I’ve been thinking about hybrids a lot lately, and not just because Daughter No. 2 rear-ended one this week. Rather, it was the combination of our recent office meeting and a video I saw mocking the value of technology in our business that sent me off on my latest tangent.
You’re reading this online so, as my junior driving instructor would say, you are already "down" with the importance of technology. But much like telling my little one-girl destruction derby to stop running into people, telling an agent that technology is important is both painfully obvious and woefully vague, at least where the specifics of successful implementation are concerned.
What so many agents fail to realize is that integrating technology into our business does not have to be an all-or-nothing proposition. Granted, where some are concerned, it may seem that way, but these are the agents that statisticians would call the outliers.
On the one end, there is the agent who has great success doing nothing but optimizing the daylights out of his Web site — he is more familiar with his back-end admin panel than with his neighbors, and he can tell you the birthday of his blog but not his children. He likes to tweet about it.
Then there is the other who only coaches the soccer team, bangs on doors, or slaps his likeness on every inanimate object within striking distance of his yard sign (which, not coincidentally, also bears his likeness). For this agent, going viral means chicken soup and a box of tissue.
These are the extremes, and it is easy to forget that there is a big, busy place in the middle of the bell curve, particularly when we are being pelted by "evolve or starve" messages from all fronts.
The middle. That’s where most of us live and work. You may call the middle mediocrity, but for the many of us teetering squarely between the soup line and the Rolls Royce dealership, the middle can represent balance and a decent living. It can be a good place, and that is where the hybrid agent hangs out and thrives.
The champions of the notion that real estate today is one big tech-fest talk about things like lead capture, search-engine optimization, bounce rates, meta tags and social capital, usually in fewer than 140 characters. And in the far corner, we have the traditionalists who cling to their "Just Listed" postcards and seasonally branded giveaways, like Moses clutching a couple of tablets.
From my stuck-in-the-middle vantage, it is not technology that is the problem; the problem is in one’s definition of the term. Both extremes tend to see technology as circuits, bits and bytes, and a bunch of mysterious code. And although I abhor being read to from the dictionary, forgive me; I have to side with both Merriam and Webster on this one: Technology is "the practical application of knowledge, especially in a particular area."
That’s it. With my toaster, I can burn bread. My daughter’s car allows her to get from point "A" to point "B," occasionally without making contact with another, more expensive car. And the Internet allows us to communicate with our customers more efficiently and on a broader scale.
Technology for real estate agents is ultimately about communication. So as I watched the Mike Ferry video spoof of Internet marketing, what immediately struck me was that an otherwise good argument was lost in translation. The intended message was that real estate is about connecting with people.
What I was hearing, though, was that technological prowess involves mastering the icons on the tool bar or understanding how to embed a video, and that knowing how to "use a computer" is futuristic, on par with time travel. And those points were driven home while our host chatted away on a cell phone, forgetting that using a cell phone to actually speak to someone today is about as revolutionary as Jiffy Pop.
(Most of my clients under 40 would rather sit through a Barry Manilow concert, including the encore, than vocalize a thought. They text.) …CONTINUED
I read an agent subsequently comment, "He who speaks with the most clients wins." That is the point. You don’t have to blog or have a Facebook fan page to be successful. You don’t have to have the most impressive epics on YouTube or the most extensive photo journal on Flickr.
At great personal risk, I will even be so bold as to suggest that you needn’t have a Web site worth a darn (or a Web site at all). What you do need, however — and this part is non-negotiable — is the ability to reach and connect with your audience. Communication involves a sender and a receiver, and receivers today are on many, many frequencies. Know your audience and you will know what you need to learn and where you need to be.
Segue to my office meeting. Being an informal bunch, we met at the local pizza joint where, I am proud to say, we have outgrown the corner booth and now require the "long table." As we were talking about our annual business plans, one agent asked a question about embedding spreadsheets into a Web site.
It was then that another agent announced to the less-techie end of the table — the ones who now looked like we had just asked them to prove the theory of relativity on the back of their napkins — "I don’t understand any of that stuff. I’m more of a people person."
Admittedly there is nothing earth-shattering here. We’re all "people people" to an extent, because that is the nature of our jobs. But this agent is a hybrid. Her entire marketing plan involves off-topic monthly print mailers to her sphere (with recipes and sports schedules), and regular "touching base" phone calls and e-mails.
She has no Web site of her own, and while she does keep both a Facebook page and a Twitter account, her updates consist mostly of stuff about her vacations and her family.
But, she’s a paradox. She also has a PDA and returns e-mails and text messages before her clients are finished sending them. She understands the language of her clients, clients who check their text messages every four seconds and their answering machine every four days, clients who keep in touch between bunko nights by "writing on walls" and "throwing livestock" rather than picking up the phone.
Our hybrid agent made more money in August than most agents make in a year, and get this — she doesn’t even blog! But she is one of the most "techie" agents I know because she is applying the right tools to the right situation. Her niche is her impressive sphere of friends, and she knows how they roll.
The key is that we are multilingual today, and this agent understands which language her audience is speaking. Your audience may be different. For me, sending out a postcard to my clients reminding them to set their clocks back would be as effective as delivering my listing presentation in Aramaic. My clients wouldn’t get it. I have a blog, and I even embed spreadsheets there. Those are things my audience relates to.
Blogs, widgets, chat boxes, Twitter and the like — these things are not technology. Using these things to most effectively communicate with our customers is. Wedging my head in a hard drive all day is one extreme; refusing to acknowledge that the world is round and chock-full of new opportunities to connect is another.
Somewhere in the middle, between paralyzing fear and obsession, that’s where the rest of us — the hybrids — are hanging out.
Maybe that’s why they call it a "normal" curve.
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