will allow brokers to identify agents who may be struggling and offer them the resources they need to find success, whether it’s in-house training or pointing them to the appropriate resource within Top Producer Campus. Brokers can also use these tools as part of an internal mentoring program to develop yearly business goals for each agent. Once goals have been established, meetings can be scheduled on a regular basis to help keep agents on track. These tools provide a lot more opportunity—rather than simply looking at dollar amounts—to identify those who may be struggling.
Will having these systems help you recruit agents? I’m a firm believer in the fact that everybody in the industry has systems in place to solve problems for their agents, and Top Producer solves a lot of problems. Most agents confuse activity with productivity, and Top Producer helps agents organize their day and delegate efficiently. Whether an agent is thinking of hiring an assistant, growing a team or simply looking for a place to start, this is a fantastic platform that will see them through each phase of the journey.
Learn more about these technologies and ways to implement them for success, visit: tpr.cm/euc