The potential reduction in sales activity in 2017 is an interesting point for debate. Folk far wiser than I see the peripheral factors of a slow Brexit and wider economic factors as having a negative impact on sales numbers. Historically the property market doesn’t respond well to uncertainty, and it has seen both of those in large measure since the Summer.
It is reported that ‘High Street’ agency branches have increased in number by almost 16 per cent since 2010, as transaction numbers have slipped. The momentum of ‘online’ agents also have a bearing on running ‘traditional’ businesses. And alongside the factors affecting the sales side, there is the forthcoming threat of fee income on the lettings side being reduced. 2017 therefore is unlikely to be a barrel of laughs. I fear there will be casualties.
There will, of course, be survivors. There always will be the businesses which raise their game, face and defeat the challenges. It is the less adaptable agents who are damaged by the changing climate – much like the dinosaurs who failed to cope with the changed environment all those years ago.
Some of our client firms identified the issues that 2017 may bring last Autumn and we spent the back end of last year reviewing and perfecting their processes. A number of significant gaps and weaknesses were quickly revealed. More importantly, the firms in question then invested time and money in addressing them.
In the case of the aforementioned firms, all applicants were registered straight onto a computer and added into the database. The number of applicants grew daily and ran to over 2500 in total. The system then issued daily prompts to the staff as to which applicants should be contacted and when, leading to massive to-do lists which were never completed. Staff were becoming demoralised, and when they did have an opportunity to catch up with calls to applicants, they were rushing them and achieving little; the only goal in reality being to try and reduce the size of the list!
Any actual sales process had evaporated and the computer had become the master of all who worked there. Proactive telephone contact with hot buyers to generate viewings through accomplished and diligent selling skills was virtually non-existent. Similarly, calling local applicants with properties to sell to secure valuation appointments had all but ground to a halt.
A complete overhaul of the sales process was undertaken and subsequent training undertaken – results are already very positive, both in terms of staff morale and sales figures.
Firstly, agreed qualification and categorisation standards were implemented. With better questioning and listening skills in place, far superior levels of information were gleaned from applicants, particularly in terms of their detailed motivation, ability and needs. Drilling down to get the real story on issues like detailed timeframes, financial capabilities, and the reasons and problems behind the move proved invaluable in assessing the quality of the prospect and the sales opportunity they represented (or failed to!). This led the negotiators to be able to carry out the essential task of accurately categorising their applicants (to keep it simple, customers were allocated a status of between one and four depending upon certain answers) and then to ensure all applicants received an appropriate level of follow-up and ongoing service.
Brutal though it may sound, applicant ‘culling’ rules were introduced and adhered to. These were long overdue, particularly given that there were a vast number of applicants who had been on the mailing list for over six months without viewing.
The staff were reminded of the basic estate agency principles that customers can only ever go down one of two routes…they either make you money, or they cost you money. Typically, when agents assess the split of the former versus the latter, in excess of 90 per cent fall into the ‘cost you’ category. In uncertain market conditions, it is utterly essential that the ‘must move’ customers are identified and the staff treat them as VIPs throughout.
I also pointed out to the team that the most important sale they make every day is not property, mortgage appointments, themselves nor the company. It is selling their time that is paramount. The most effective agents trade their time with customers who are going to earn them income – less successful agents give too much of their time away to the wrong people for no return.
These salutary lessons, and the principles covered in our training, ensured that the staff now spot and maximise opportunities and have positioned themselves to succeed in 2017 and beyond.