Keys for Successful Broker Technology Adoption
Start with the Broker's Experience
The commercial real estate industry is constantly evolving and technology is playing an increasingly important role for all professionals within commercial real estate (CRE). In recent years, there’s been a surge of new CRE products introduced. However, despite the rise of products focused on CRE transactions, many of these solutions have failed to achieve widespread adoption among CRE brokers.
There are a number of reasons for this, but one of the most important is that the CRE broker user-experience (or “UX”) has often been overlooked or misunderstood by product leaders, particularly within the CRE brokerages that plead with their brokers to use internal CRMs or reporting software. In fact, in a poll taken in 2022, 97% of CRE brokers said their brokerage's technology adds "zero value whatsoever." This is because these solutions are often built with the brokerage’s data interests in mind first , placing the broker-experience second. This is a mistake, as the success of the implementation is fundamentally dependent upon broker-adoption. If brokers are not benefiting from the technology, brokerages have very few levers to pull to mandate the buy-in of their brokers, who are the rockstars of any brokerage. Top-down “command-and-control” CRM may work in other industries, but it has found minimal product-market-fit in CRE brokerage where the sales professionals are almost always commission-paid, independent contractors. The result - both the broker and the brokerage suffer in the form of lost time and capital.
Focusing on the End-User (the Broker)
In 1997, Steve Jobs delivered a famous keynote speech at the Apple Worldwide Developers Conference. He highlighted a common problem faced by all technology and product leaders - not focusing on their end-users. Calm and eloquent amidst intense criticism (as only he could do), Jobs said
"One of the things I’ve found is that you’ve got to start with the customer experience and work backwards to the technology…As we have tried to come up with a strategy and a vision for Apple, it started with "What incredible benefits can we give to the customer?" Not starting with "Let’s sit down with the engineers and figure out what awesome technology we have and how are we going to market that?"
Jobs, a product and customer-obsessed CEO, deeply knew that Apple’s revenue goals would follow the company's ability to deliver outsized value to its customers. For CRE brokerages, their primary customer isn't the landlords and companies they represent - it's their brokers who bring in the revenue. If the goal is adoption, start with the broker-experience and work backwards to the technology. The broker-experience must be paramount, otherwise another CRM product will find its way into the already-full proptech technology graveyard.
It's also not just brokerages that fail to build products with poor "broker-market-fit." Even the largest, most prominent technology platforms in CRE lean heavily on broker data input, yet offer little in return to the brokers. No amount of VC funding can solve for poor broker adoption if you’re seeking to build a marketplace or SaaS business within CRE and need broker engagement.
So what does a great broker user-experience look like? Here's a few key considerations that the team at Enaia focuses on everyday that are relevant for CRE product leaders:
CRE Broker technology needs to be lightweight and simple
As service providers and sales professionals, CRE brokers are very busy, constantly reacting to the needs of prospects, clients and team members. They simply don't have time to waste on complicated or overly-built solutions. They’re pragmatic and matter-of-fact professionals who don’t report to sales managers the same way other sales professionals do (which is typically where products like Salesforce thrive). In Enaia, we’ve built social-networking ease-of-use, where inviting partner brokers to collaborate on pursuits and deals is effortless and moving prospects or deals forward or backward involves nothing more than sliding a card on a kanban board. Any CRE broker product should be intuitive, easy to navigate and not try to do everything all at once. After all, good technologists build products that feel easy because the technology does the work behind the scenes. As Naval said "Good platforms are invisible.," and as Steve Jobs said "It takes a lot of work to make something simple." Do the hard work to keep your products simple.
CRE Broker technology needs to deliver outsized value with minimal data input
Information has always been the broker’s most valuable asset, so technologists should focus on how to make brokers smarter and first-to-information while simultaneously minimizing the need for brokers to spend valuable minutes uploading data. As service providers, CRE brokers need to know as much as possible about their clients, prospects and market. Storing this data in a CRM is critical, yet many CRE broker CRM’s mirror spreadsheet-level value, where data-in equals data-out and little more. This explains why so many CRE brokers primarily manage their business in 1990’s era spreadsheets (columns and rows!). Excel obviously has its limitations, but it’s extremely easy to update and use. Technologists should mirror this ease of use and search for ways to deliver outsized value that spreadsheets can't provide. As an example, in Enaia, when brokers add Prospects or Clients, Enaia recommends decision makers (CEO’s, Founders, Asset Managers, etc.), provides sensitive contact information such as e-mail addresses, auto-enriches key data such as industries and more. This data enrichment is AI-generated and retrieved from over 265 million companies and contacts and we're always searching for possible ways to enrich even more data as we continue to improve the product. All this takes place within a single product instead of requiring brokers to use multiple products across various browser tabs. Enaia even aggregates real-time news insights from hundreds of thousands of news sources such as industry-focused publications to centralize insights for brokers, giving brokers fresh reasons to reach out to prospects while ensuring that brokers understand what their clients care about most - their businesses. For brokers, if they’re going to spend money on technology, it needs to add value beyond just data retrieval, because if a broker wins one more deal through better information and organization, the technology ROI easily outweighs the expense.
CRE Broker technology should empower dynamic collaboration
Brokers partner in really dynamic ways, often working with specific partner brokers on specific pursuits and deals. As a result, technology products need to reflect this way of working (where data privacy and collaboration uniquely coexist). In doing so, data silos are minimized, resulting in outsized efficiency and communication. At Enaia, we call this "Controlled Collaboration" - where collaboration actually mirrors how brokers partner in real life, even enabling brokers to partner with other brokers who work in different offices or at other brokerages for referrals, co-brokered deals, out-of-market opportunities or through networks such as CCIM, SIOR and more. Collaboration software has been instrumental in accelerating efficiencies for sales professionals across every industry and CRE brokerage is no exception. It's worth noting that designing products for this type of dynamic workflow isn’t easy, but if done right, the way in which brokers work together can add tremendous value for brokers and their teams, boosting business intelligence and streamlining workflows.
CRE brokerage technology needs to be secure
The CRE brokerage industry is complicated - it’s a highly collaborative industry, yet data privacy is essential. As stated, brokers need to be able to share some information with some brokers and some information with others, and these information pathways can never cross if they aren't supposed to. Brokers want to share what they want with who they want, when they want. As an example, in Enaia, a broker can create prospects and deals to work on completely solo, or they can collaborate on specific accounts and deals, similar to "channels" in Slack. These channels are what enable brokers to work with unique teams on the various landlord-rep agencies they’re working on while also working with other brokers on tenant-rep work or investment sales activities - all in one product, even being able to represent deals in new markets where they can invite partners from those local markets to work together on a deal-only basis. CRE broker collaboration is complicated, and it’s important that product leaders understand that brokers have unique demands centered around data privacy and control.
Being a CRE broker isn’t easy and neither is building technology for them. After 15 years in the industry, I am convinced more than ever that brokers are the lifeblood of the CRE industry and that they are, contrary to popular opinion, highly enthusiastic about embracing technology, but the technology needs to solve actual problems for them, meeting their unique demands around collaboration, security and portability.
Modern technology products that aim to support CRE brokers should be meticulously designed with the broker experience at the forefront. Start with the broker and work backwards to the technology.