4 Steps To Successful Technology Adoption In Your CRE Business
Daniel Levison | February 25, 2020
We’ve all been there. A few people on the team find a new piece of technology they want to use, it’s purchased and then a few months later nobody has used it in weeks and it’s now an underutilized expense on your P&L. Adoption is always a hurdle especially with new technology. In this blog, we’re bringing 4 ways we’ve seen brokerages have success driving adoption of new technology with this in mind.
The first step of the adoption process for any company is for leadership to articulate the answer to the question – why are we deploying this new technology? One of the best answers a managing broker or principal can give back office support staff and company agents is – if our business isn’t actively evaluating our technology stack on an ongoing basis, the organization will be less profitable, productive and will struggle to attract and retain top talent.
It’s important to approach adoption as a two way street. It will take everyone’s acceptance to be successful. Adoption MUST include buy-in from managing brokers, principals, agents and back office staff. Without buy in from all facets of your organization, success is unlikely and failure is almost a certainty.
Once the decision has been made to access and consider updating your company’s current technology stack successfully navigating through and determining which technology platforms can be the most beneficial to your business you must have a well thought out plan.
At CommissionTrac, one of our core tenets for success is being consultative in the onboarding process to drive adoption. We recently brought a new company that knew CommissionTrac could be valuable to their business, but were a little concerned it might be too much. Mark Duclos is the president of the brokerage (and SIOR’s current president) and Melissa is in charge of day to day operations. Our first step was a “kick off call” where we followed the steps below. In a case study done 6 months after their “go live,” Mark had this to say about the experience:
- “Out of the gates, we are happy with CommissionTrac! Melissa, who is the first one that counts, is a fan. I think I can speak for her; when we first got this she thought it was overkill, that we didn’t really need it. When she started using and then understanding it, she thinks it’s a great tool. And I would be the same. When I bought it, when we committed to it I wasn’t sure if it was overlap but now that we’re into it, it clearly is not. It’s an important tool for us to run the company.”
- Here’s their full case study: How Mark and Melissa at Sentry Commercial use CommissionTrac to Increase Brokerage Productivity and Profitability
We feel the steps below could help drive successful adoption for nearly any new technology you are looking to add to your company… and there are no shortage of options, so a plan is critical to success…
According to Steve Weikal, Real Estate Tech Lead for the Real Estate Innovation Lab at the MIT Center for Real Estate, the Lab’s researchers have identified over 3,200 commercial startups focused on commercial real estate technology. With a plethora of options which are even more critical to have a well-thought-out plan.
4 Best practices for selecting and implementing new technology into your CRE business successfully:
- Conduct an analysis, possibly a round table of leadership, key back office personnel and agents The goal is to address what challenges and hurdles they encounter with their current daily routines and how the company’s current technologies cause difficulties and impediments to productivity.
- Given the sheer volume of options, one of the first steps in this analysis will be to determine what type of technology you should even consider: a CRM, Fintech solution or an Artificial Intelligence platform will potentially increase your company’s productivity and bottom line. This round table is important, because you want everyone who will use the technology to be a part of the decision. Nobody likes being told, “you have to use this now”
- Clear and concise communication is paramount to success. Communicating the benefits to the organization and individuals involved, and making sure to tie the benefits to their specific pain points is crucial to successful adoption. Most importantly, understanding that accountability starts at the top, principals must lead by example and embrace and support the platform.
- Involving all stakeholders is important. Generating buzz around the initiative,involving the team and identifying champions in the front and back office can greatly enhance successful adoption. Involvement creates pride, accountability, and enthusiasm. Principals should celebrate ambassadors and champions as early adopters. Champions often educate and nurture their colleagues into successful acceptance.
- Set realistic expectations on implementation. Listen and compassionately address concerns. Understanding resistance can allow leadership to be proactive in their adoption strategy while maintaining a strong commitment and focus to moving forward with implementation.
Thoughts On How to Drive Successful Adoption:
An adoption plan for new technology buy-in will vary depending on where the initial suggestion for the implementation originated. If the initial idea generated from the front line (managing broker, company principals or agents), the adoption strategy will be different than if the suggestion initially came from the administrative support and back office team.
