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Now More Than Ever, Real Estate Brokers Need to Focus on Digital Outreach

In the world of commercial real estate, a single crucial asset can make or break your career: your network. Commission-based brokers know that truism better than most. They live and die by what used to be called their Rolodex and is now just their contact list. With commercial properties, it’s all about repeat business and referral business. To put it bluntly, it’s all about who you know.

Growing your network has always been done best in person, but digitally connecting is just as important. Digital outreach is great for top-of-funnel scale, but in-person interactions are always the best way to build a better relationship with someone. Most brokers are naturals at the in-person interaction part; the job calls for a certain amount of gregariousness. But now we are seeing a shocking change when it comes to in-person interactions due to COVID-19. Conferences and events are getting canceled. Businesses are sending people home and field meetings are getting canceled. We’ve officially entered a bear market. But the upside is that even in a challenging market, there will be even more opportunities to sell and sublease properties—which equate to big checks for smart brokers who know how to leverage their network.

Now more than ever, brokers need to focus on their digital outreach. But most don’t know where to start. How can you take a list of names and numbers and turn that into something actionable? I’ve had hundreds of conversations with commercial real estate professionals and this is the number one pain point I hear. As the head of product at a tech company, I look for the answer in ones and zeros.

Technology has already revolutionized the commercial property industry by digitizing leasing, going mobile, and providing SaaS platforms for everything from valuation to property management. There are lots of tech companies that try to help brokers be more efficient, but very few that use computers and machine learning to actually enhance the quality of our relationships. Ironically, by applying a numerical value to relationship strength, algorithms can actually help us be better humans. 

At Affinity, we qualify relationships by applying machine learning to emails and calendar data. This allows us to rate every relationship on a scale of 1-100, This gives users at-a-glance information to help them build, strengthen, and maintain their networks. Here are three ways the relationship strength metric can help commercial real estate professionals at different points in the sales funnel.

Without the aid of discovery tools, the business development process requires a daunting load of research. First, you have to decide which organizations are qualified for the services you offer, and which hold the most promise. For a commercial real estate broker, the list could include expanding businesses in or out of market, recently funded companies, and companies where a former client joined to lead operations. Narrowing that list down involves scouring online resources such as Crunchbase or Pitchbook, and digging through often-neglected CRM environments. Once you finally know which organization to target, the next question is who actually works there? While it’s easy to do a quick search on LinkedIn, it’s not so easy to decide the best move from there. When was the last time you had coffee with that old colleague? Would asking for an intro burn relationship capital? How well do you know that friend-of-a-friend—would it seem desperate? Sometimes knowing the best path to a warm introduction can be the trickiest part of business development.

Here’s where relationship intelligence technology changes the whole game. These algorithms synthesize your email and calendar data into a single strength metric, which tells you who your real friends are. Leading platforms offer plugins, transforming your internet browser into a real-time CRM. Imagine scrolling through a company’s about page and seeing your perfect “in” at a glance. With a few clicks, you are seeing a color-coded path of entry through your network. This metric illuminates the unexpected (who knew your old college roommate is now an angel investor?). It also takes the guesswork out of the equation. When there’s more than one option available to you, a numerical rating system makes it easy to identify which contact is most likely to support you. 

Once you’ve secured one deal and moved on to the next opportunity, you still want to do all you can to keep those relationships fresh. This is one of the most powerful applications of the relationship strength metric. Relationship intelligence platforms will algorithmically monitor the frequency and quality of your communications and auto-adjust that strength metric—signaling which areas of your network could use some maintenance. Some platforms can even be configured to send automated reminders at a set cadence, so you never let a contact go ignored. The metric can also serve to help you fine-tune your networking style by offering real-time feedback on the frequency and authenticity of your interactions.

Today, in our hyper-connected, always-on world, commercial real estate professionals need technologies that help them strengthen human connections. Whether you’re a facilities manager, a commercial broker, a developer, or an investor, relationships are at the heart of what you do. Still, the majority of tools on the market today focus on efficiency, automation, and data management. While each of these things will, undoubtedly, provide some professional advantage, they should never take priority over authentic interactions. The more authentic communication and exchanges you accrue over time, the more likely it is that you will have a large and healthy foundation of connections. 

Things will get back to normal. Brokers will go back to meeting with their clients and attending events. Until then, brokers should all take a look at how they can better understand their networks. Once the sun comes out and the viral fears go away, they will be armed with the information to make the most of their time catching up with their in-person networks. 

VP of Product at Affinity
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