Have you ever wanted a new technology but felt like it required too much effort to learn how to use it? Perhaps it’s something that involves learning a new interface or requires learning a new set of technical words. Whatever the reason, bringing on new tech can feel like more pain than it is worth, especially if it disrupts a process that is already working fine.
This is the situation facing commercial brokers today. PropTech companies talk a lot about what their technologies can do for a broker, but often don’t talk much about what is required of companies to on-board their systems. With so many companies out there pitching their tools and services, it can be hard to see exactly how any particular new tech platform can really fit into a brokerage team.
Before any brokerage considers adopting a new tool, it’s important to understand who on a brokerage team will be using a given tech tool, how they will be trained on it, and how it will fit into an overall workflow. We all have a gizmo that we excitedly bought, just to sit unused once it got home. The same can be true for enterprise software. Except that in this case, there is also the little problem of high dollar, no-refund contracts to contend with. Unused broker tech can be a bit more expensive than that uninstalled smart doorbell sitting in your hall closet.
Training brokers on technology is tough. These are people that work in an industry that directly rewards time spend finding and closing deals. Most of them have learned to ignore all but the most pressing issues that don’t involve their current pipeline. This issue gets even bigger when you consider the demographics of the average commercial broker. While members of the organization are only one part of the entire commercial brokerage world, the National Association of Realtors says that its typical commercial member has 25 years of real estate experience and is 60 years old. This paints a picture of a seasoned industry professional likely set well into their ways. Even after shelling out for a new tool or technology, it is easy to imagine such a broker failing to adapt their processes and workflows in any major way.
There’s the second issue with a lot of broker tech. Since the business, in general, is so procedural and repetitive, and since brokers in general still use a lot of old school methods, many of the multitude of broker marketing technologies out there, tend to transform the processes they impact. Think about moving from an Excel contact database to a CRM, or going from using PowerPoint to develop collateral to using an automated brochure production system. It isn’t like one system is being replaced by another, those processes are completely remade by virtue of the new technology’s (hopefully) streamlined operation.
This impacts not just the brokers themselves but also the people on their teams. Depending on the size of the firm and the broker’s success, brokerage professionals could have a variety of support staff involved, from a junior partner who takes on much of the daily workload in return for training and guidance, to an assistant or transaction coordinator, to marketing staff and administrative assistants who serve a number of brokers in the same office. For this reason, brokers should carefully consider who is going to be running their systems before they sign on the dotted line. It’s bad enough if orientation around a new tool ends up eating a big chunk of a personal assistant’s time, but if time sinks like that go on for too long, or expand to impact other brokers in the office, things get a lot more serious very quickly.
There is a solution to this challenge. Brokers adopting new tech need to be thorough and clear with the goals for their new tools. They need to involve their assistants, partners, and staff in the discussions surrounding implementation. This will allow a useful feedback loop to develop: direction can come from the broker to the assistant or partner, who can then be proactive in informing the broker of difficulties in implementation and the time needs of each new tool. Only by being realistic about how much time it takes to on-board new tech and how it will effect existing processes can a property firm ensure that expectations and realities do not drift too far apart.
Before adopting new tech, brokers need to spend time establishing an overall tech strategy to achieve their performance goals. Jumping into a large number of advanced tools, particularly automation and data solutions, could require additional manpower or at least freelancer help to properly set up. Brokers should also work to cultivate tech skills both personally and within their teams. To make sure that these tech initiatives don’t get pushed to the back of the to-do lists, it is often wise to assign one person to be the internal champion. It is easy to get swept up in the marketing around new broker tech, but in order to make sure that these tools actually get used brokerages should first consider who exactly will have to learn and use it.