If the idea for the technology came from the front line, acceptance from the back office support staff can be challenging. If your organization is similar to our experience running a CRE brokerage business in Atlanta, your back office and support staff can easily get set in their old ways and resist change. Resistance can come from a multitude of reasons. Identifying potential resistance and addressing it directly will increase your chances for successful implementation.
With the typical profile of a back office manager for a CRE brokerage firm being, between the age of 40 to 60 years old likely with children and possibly grandchildren; they have likely developed “their way” of handling company processes and procedures. Many times they view a change as a threat to their job security.
Make sure to address this head on: let them know “this is technology to help you do more, not to replace you”. You may also be able to drive their comfort and job security by giving them ownership in the project. Let them know it won’t work without their buy-in, and they are going to be “in charge” of how this new technology is implemented in their part of the company.
Many who fall into the typical controller profile may also be starting to think of retirement, and the thought of having to implement a new technology platform is just not something they have a desire in taking on. They may even say something like “if it ain’t broke don’t fix it” – unfortunately the reality is just because it’s not broken, doesn’t mean it can’t be better. Often, just because something “works” doesn’t mean it’s efficient… and inefficiencies are holding back your business.
Getting Buy-In From the Back Office:
Develop a plan and don’t leave acceptance to happen naturally because it won’t.
- Make the back office the hero, because typically they are the goat. In our brokerage company the back office seemed to get the blame for everything. If an agent couldn’t figure out why his check didn’t equal what they felt it should, why their commission hadn’t come in, or why an invoice has not gone out… the back office seemed to take the heat.
- Encourage them to see the technology, although initially taking time to implement, as a tool that will ultimately make them a star within the organization. As a managing broker or principal it’s your responsibility to promote them as a hero.
- Back office personnel typically think more analytically than front line sales people. Appeal to the productivity and time savings the new technology will create for their team. Ask them questions like, “what would an extra 5 hours a week in free time allow you to do?”
- Many aspects of a back office’s daily routine are mundane and dull. Show key back office executives how adopting new technology can allow them to focus on more critical thinking and strategy, such as, creating and monitoring key performance indicators (KPI’s) for your business.
- As Peter Drucker stated “If you can’t measure it, you can’t improve it.” Encourage them to see how promoting the new technology will actually create an opportunity to become more valuable to the organization and not a threat to their job security.
- Create opportunities for your key back office executives to engage with other users of the proposed platform so they can discuss their concerns while also hearing from their peers how the new technology has been beneficial to their organizations.
- Appeal to their loyalty and the company’s best interest, particularly if they are considering retirement in the next few years. Focus on how implementing the new platform allows the company to stay competitive, more productive and profitable. And if we don’t have a process to evaluate and adopt new technologies our competitors will have the upper hand in retaining and attracting top talent.
Getting Buy-In From the Front Office:
If the initial suggestion for new technology originated from the back office, although still challenging, history indicates acceptance is typically a smoother process. When the team that is actually going to be implementing and using the platform are the ambassadors of the change ownership is more likely to accept the change.
Most successful principal brokers know how to hire, train and mentor young agents, but have less knowledge or desire to know what happens down the rabbit hole in the back office and brokerage operations.
Whereas, back office staff are typically analytical and productivity focused managing brokers, principles and agents of typical commercial brokerage companies have short attention spans and what to see snapshots of data in dashboards and not long detailed reports.
Typically principles of CRE brokerage companies have been highly successful salespeople who have gone out and created their own brokerage company. Historically, myself included, salespeople don’t always make the best operators,
So in championing new technology to ownership, back office executives should focus on solving a managing broker’s, principals or agents pain points. Some of the most noteworthy pain points and questions many managing broker’s and principals want answered when it comes to adopting and paying for new technology are:
- Can the technology provide me access to real time reports to run my business? This is a real pain point for most principals of CRE brokerage businesses. Most managing brokers don’t have the tools in place to get a true picture of their business quickly. For many, making a request for a standard receivables report, a report on booked future income report or a future revenue projection report can easily take several days, if not longer.
