From ‘Agents’ to ‘Advisors’ – Differentiating your property / real estate firm

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Property and real estate firms face a real conundrum.

It stems from a desire to stop clients seeing them as simply ‘agents’ with short-term, lower value, transactional relationships – what we might describe as a ‘product-based’ approach.

Here’s what a few well-known property firms want clients to believe…

“Our involvement does not start and end with a sale or purchase”

We are much more that just an estate agent or property advisor”

“Our specialist market knowledge and our in-house research resources enable us to offer so much more than ordinary agency services”

“At JLL we believe we need to go beyond bricks and mortar”

Firms would much rather be seen as advisors with long term, higher value, collaborative client relationships – what we might describe as a consulting-led approach.

Here’s how a few firms describe themselves…

“Commercial property and real estate consultants”

“A residential and commercial property consultancy”

“A professional services and investment management company specializing in real estate”

“A global real estate services provider”

The fundamental problem for property and real estate firms is that every firm has the same objective.

As a result, despite their best intentions, firms often say the same thing, use expected stock phrases and at first glance to clients look exactly the same as one another.

To examine this lack of differentiation further, we analysed the websites of some of the best-known real estate firms. We then put our findings from each website into word clouds.

While word clouds are not a truly scientific method of analysis, they can be powerful tools to get a snapshot of a firm’s positioning.

It is clear from the word clouds that many firms look exactly the same, offer the same services, with the same potential benefits for clients. Indeed, similarly to our analysis of the top 10 global consulting firms, if you remove the brand name from each word cloud, it would be nearly impossible to tell one property firm from another…

Word Clouds Analysis Featuring: Savills, JLL, Knight Frank, Chestertons, CBRE, Colliers International, Strutt & Parker, Cushman & Wakefield

Savills Word Cloud
Strutt & Parker Word Cloud
Cushman & Wakefield Word Cloud
Chestertons Word Cloud

Colliers International Word Cloud
Knight Frank Word Cloud
JLL Word Cloud
CBRE Word Cloud

Similarly, many firms claim to have ‘unique’ advantages that are in fact offered by everyone else…

“We provide a worldwide service that’s locally expert and globally connected”

“An agency that can combine local expertise with a global reach”

“Local knowledge with national coverage”

“Deep local and global knowledge creates significant value for our clients” and “Confidently global, expertly local”

“We combine our intimate local knowledge and support with formidable global reach”

“We pride ourselves on providing the personal touch… but we can plug into the broader resources and expertise of a leading global consultancy whenever we need to”

So how can property firms really distinguish themselves from the competition?

It begins with understanding that to truly be advisors and consultants – as opposed to agents – they need to adopt a consultative approach that aligns every behaviour, process, action and tool towards the client.

The ability to master such a consultative approach and its associated behaviours firm wide and to be able to illustrate this approach in every client interaction, better than other firms, is what will separate your firm from the competition and ensure you are viewed as a long-term partner, rather than a transactional agent.

So what does a consultative approach actually mean – as opposed to a transactional approach?

It means your philosophy, culture, way of acting and set of behaviours all evolve from an understanding of ‘the client’. Once the whole firm understands that ‘It’s about the client’, rather than simply the services you can offer, every behaviour, process, action and tool can be aligned to support that goal.

Using business development as an example, it means you take a broad strategic consideration of the client’s context and propose focused tailored services that directly meet the client’s needs.

Crucially, you are not fitting the client around the fixed solutions you have to offer – something you might find in a product-based, transactional approach.

In the top-performing property firms (who adopt a consultative approach) we would expect to see people who collaborate effectively, assist with diagnosis of the client’s situation, identify opportunities in the client’s strategic context, generate insight, offer unique points of view and provide practical and actionable recommendations that directly meet the client’s needs.

Such a consulting-led approach requires mastery of associated key skills and behaviours. most of which must be learned, practised and refined, particularly by property individuals who may have developed a more traditional, short-term transactional mindset.

Not only do they need core analytical and diagnostic skills, the best-performing property firms are able to:

  • Illustrate expertise, knowledge and specialisation without overtly bragging or ‘selling’
  • Build mutual trust, respect and interest
  • Perform well in critical conversations
  • Have individuals with personal status and presence that creates true impact
  • Discuss and design a ‘solution’ in collaboration with the client
  • Understand, react to and accommodate client reservations
  • Recognise the decision making style of the client – their motivators and emotional drivers
  • Earn the right to offer a point of view
  • Undertake best value discussions for both parties, with long term taking precedence over short term
  • Present ideas and recommendations clearly and effectively

Ultimately, while it’s true that a website is often the client’s first touch point with the firm – so inevitably must cover a lot of bases to stop you being immediately deselected (as shown by the word clouds) – it is your firm’s ability to adopt a more consultative approach and its associated behaviours that will ultimately differentiate.

From the first time a client makes contact with you, every interaction, every conversation, every ‘moment of truth’ will determine how the client views your firm, whether or not they will pursue a long-term relationship with you and whether you can prove in reality that you are actually “much more that just an estate agent or property advisor.”

As a few well-known firms say:

“Don’t let our passion for what some might call ‘old-fashioned service values’ deceive you: we are a modern, dynamic, forward thinking company”

“We ensure we deliver our services diligently, creatively and intelligently, with an absolute focus on our clients.”

“What sets us apart is not what we do, but how we do it”

These aren’t just empty words”

“Every touch point is an opportunity to deliver an exceptional experience for clients” 

“There’s a human element in the world of property that is too easily overlooked”

Some excellent assertions; but it’s behaviours that will prove it.

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