In today’s virtual, work-from-home environment, agents are seeking training and coaching in entirely new ways. In August, we’re laser-focused on what defines good coaching today and how to get the most out of it.
When Gov. Andrew Cuomo put stay-at-home orders into effect in New York on March 16, the New York City-based brokerage Corcoran Group was effectively shut down at a moment’s notice. However, Marc Alter, Corcoran’s senior vice president of learning and development, wasn’t about to let the brokerage’s agents be left in the lurch without access to the tools and resources they might need most during quarantine.
Just days before New York’s shut down, Alter stocked up on supplies from Best Buy and doubled down to shift the brokerage’s agent development program, Agent Studio, to a fully virtual program in time for agents to have access to the firm’s educational programs starting on the first day of stay-at-home orders.
That first week of staying at home, Corcoran held 19 virtual classes. Today, the brokerage hosts about 30 virtual classes per week.
Inman recently spoke with Alter about how Corcoran Group approaches agent education. Here’s what he had to share.
Inman News: Tell me how you got into real estate development and training.
Marc Alter: I started my career in finance and then went into the startup tech world. That’s where I learned how to build websites, do digital marketing, a variety of things. I called it “my personal MBA” because I did not get an MBA.
I realized that the real estate industry was not advanced in tech and digital marketing, and that was one of my strong suits. So I pitched myself as a consultant, ended up getting a full-time job at a small boutique firm as a manager on the business side, where I learned the real estate side of the business, and ultimately became an agent in the field.
Then I joined another firm, left that firm, and started another company focused around leveraging technology and business strategy, helping agents and brokerage firms build their business essentially with a big learning and development component.
I ended up transitioning to Corcoran as an agent. Then this job popped up, and I took the opportunity to scale what I was doing at the startup level for a company of our size, which was over 2,000 agents at the time.
Sounds like it was the right opportunity at the right time. I know you have an agent education program called ‘Agent Studio’ — could you explain it to me?
There’s a physical space, there’s an online platform, and then there’s essentially an overall internal brand that we have for Agent Studio. I think of Agent Studio as its own startup within Corcoran.
We launched the physical space in April 2017, and it is a tech-enabled, beautiful space. There are classrooms, conference rooms, there’s a space called the “living room,” which looks like a living room and we do video photo shoots there. We host a lot of events, and we obviously focus on a lot of learning and development offerings. Overall the physical space lends to this experience that agents have to obviously learn and develop their careers.
The online version is a lot of on-demand learning. But, in general, our goal is to deliver what agents need — not just for new agents, but also seasoned agents. We feature classes that center around real estate, business development strategy, technology tools, digital marketing and wellness. And all of those topics don’t just come in the form of classes; we do top agent panels, workshops, expert author series, weekly meditations. A big goal of ours is to not just have us be the trainers and the presenters, but bring in other experts and other perspectives.
Here at Inman during this month, we’ve been discussing the differences between what’s meant as ‘training’ and what’s meant as ‘coaching.’ Would you say that your program at Corcoran Group falls into one category versus another, or is it a blend of the two?
It’s a lot of different things. But, No. 1, we focus more on the terms “learning” and “development” because our industry is very strict with certain words and independent contractors — we can’t necessarily use “training.”
But the difference really between, what we call “learning and development” and then “coaching,” is that, it depends on the topic, it depends on what the agent is doing. Also, no one wants to hear the word “training.” They roll their eyes. But coaching and agent development, business development, business growth, that’s what we really focus on.
Everything we do has a layer of business development on top of it. We don’t just give our agents the tools and resources and say “good luck.” We don’t just tell them only how to do it, we also help them understand strategically how to implement it into their unique business, whether that’s our new CRM, our listings management system, our digital and print marketing platform, our social media management platform.
With all of these different tools, our agents need to have an understanding from a high level how they fit into their business, and then have a specific game plan on how to realistically implement each one into their business where they actually keep up with it and remain consistent. Consistency is one of our key tenants that we really try to preach.
On the coaching side, we actually have an in-house mindset and marketing coach who focuses a lot on business development. Her name is Ida Fields. She was our former director of marketing for Corcoran. She has built up several major residential brokerage brands, so she understands from a corporate perspective what it takes to build a strong brand.
But she also understands the agent and what they’re dealing with and what they need to build their own personal brand and position their property marketing effectively within the Corcoran umbrella. She goes through what she calls the “Four Ms”: mindset, marketing, motivation and mastery. It’s a four-part coaching process that she does in one-on-one sessions, or group workshops where she brings in other agents to share their success and what they’ve specifically done. It’s a very collaborative environment.
Have there been any specific issues or recurring things over the past couple months that you’ve seen people particularly ask for help with?
The common topics are: How are we navigating from a personal perspective for getting real estate, for getting business? So featuring certain agents in their homes and sharing what the agents have done just on a personal level to get through that process of gaining more business.
From a professional development and network outreach perspective, people are asking for panels or marketing workshops or resource guides on how to reach out to your network with content ideas that make sense for the current environment that really have sensitivity in place.
Separately, one of the most important things is understanding the market and how to navigate the market. We had several different panels featuring either agents sharing their perspectives, and what they’ve been seeing as we went from Phase I to Phase II.
We also featured different service providers, attorneys, lenders. We partnered with Citi Bank to have some of their top executives share what the global and the U.S. investment markets were doing as well as the mortgage and real estate markets.
A big focus of mine is to give our agents and our staff multiple perspectives on anything that they need to know to be more successful and more informed.
What one piece of advice would you give to agents right now as they’re trying to navigate all this?
I feel like I always go back to the same advice: Ultimately, it’s about defining your story and defining your brand. Everyone is unique in some way, and every real estate agent is an independent contractor — they’re now an entrepreneur. They signed up to be an entrepreneur, run their own business, and essentially their own brand within their brokerage umbrella. So defining what makes you unique, what you’re passionate about, what you’re knowledgeable about, and what your audience would find value in, and then, developing a brand and a story around that so that your network can share your story with others without you even asking them to do so. That’s what major brands do, and that’s ultimately what agents need to think of.
We do have about 15 people who contribute to all of our classes, and everything we do, whether they’re presenters or marketing — it’s a major team contribution. I help manage the whole thing, but ultimately this cannot be done without the team in place.
In terms of rollouts, there’s Cloze, which is our new Customer Relationship Management system. The biggest challenge there, is that we were fully virtual. And CRMs in general, historically, are very difficult for agents, and for really, human beings, to navigate, and to adopt, and really start engaging with.
We rolled it out to over 500 different agents within about a month and a half, all virtually. But the great thing about Cloze is that it goes beyond a CRM — it’s your personal virtual assistant. Being a former agent, I know that it’s really important for technology to help facilitate what we do but not get in the way or be too difficult. So a great part about Cloze is that there’s a lot of automation and a lot of artificial intelligence built in that generates a to-do list for you and you’re able to efficiently communicate, reach out to your network or mark off tasks or snooze or do whatever you want, and get on with your day.
The thing that makes it unique specifically to Corcoran, is that we’ve spent many, many hours configuring the system to work specifically for our markets. We’ve been working to configure the entire system literally down to each transaction type, step-by-step. That is a value proposition that we offer to our agents.