- Will the technology reduce complaints due to a lack of transparency we have with our agents? I know some of the most difficult discussions I had with agents were about the lack of transparency revolving around how their commission checks were calculated and their feeling it wasn’t correct. Reducing complaints can not only reduce tension with your producing agents but it can also mean more time for agents, managing brokers and back office staff to focus on revenue producing activities.
- What is the cost and the potential payback of the technology? Although new technology’s do have a cost associated with them, gains in back office productivity can ultimately keep cost down. In a growing economy, new technology can keep expenses in check as organizations grow while in a downturn or normal attrition through individuals retiring technology may give company’s the ability to trim personnel without a loss in productivity or transparency.
- Can the platform help the company budget and forecast more effectively? Selecting the right technology platform can provide managing brokers and agents keen insight on how and where they derive their clients and their income. Budgeting brokerage revenue can be extremely difficult for managing brokers given agents concern over jinxing deals. But, without a real understanding of potential revenue, it is virtually impossible to budget for services and support for their back office and agents.
- Are any of our network partners utilizing the platform? If the answer is yes – creating opportunities for principals to engage with their network peers to see how the new technology has benefited their organizations will speed up adoption. Most will want to see someone like them already having success with a new technology before committing to it.
- Are any of our competitors using the platform? If the answer is yes – advising principals that if we don’t evaluate and adopt new technologies our competitors will ultimately provide better business platforms for top talent and producers.
Often the focus can be around two areas above: how does this help the financial operation of the brokerage (budgeting, forecasting and financial reporting). At CommissionTrac, these are key values to the platform.
For financial reporting we have dashboards and reports that update in real time:
When it comes to transparency into the pipeline for budgeting and forecasting, you have an entire opportunities module for keeping on top of every deal, or you can use a CRM like Rethink that has a native integration with CommissionTrac:
For more on how our best practices regarding pipeline and deal management, check out our recent blog post, 5 Things To Consider When Tracking CRE Agents Pipeline & Opportunities.
The Importance Of Your Vendor’s On-boarding And Customer Success Team:
As critical as buy-in is from the front and back office, the customer support provided by the technology vendor during onboarding and once you have gone live can mean the difference in success or failure when implementing new technology. The application should provide multiple avenues from which to retrieve your answers to support relation questions. Make sure that at a minimum, you have an easy to access help center with tutorials and “how tos”, a phone number you can call and an email you can easily reach out for help.
At CommissionTrac, we use Intercom. It’s a built in chat support capability and help center all included in the platform and you can reach out 24/7/365:
Here’s how we organize our help center, each section has video tutorials and step by step instructions on how to do ANYTHING in the platform.
If you’re more like me, you’d rather just talk to a real human. We have in-app chat or a phone number you’re able to call whenever you’re in need:
Shelly Protus, Office Manager at CBRE Albany also validated the team’s commitment to customer service is a core philosophy of CommissionTrac.
- “It’s really been the product as a whole. I will say, your support team has been spectacular. Anything I’ve wanted to talk about, anything I’ve needed help with, you guys are responsive, you’re open, you’re just there. Which is really great!”
- Here’s Shelly’s full success story with CommissionTrac: How Shelly Used CommissionTrac to transform the brokerage operations and data reporting process for CBRE Albany
Recap and Overview:
It’s no longer a matter of being an early adopter of technology, if you aren’t evaluating and embracing new technologies available to our industry, you are losing business and potentially top agents to your competitors. It’s no secret that the commercial real estate industry has in the past a widespread reputation for being slow to embrace new strategies and technologies.
However, times have changed. As technology continues to expand and impact our industry, there has been an exciting wave of change in commercial real estate professional’s willingness to implement technologies that will help their companies and agents become more productive, profitable and competitive.
To find out how you can use CommissionTrac to gain clarity and insight on your brokerage’s performance and also understanding why Techstars Atlanta and Cox Enterprises are lead investors in CommissionTrac, request a demo today by visiting our website at www.commissiontrac.com
Author: Daniel Levison – Chairman CRE Holdings (Atlanta Investment Properties, CommissionTrac, Sharedspace) and Turner Levison, CEO, CommissionTrac