The first thing you learn when you start out in the property industry is that the most important assets, by far, are not properties, they are relationships. Commercial property investors have one thing in common, they take a long term approach to value. They want to find someone they can trust and work with them for a long time. Professionals working in the industry also skew toward long term thinking, many have to spend years under another broker just to earn their “book” of clients. There is a sense in commercial real estate that the deals are so big and complicated that the cost of working with someone shady or flakey can outweigh any possible upside. Risk averse is one way to put it. Expertly cautious is another.
The same relationship mindset that smart property companies take to their investments and partnerships, they also use for their vendors. Nowhere is this more true than for their technology vendors, who often control some of the most important aspects of a company’s business. Understandably, before handing over their precious data and relying on a company’s performance for their critical tasks, property firms want to vet their tech vendors.
The pandemic has given us a nice way to digitally shake someone’s hand in the form of a 30-minute video call. These can be a salesperson’s best friend as they can help them get that necessary personal interaction that seems to always help pull someone down the sales funnel. But they still do not demonstrate the kind of professionalism and create the kind of trust that many in the property industry need in order to make a purchasing decision.
“No matter how far PropTech moves the real estate industry, trust remains the most vital currency,” says Ryan J. S. Baxter, a PropTech Advisor whose clients include the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA). “It’s harder to believe a solution provider will still be around in five-plus years if you’ve only interacted digitally.”
For professionals whose lives revolve around relationships, building trust often means meeting them in person. Here we find a major disconnect between the buyers and the creators of technology. Technologists optimize for scalability and that mentality often seeps into their marketing efforts. Most tech marketers would rather spend time optimizing their keywords on Google than trying to shake hands with a few potential customers. But in the property industry that handshaking might be one of the only ways to scale, albeit slower than they might like.
“Outside of S-a-a-S, Cloud, and off-the-shelf solutions, it is essential to meet with tech vendors and form a relationship that has impact both before and after the sales cycle,” said Mark Domino, Director of Digital Media at the Durst Organization.
The real estate industry has always used conferences to facilitate personal interactions. Conferences and trade shows are a way for professionals to share information and, maybe more importantly, make relationships. Just being at a conference, whether it means having a booth, speaking on a panel, or just walking around the conference floor, shows professionalism and a level of commitment that being on a video call does not. One of the worries of every conference attendee is that none of their desired connections will be around to talk to. To combat these fears conference organizers have invested in ways to promote attendee collaboration and avoid costly missed connections like apps that allow meetings to be booked before the event even starts.
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Everyone has their own tactics when it comes to networking at a conference. Some wait to talk to speakers after their panels, others methodically introduce themselves to every booth on a trade floor, others do most of their networking at the afterparties where the combination of a long day of programming and cocktails tend to bring everyone’s guard down. No matter what strategy you deploy, the value of any connections made are heightened by proximity.
If you want evidence of the power of in-person networking, just think about business cards. Physical business cards sound like they should be, at least on paper (get it), a relic of a pre-mobile phone era. One of the first viral mobile apps was Bump!, which allowed users to exchange contacts by bumping phones physically. Who would need business cards if we could just exchange our information digitally, right? Well, let’s just say Bump! didn’t disrupt the business card industry (it was actually acquired by Google and then shut down to “focus on other products”). We still use business cards because they are a more durable, sticky souvenir of an encounter; they act as a reminder that we did actually meet in person and not just digitally.
For technology to make further inroads into the property industry, more trust needs to be created. And the kind of trust that the property industry values comes from personal interactions. After years of social distancing and disrupted networking opportunities, it’s more important than ever to make the most of the upcoming conference season to form new relationships and strengthen existing ones. Plus, handshaking might not be the most scalable form of sales, but it might be the most enjoyable.