Clicking with Clients
Balancing tech and people skills is the secret to successful business relationships.
Nathan F. Anderson, CCIM,
SIOR, couldn't tell you what some of his clients look like. It's not
necessarily because the industrial sales and leasing specialist with
Kessinger/ Hunter & Co. in Kansas City, Mo., has too many clients
to keep track of, it's just that he's never seen many of them in the
Compared to five years ago, it's
a different world, Anderson says of the way technology is transforming
his business. I'm working on multiple listings where I've never met
the seller in person.
may be the exception rather than the norm among his colleagues,
technology is gaining a foothold in the commercial real estate industry
because it affords the speed, convenience, and cost efficiencies
today's companies and clients want.
e-mail has been firmly entrenched in the brokerage community for
several years, other technologies, such as Web conferencing and instant
messaging, slowly are making inroads into the industry. Yet some
brokers worry these tools may erode the foundation on which many
commercial real estate companies built their businesses a human,
You can be a good
salesperson without technology skills, says Robin S. Eschliman, CCIM,
an associate broker with NAI FMA Realty, in Lincoln, Neb. But you
can't be a good salesperson without people skills.
Finding the Balance
During the last decade, business communication technology has shifted
noticeably from the spoken word ? phone calls and in-person meetings
to the written word in the form of e-mails, intranets, and online chat,
according to Matthew Ferrara, a veteran real estate technology
educator. As a result, many of today's business relationships are built
through a steady stream of e-mail and other text-based technologies.
brokers continue to search for the perfect balance between technology
and interpersonal communication. The key is to recognize that certain
technologies appear more human to clients than others and to understand
which situations demand a particular type of response. The balance
between written and spoken [communication] is not a magic formula,
As commercial real estate
professionals embrace these new electronic technologies, they will
master the understanding of how and when to use technology without
losing the warmth of personal contact.
Web Conferencing:Almost Like Being There
For commercial real estate professionals who rely heavily on
face-to-face meetings, the inconvenience of geographic distance coupled
with the time-devouring practice of jetting across the country to meet
clients, makes Web conferencing an attractive and economical
alternative. Since Web conferences allow for both audio and visual
communication, they are an ideal substitute for face-to-face meetings.
conferencing] is very simple and very effective, says Joe W. Milkes,
CCIM, MAI, owner of Milkes Realty Valuation in Dallas. Earlier this
year, he met online with his management association peers. As for using
it in commercial real estate, I can imagine that it would be very
useful for a group to discuss a document or site plan and save a lot of
time by doing it simultaneously. I would think it would be useful in
dealing with complex issues where time and coordination are
important, he says.
professionalism naturally lends itself to the process, Ferrara says. The commercial agent is the most buttoned-down person in real estate.
There's a level of professional appearance and demeanor demanded of
commercial brokers not seen in many other professions, he says. This
is something commercial agents can leverage in their online meetings
However, successful Web
conference users understand how human this technology is. It is very
hard to remember that every facial expression is being seen. Rolling
your eyes at the guy next to you will be seen at the other end, Ferrara says. But the benefits are tremendous. To look directly into
the camera and tell a client that you're going to make something happen
or you're going to fix a problem conveys the same trust onscreen as it
does in person.
Instant Messaging for Business
In the late 1990s, when instant messaging went mainstream, it first
captured the attention of college students and teenagers. Unlike
e-mail, instant messaging allows two users to carry on an interactive,
text-based conversation in real time via the Internet. The advantages
are apparent: Instant messaging demands less time and attention than
phone calls and allows users to maximize mobility.
the idea that chat technology could make the jump from a student's PC
to a commercial real estate broker's desktop has been considered only
recently, although real estate giant Re/Max International started using
a primitive form of it more than a decade ago.
1992, through technology provided by Internet service provider
Compuserve, roughly 3,000 commercial and residential Re/Max agents
started using instant messaging to speak with each other for the
first time, creating a high-tech, highly effective referral service.
referral business [the 3,000 agent test group] generated was high, and
they only had great things to say about it, says Kristi Graning, vice
president of information technology for Re/Max International. In 1998
we transitioned to the Web and started using true IM technology. Since
then, we have upgraded the technology a couple of times to try to use
the latest and greatest.
and greatest chat technology for Re/Max is now the company's extranet,
Mainstreet, a virtual community created to foster mutually beneficial
relationships between agents, regardless of their geographic location.
Due to imbedded IM technology, more than 52,000 commercial and
residential agents (as well as suppliers and affiliates) can log onto
the Mainstreet and chat with their colleagues across the network.
experience has been overall positive, Graning says. It's difficult to
find the best technology that utilizes all varieties of operating
systems that our agent population uses, but we've been able to manage
that. I cannot tell you that it has increased speed with the overall
transaction nor has it simplified the transaction, but it has built
relationships that last a lifetime.
commercial agents need not wait until their employer purchases an
instant messaging platform to experiment with the technology. They can
benefit greatly by equipping their wireless personal digital assistants
or laptops with an instant messaging program, Ferrara says. The reward:
increased efficiency without sacrificing mobility.
instant messaging works best when holding short, efficient chats with
clients rather than lengthy, personal conversations. I manage five
major corporate clients, and all day long we're constantly asking and
answering questions of each other. If they call and get my voice mail,
they are not getting the service they need. But if they instant message
me, I'm there, Ferrara says.
the advantages, there are some reasons that many business professionals
are far more comfortable with phone calls and e-mail. One major
drawback to Internet-based instant messaging is that no unified
platform for public users exists. A uniform Microsoft-based platform
for Yahoo!, America Online, and Microsoft corporate instant messenger
users is expected later this year, but currently they cannot
communicate with each other.
instant messaging also brings its own set of security concerns. Because
the technology enables users not only to speak in text format, but
also to transfer files back and forth, instant messengers are
particularly vulnerable to hackers. Instant messaging conversations
usually are not encrypted when they travel across the Internet, giving
hackers an easy way to ?look in? on conversations and data.
pressing concern for Internet-based instant messaging is that the
ability to share music, photos, applications, and other files makes IM
conversations convenient carriers for more nefarious concoctions:
viruses and worms. A single message can carry a nasty virus that
covertly infiltrates the other party's system.
bypass these security issues, some real estate agents are eyeing
internal instant messaging platforms from companies such as Microsoft,
FaceTime Communications, IBM's Lotus, and Novell. Some of their common
safeguards: File sharing can be disabled; messages are encrypted; and
each conversation automatically is logged into the company's archives.
Tying It All Together
While some progressive commercial real estate companies have taken
technologies such as Web conferencing and instant messaging for test
drives, most have adopted a wait-and-see approach. Since many brokers
already cut their technology teeth on e-mail, Web-based marketing
tools, and wireless systems, they'd like for someone else to brave the
next wave of products and tools.
always make a decision to jump on new technology when it gets a
national following and signs point to [it] being a leader in its
field, Eschliman says.
tech and people skills requires adapting technologies to the core
strengths of the industry. Behind the latest technology tool is the
understanding that whatever the means, communication is the key to
success. My experience is that agents who cannot build rapport easily
and create a sense of trust with clients in person won't be around
[very long], Anderson says.