GRI, CRS, CRB, CBR — Realtors love to collect designations. The question is, do they make any difference to your business?

Are you a designation junkie? Lots of Realtors have multiple designations. In fact, many vendors both inside and outside the real estate industry offer "I’m-certified-in-your-product-or-service" designations as a way to attract designation-hungry clients.

For 18 years I worked at a company that allowed me to use only my name and "associate broker" on my business card. Never mind that I had a Ph.D. That wasn’t allowed either. Because agents could use designations on their marketing materials, nobody bothered with them.

Did this companywide ban on advertising our designations hurt our business? The answer is "no." We often had 50-70 percent market share in the Beverly Hills, Brentwood and Bel Air markets of Los Angeles.

The case for designations
The real benefit of obtaining almost any type of designation is the education it provides. The GRI, CRS and CBR designations offered by the National Association of Realtors (NAR) provide high-quality education that raises the professional standards of the industry. An agent who has been through designation training programs will have a better grasp of business fundamentals, as well as how to provide consumers with a better customer experience.

Moreover, if you are an agent who needs to make a referral outside your area, chances are someone who holds multiple NAR designations will do a better job as opposed to someone who does not.

The challenge: Consumers don’t understand the alphabet soup
Agents who have multiple designations generally list those designations on their business cards and their other marketing materials. The challenge is that even though designation training increases the professional competence of those who take it, most consumers have little if any idea about what these designations mean.

Furthermore, they don’t understand how working with an agent who has these designations is a benefit to them.

For example, an agent may have obtained the CBR (Certified Buyer Representative) and CRS (Certified Residential Specialist) designation when she first started in the business. Since she also really likes working with buyers, she obtains the ABR (Accredited Buyer Representative) designation.

She then decides to launch her own brokerage and obtains a CRB (Certified Real Estate Brokerage Manager) designation. Because her office is small, she is still actively selling. On her business cards and marketing materials, she lists all four designations: ABR, CBR, CRB and CRS.

A better approach
Rather than marketing your business using alphabet soup, a better approach is to put together a list of the services that you provide for both your buyers and sellers. As part of this list, include a page on "The Importance of Realtor Designations and What They Mean to Your Real Estate Transaction." On that page, list each of the designations that you hold, the requirements for obtaining the designation, and most importantly, how this additional training benefits the consumer.

Vendor designations
Training organizations outside of NAR also offer designations. Given the richness of the alphabet soup at the national level, these other designations create additional confusion. Some of these designations are definitely worthwhile. Nevertheless, will they really help you close that buyer or seller?

A sea change on the horizon
Nationally, enrollment in many designation classes has been declining. This could simply be a reflection of the economic times, but it also reflects some of the demographic shifts that are taking place in our business. There is also an issue of whether sitting in a class translates into improved performance on behalf of the consumer.

Baby boomers and traditionalists (those born before 1965) value expertise. Designations are a way of demonstrating that expertise. When you are marketing to this group, sharing how your designations benefit them is a great strategy.

In contrast, Gen X and Gen Y consumers have little or no use for expertise. Gen X (born 1965-76) buyers generally have a strong belief in their own ability to research and find information on their own. They don’t trust experts. Instead, they want to find out the facts independently of what their Realtor tells them.

Gen Y (born 1977-1994) is more concerned about what their peer group has to say about their real estate transaction as opposed to someone who is outside their group. Gen Yers want to know if they can trust you and how your services are going to benefit them.

Because younger clients may watch you via your blog or social media activities for months before they contact you personally, the quality of their experience with you in these venues must be top-notch. This is where additional education can make you stand out from the competition.

Designations are the external representation of your commitment to increase the quality of services you provide. While the public may not understand the alphabet soup, they actively seek superior competence and service.

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