Given how many tech-focused real estate companies are launching and debuting new features and business models, agents on the ground don’t need to worry about innovating themselves, right? Wrong.
“Innovation is relevant to absolutely everyone. If you have ambition without innovation, then you have discounting. There’s not really another place to go,” said Ryan Gorman, president and CEO of the largest brokerage in the U.S., Realogy-owned NRT LLC.
Gorman spoke at Inman Connect New York 2019 Thursday morning in a panel titled, “Innovate Within Or Die,” along with Susan Daimler, senior vice president of Premier Agent at Zillow Group, Heather Ostrom, a Coldwell Banker Realtor who calls herself the “Real Estate Marketing Bossy Pants,” and moderator Brandon Green, co-founder and principal broker at Keller Williams Capital Properties.
These heavy-hitters had several tips for how to foster innovation, whether you’re a solo agent or a giant company.
1. Be specific about your goals
“So you want to grow your business. Great, what do you mean by that?” Gorman said. “Growing your business could mean growing laterally to more regions, it could mean growing a team, it could mean growing your sales price, it could mean growing your commission.”
He pointed to iBuyers, which often collect more than the usual commission of 5 percent or 6 percent.
“To any agent out there [that] means that there’s something for which consumers, some segments, are willing to pay handsomely to get in return,” he said. “Maybe a more convenient experience. A more pleasant and delightful experience. That’s the kind of thing to focus on to really develop a road map.”
2. Do a lot less of what doesn’t matter
A year ago, NRT was offering its agents 111 marketing tools, which Gorman said led to a “bewildering experience.” So the company cut out 88 of those tools, and he doubts most agents noticed.
“You start by clearing the decks and really focusing on what really matters the most, and then you can move with a great speed and agility,” he said.
3. Really, stop doing things that aren’t important
Write down what you think are the most important things you can possibly do.
Now look at your calendar, and compare that to what you’ve been doing the last three weeks. Do they match up?
Most people do not allocate their time to what’s most important, according to Gorman. This is one thing anyone can do. He noted that time-blocking had helped Milling Dollar Listing agent Ryan Serhant move his business forward more than anything.
4. Don’t break appointments for yourself and for self-improvement
“If you have a video segment, make sure it’s an appointment that you are not going to break. Keep the commitment, make it happen, and don’t overthink it,” Ostrom said.
5. Foster a culture of innovation
At Zillow, everyone expects to be innovating, according to Daimler.
“There is a lot of fluidity and excitement but also willingness to jump off the cliff,” she said.
The company is always thinking of what could be next in the real estate industry.
“That’s scary. I think a lot of people operate in the today and in the tomorrow, and we’re trying to operate in the three years,” she said.
6. Be willing to fail
In any innovative company, there needs to be acceptance of the fact that sometimes innovation doesn’t work and that you may have to go back to the drawing board.
“There’s a lot of smart people that are like, ‘I cannot fail,’” Daimler said.
“You better fail. To me, if you’re not failing, you’re probably standing a little bit still.” Ostrom agreed. “If you do not allow people to fail, you’re going to stunt creativity. The minute you make people fearful of speaking up and risking a failure, you’re not going to innovate. It means you’ve stopped asking questions, and you’re complacent,” she said.
That’s how companies find themselves in the position of having to catch up to a competitor and be innovative, Daimler said. “If you’re not willing to take those risks, someone else is,” she said.
7. Listen to your people, or watch them leave
People should feel comfortable challenging long-held ideas. “We need those people to … say, ‘Hey when was the last time we gut-checked this assumption? That was back then — is that still true? Do we need to keep down this path?’” Daimler said.
Have a management team in place that will listen and seek improvements, Ostrom said. “It can be scary as an agent to speak up when you see something not functioning right. If you don’t have that dialogue, agents are going to leave,” she said.
8. Give yourself and your agents the space to be creative
“When you start getting busier, the first thing you let go is innovation,” Ostrom said. Both she and Daimler said they make a conscious effort to give themselves time to think and not be tied down by day-to-day worries.
Support staff that handle more mundane tasks can help agents focus on what they’re good at, Ostrom added.
Daimler stressed the importance of focusing on everyone’s time, down to asking, “Is this meeting important?”
9. Have newbies and veterans learn from each other
Ostrom said a group of young agents in her firm created their own self-help groups where more experienced agents come in and give them their best tips, but both groups actually end up learning from each other.
“The reality is that there’s often innovative situations on how to get a deal done within the office itself, and if you’re not in communication, then you may miss [that]. That’s innovation too,” Green said.
10. Make sure you have the right partners
Vendors, service providers, referral partners, broker-owners, technology partners and lead partners should add value to your world, Gorman said.
“Challenge everyone. The people that got you here as a partner may not get you there unless they too are thinking about how they can innovate, save you time, save you money, be able to support you better. So across the platform, every vendor, every partner you utilize, make sure they’re in it with you, [that] they’re collaborating with you on this innovation journey,” he said.
11. Get uncomfortable
“If you are not uncomfortable, you are probably not doing what you need to do to move forward. When we get comfortable in our jobs and in our roles, that’s the time to either change your job or your role, in it or go for a new one,” Daimler said.
“Sometimes innovating feels a bit like dying. It’s fear, it’s panic, it’s like that pit in your stomach when you make those difficult decisions. But you won’t get anywhere if you don’t do those or if you also don’t hitch yourself to partners that are doing those and you’re along for the ride.” Gorman agreed.
“Growth oftentimes doesn’t feel great in the moment; it feels great in retrospect. You’ve got to get comfortable with being uncomfortable because you really want to get to the promised land,” he said.