Companies to Watch: ERA--American Era

July 1, 1997

Why eye it: "Our telemarketing team turns leads into sales, and our computer leasing program turns new salespeople into techno-intellects," says Jim Zirbes, the company's marketing director.

The six-person telemarketing team works with four of Zirbes' salespeople to cold call and make follow-up calls. "We took the four salespeople most successful with our telemarketing program and asked them to pay the telemarketers' salary, but we've increased their commission to make up the difference," says Zirbes. "Salespeople now have more time to show property instead of talking about it."

ERA--American has also adapted an idea it picked up at a franchise meeting: It buys laptops and leases them to its salespeople. "If salespeople have six or more closed units in a quarter, we reimburse them for the cost of the laptop for those three months," says Zirbes. "Four of the six salespeople who've taken advantage of the program increased their sales enough to pay off their laptop within six months."

The result: In three years ERA--American increased closed units from 225 to 497 and closed dollar volume from $20 million to $48 million.

What's next: "Staying on the cutting edge of technology," says Zirbes. "The advantage is that it increases productivity, but the time it takes to learn and work out the kinks cuts into your short-term productivity."

Zirbes' advice for other brokers: Be prepared to hear whines when you introduce new technology. And delegate some new responsibilities. For instance, Zirbes' part-time computer systems administrator is a salesperson whom the company pays a nominal amount of money to maintain its computer system and answer salespeople's questions.

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