Technology

3 tested ways to make sure your technology choices don’t disappoint

Insights from Keller Williams Realty's Cary Sylvester

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With seemingly endless technology options available to us in both in our personal and professional lives, it can be difficult to make an informed, pragmatic decision about what we actually need versus what we think we want.

There’s a lot of noise, and finding the technology solutions that will deliver the most ROI for your business can be challenging.

Too many real estate agents and brokers make technology purchases they ultimately regret. They find out their colleagues are using a certain technology and decide it’s right for them, without looking at the big picture.

When you’re being inundated with product pitches, it’s easy to get overwhelmed. But, impulse buying can waste a lot of time and money, and hurt your business in the long run.

You wouldn’t buy a car without visiting several dealerships, talking to a salesperson, going for a test drive and doing your own research online. And just like in our personal lives, brokers and agents need to ask the right questions before pulling out a credit card.

Why are we buying this? Do we really need this new technology? Have we looked at all the options? What are all the factors involved? Are we being objective? Do we like the company we’re choosing?

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At Keller Williams, with more than 100,000 agents, we don’t take companywide technology decisions lightly. We follow three steps when it comes to evaluating a potential purchase that have saved us in the past. In the instances when we’ve deviated from these steps, it’s come back to haunt us. This is how we do it.

1. Avoid the shiny object syndrome

There’s an old school way of thinking: If you’re offered a job, but weren’t searching for it, you shouldn’t take it without exploring your other options. It’s exciting and flattering, but don’t just take it because it’s been offered to you. After all, you weren’t looking before, so if you’re willing to jump ship, you owe it to yourself to make sure you’re reviewing all of your options.

The same goes for buying technology. You’re walking through a trade show and a skilled salesperson gets your attention with a new gadget. Before you know it you’re buying it, even though five minutes ago you didn’t need it for your business.

As vice president of technology, innovation and communication at Keller Williams, I get pitched a lot. There’s no hard-and-fast rule, but here’s the criteria I generally go with. Whenever I’m pitched a product, I ask myself a series of questions:

  • Who is the audience? Who will benefit from this technology? If the answer isn’t obvious, it’s probably not worth a purchase.
  • What problem is this technology trying to solve? Every new technology should be fixing a problem or making a process better. If it’s not, I don’t need it.
  • What do I have that already handles this problem and how does it compare to this new product? If my current solution is just as good, there’s no point in investing in something new.

2. Stay frosty

As Michael Corleone famously said in “The Godfather,” “It’s not personal, Sonny. It’s strictly business.”

Thankfully, we’re not dealing with crooked cops and the mafia (I hope!), but the idea still holds true in real estate. Let’s say you’ve followed step No. 1 and asked all of the right questions, and you actually do have a technology need. The next step is to evaluate your options objectively.

A few years back, Keller Williams was looking for an e-commerce solution. We focused our search on companies and people we had worked with in the past, rather than digging deeper to find the other potential solutions. The result? We skipped this step and ultimately made the wrong choice, costing us nine months and a lot of money. We had to scrap the whole project and start over.

You can avoid this by staying frosty. A good technique is to use a thorough spreadsheet. We have a matrix — a standardized format, with all the features we need fulfilled. You can easily make one, too, and as you look at each option, tick off the boxes it fills for you on the matrix. This will allow you to be pragmatic and analytical about your decision. The solutions that tick the most boxes move on to the final round of evaluation. It’s that simple.

Below is an example of a matrix I used to evaluate a customer relationship management (CRM) solution. You can imagine the features we looked at, but either way, it shows how simple it can make this process, not to mention how it removes biases and preconceptions that keep you from making the most informed decision.

sylvester_spreadsheet

3. Don’t ignore chemistry

OK, so you have a technology need and now you’ve narrowed down your options. That’s when you can finally be a bit more subjective, and consider chemistry.

Chemistry can loft one company and their solution above the rest. At Keller Williams, we sign long-term contracts with our vendors, so we need to make sure we like who we’re working with.

After we’ve narrowed down our choices, I usually ask, does their company culture fit ours? If the answer is a resounding yes, we have a winner. And there’s not a single instance where we’ve gotten down to our final selection and one company hasn’t risen to the top as a better cultural fit.

Back in 2009, when we were searching for a transaction solution provider, we came across dotloop. At the time, dotloop was a small, emerging company. They easily passed through our vetting process, ticking all of the important boxes on our matrix and meeting all of our requirements as an enterprise-grade solution.

But among the top three contenders, dotloop was the company whose culture best fit with ours, and would lead to the most successful long-term relationship. That’s pretty amazing for a company their size. The fact that dotloop was far and away the best transaction solution for us combined with the great chemistry we had is what drew us to them and ultimately won them our business.

As a technical person, I always have competitive intelligence on the products I’m using, so when I’m making a decision, it’s a purposeful, thoughtful decision.

But even technologists can be lured by the shiny objects. The key is to stay true to what you need to get accomplished, leave emotions at the door, and take a look at company culture.

Following these steps will save you from falling victim to shiny object syndrome, which can waste your time and your money.

Cary Sylvester is vice president of technology innovation and communication for Keller Williams Realty International. She’ll be participating in a panel discussion  on using data and predictive analytics to find homebuyers on Wednesday, July 16, at Real Estate Connect San Francisco. Follow her on Twitter: @carysylvester.