Is Your Brokerage Serving ‘Prosumers’?

It’s time to re-evaluate your customer approach and give buyers and sellers the authenticity, information, and trust they crave.

September 18, 2015

Maria Ferrante-Schepis wants to help brokers work out — but not to shed an extra 10 pounds. She wants to exercise their minds so they can take on the heavy task of reimaging the real estate business.

During the National Association of REALTORS® Broker Summit in Seattle last month, Ferrante-Schepis presented lessons on building authenticity from parallel industries. She herself focuses on insurance and financial services at Maddock Douglas, a consulting firm that helps companies tackle growth.

Why look to outside industries? “You can’t read the label when you’re sitting inside the jar,” she says. “It’s much more eye-opening when you can find people who are not in your business, because they give you a different perspective.”

Many industries, such as insurance, finance, medicine, and others, are facing some of the same obstacles as real estate: an aging sales force, a consumer base armed with more information than ever, and a societal distrust of the middleman. These industries also strive to serve today’s “prosumer.”

A term that Ferrante-Schepis first read in the book Wikinomics (Portfolio, 2006), a prosumer is a producer, a professional, and a proactive consumer. They seek out customization and make products and services their own. And they’re changing the structure of many businesses, Ferrante-Schepis says. Prosumer-friendly companies include YouTube, Amazon, iTunes, and LegalZoom.

What prosumer-centric businesses have in common is their delivery of an experience that puts the consumer in control and allows for customization of the transaction. Shutterfly is a good example, Ferrante-Schepis says, of a company that provides an easy-to-use website that puts creativity in the customers’ hands to produce a product that’s not only something they want to purchase but also is meaningful to them. This business model creates authenticity, Ferrante-Schepis says. Something that’s authentic is “easy to understand, down to earth, memorable, and credible.”

The real estate industry could benefit from taking a prosumer-focused approach, Ferrante-Schepis says, offering three tips for using authentic traits to help brokers reimage their methodology.

  1. Be easy to understand: Real estate is laden with jargon. From ARM to FSBO, your clients might not know what you’re talking about, and that can be a turnoff. Ferrante-Schepis recommends making sure your agents are keeping the jargon out of all their conversations. Try banning the use of acronyms at the office, because if you’re speaking that way to your colleagues, then some of that language is being passed on to clients, she says. The same can go for listing presentations and disclosure statements. Try using a jargon “swear jar.”
  2. Be memorable: What’s your takeaway? Laughter can be a powerful tool. At Southwest Airlines, for example, flight attendants often use humor in their announcements and safety speeches to keep passengers engaged. (It has also produced a few viral videos.) Engagement is key when serving prosumers, Ferrante-Schepis says. They need more than education; they need to be prepared for the experience of buying or selling a home. “Give them a safe place to play with information so they feel empowered when they’re meeting with your agents,” she says. For instance, consider the quantified-self movement and the rise of fitness tracking apps and age tests that have become popular on Facebook. Brokers could take the cue and create a “real age of a home” app. Not only will this give potential clients the detailed information they crave (and want to share), but it’s also a new way to capture online leads. Always strive to be useful, Ferrante-Schepis says.
  3. Be credible: Are you willing to recommend something to clients that isn’t necessarily in your company’s best interest? The key to being credible to prosumers is communicating relevant, factual information. Be honest, no matter what. Sometimes that might mean discussing the downfalls of a property up front, Ferrante-Schepis says. Whether it’s a first-time buyer who is unrealistic about what they can afford or sellers who need to take a hard look at the pricing of their home, having that tough conversation is actually a step toward building meaningful credibility.

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