The commercial real estate brokerage tech revolution starts with automation

National Partner /
Mar.March 25, 2021 05:00 PM

The commercial real estate brokerage tech revolution starts with automation
“Commercial real estate brokers are slow to adopt tech.” How many times have you heard that? In a way, it’s true. Compared to the massive amount of tech adoption that has happened in nearly every industry, brokers are still largely doing business much as they have for the last few decades. But here’s the thing: those techniques work. Cold calling, checking in on clients, and networking are all still some of the most valuable activities a commercial broker can do. Calling brokers Luddites is also a bit harder these days since the pandemic has forced quite a bit of adoption by way of virtual and self-guided tours.

Almost everyone that comments about how brokers don’t use enough tech have never been a broker themselves. If they had they would know that brokers are judged and rewarded based on hustle. The only way to make it as a junior associate is to spend long, hard hours prospecting. The only way to find the best new deals is to pound the proverbial and actual pavement. Every waking second a broker is not looking for new business they are losing money, or at least that is how the successful ones have trained themselves to think. This doesn’t leave much time to learn about, research, and integrate technology into their daily grind.

Brokers have certainly proven that for certain elements of their job, like researching the market, they are happy to spend on tech solutions. CoStar was one of the earliest technologies ‘PropTech’ companies (whatever that means) and has become the source of truth for most commercial property data. Brokers have no problem shelling out tens of thousands of dollars a year on subscriptions for it (and then complaining about it afterward). CRMs have also made big inroads in most firms as they allow brokers to do more of what gets them new business: outreach.

The time constraints of anyone working in commercial brokerage have actually shaped the brokerage tech landscape. Saving brokers even seconds a day can be valuable so companies are racing to create a ‘full-stack’ marketing solution where data can be automatically populated across all of the different platforms (CRM, transaction, marketing material, research, listing, etc.). This is why we have seen a huge amount of consolidation in the space like when LightBox acquired ClientLook early last year or when Buildout purchased Rethink a month ago.

So if tech adoption in commercial brokerage requires saving agents precious time, we might need to see more automation tools being deployed in the space. These technologies are often not broker-specific but rather are versatile “no-code” tools that can help stitch together almost any two computerized processes.

As we discuss in our brokerage marketing strategies research report, there are two broad types of automation tools brokers have available to them: consumer solutions, and advanced tools that are more powerful. Unless a broker is an absolute data beast or has a background in coding, consumer solutions are where the vast majority should start. The two solutions that we point to in the report, and that brokers should check out, are Zapier and IFTTT (If This Then That). These two solutions rely on conditional logic: based on a certain input, like an email signup, a manual trigger, or a webinar attendee submitting feedback, a certain action in a different application can be prompted.

For brokers, who rely on so many highly replicable processes to keep business rolling in and deals closing on time, the opportunities here should be obvious. Why not set up a ‘Zap’ that records incoming phone calls to your CRM and automatically assigns a follow-up task to your assistant? Or even automate your assistant out of his job by automatically sending out an OM to people who press a button on your site, personalized with their name and title?

There are opportunities for automation on the back end, too. Why not automate your communication with the escrow company? Automatically store a series of incoming files in a war room accessible to only the right people? Send a thank-you note to inspectors and appraisers who help with the project?

The reason that brokers have not adopted tech isn’t because they are dumb. There are a lot of things that brokers know that they need to do to make money and so they don’t have much free time to work on their tech stack. Tech adoption shouldn’t be onerous for brokers. It shouldn’t get in the way of business as usual, because business as usual has made a lot of brokers a lot of money. Instead, it should be seen as an augment to their output, the kind of thing that amplifies a brokerage team’s reach and/or effectiveness. Only then will see mass tech adoption in brokers. Maybe then we can finally stop hearing about how they need to be better at adapting technology from the people trying to sell them technology solutions. [Propmodo]


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