The Boutique Broker's Guide to Delighting Agents and Winning Star Talent

Seth Price
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Best foot forward: Training and onboarding

Agent adoption of tools and resources is a challenge for many brokerages. Consider the CRM, arguably one of the foundational technology products in a real estate business: A collaborative study between Hubspot and REAL Trends found that just over half of agents (51.2%) were actually using the CRM provided by their brokerages. That must feel pretty painful to brokers, considering the cost; they’re paying for every agent to have access to the platforms and  software they’re licensing. When only half of agents are using a critical business tool like a CRM, paying for unused software in an era of thin profit margins is far from ideal.

That’s an expensive challenge for brokers—but it’s one that can be tackled and eliminated from an agent’s very first day if onboarding is approached with the appropriate mindset, and also through collaboration with vendors who understand these challenges and can work with you to find solutions. This could mean flexible billing practices, where vendors are tracking who’s using their platform and only charging the brokerage for active users, or additional support and training to help agents understand how the platform can make them more efficient—or a mixture of the two.

Top boutique brokers begin showing agents that they’re being set up for success and provided with a foundation of support as soon as those agents agree to join. According to Lee Adkins, Head of Growth at real estate consultancy Amplified Solutions, many brokerages have decent baseline processes in place (such as lead generation and marketing systems, for example), “but they’re just not organized.”

The onboarding experience should put the agent first. “One of the things I always teach is: Get your onboarding down before you get your recruiting fired up, because you spend all this time and money on getting the agent recruited, and if the onboarding experience is bad, it’s not going to end well,” notes Adkins.

Document, document, document

So what constitutes a good onboarding experience? At the most basic level, brokers should create checklists documenting all of the different technology tools, cultural information, and other details that the agent will need to understand and absorb. Then, those checklists should be made  available to everybody participating in the agent’s onboarding, so that it’s clear what the agent has (and has not) yet tackled, and what’s left to teach.

If you don’t have much of an onboarding process to  speak of yet, then a checklist is an ideal place to start. Think about all of the different items and tasks that have to be completed before an agent is fully set up to list a home or sign a buyer-broker agreement with a client. Write them down, then organize them into some kind of chronological order that makes sense for your business.

Making an onboarding checklist also provides you with an opportunity to consider where you might be able to offer an agent a resource or tool that goes above and beyond what the competition is doing.

For example, not every agent finds it easy to manage their money, and if you tell them during onboarding that you’ll be setting up separate bank accounts— one for brokerage fees, one for taxes, and one for the agent to pay themselves a salary from—then you might find yourself with a significantly less-stressed workforce during April, which is usually one of the strongest months for real estate sales in most markets.

We’ll dig deeper into what some of these resources can look like and how different brokerages deploy them further along in the ebook.

Brokerage Checklist

Here’s an example of what you might see included on a typical brokerage onboarding checklist.

Once you’ve got a clear idea of what should be on your onboarding checklist, you can ask yourself a few more questions to tighten up onboarding for agents:

  • Who else needs to see this list of tasks and stay informed about where agents are with their onboarding and training?
  • What do they think is missing from the checklist that should be documented?
  • Does the checklist support your business as it currently exists? For example, if your brokerage model focuses on the rainmaker lead generation strategy, then the way you train agents around using their CRM will be different than a brokerage where agents are largely responsible for generating their own leads.

Blake Showalter, Operations and Client Relations Director for Middleburg Real Estate | Atoka Properties, says that streamlining onboarding at the brokerage has helped them ensure that agents understand the value of what the brokerage is providing for them. “Our onboarding process is pretty intense, and it’s very personalized,” she says. “It would be a lot easier on us to just record videos and send it to agents and put it on them to watch—but we know agents aren’t going to do that.”

Instead, there’s a master list of tasks and responsibilities that must be completed before onboarding is officially finished. Different parts of training are handled by different experts at the brokerage, and everyone can clearly see what the agent has completed and what’s still left to be done.

They will also sit down with agents and talk about what’s worked for them in the past and what hasn’t, and how to plan moving forward. “That’s our approach with agents in general. When we sit down and talk about their marketing, what works is what you do consistently,” she says.

It’s no secret that providing tools and resources to agents is a big expense, and this strategy also helps Showalter and her teammates evaluate their offerings and determine whether it’s worth continuing. “If agents don’t use it, we get rid of it. And we’re very selective about what we offer. We want really solid adoption across the brokerage,” she explains.

They strongly encourage new agents to take a boot camp training course called “The Indispensable Agent” that covers the nuts and bolts of being a real estate agent that they don’t learn in licensing classes, from client skills to how to build a proper CMA.

Provide transitions support

Even if agents are interested in making a move to your brokerage, there are very few people in the world who actively enjoy change. Understanding this has helped some brokers create an onboarding process that’s as pain-free as possible—by hiring or appointing someone to manage the transition for the agent, holding their hand every step of the way.

At West + Main Homes in Denver, where Stacie Staub owns and operates several offices across the metro area, brand-new agents are set up with mentors who can help show them the ropes one-on-one. “We pull most of our trainings from the Ninja Selling program,” Staub explains, adding that it includes “everything from daily sales habits to how you manage your time to how you hold yourself accountable for those goals.”

Lane McCormack is the Chief Operating Officer for the Buckhead and Intown offices for Ansley Real Estate, a ferociously competitive boutique brokerage in the Atlanta market. She explains that the different Ansley offices all have minimum standards for agents they’ll consider bringing on board, depending on the market; in their Buckhead office, that minimum standard is comfortably lodged in the seven-figure range.

It means they’re able to recruit some of the best agents available in Atlanta to come work for Ansley, but it also means that their agents demand quality from the start. “Everyone on our staff has incredible experience, and we want to use our resources to help people who are already growing their business,” McCormack notes.

At Ansley, they’ve created a range of resources that explain the brokerage’s history and philosophy, from videos to printed materials, including background on the leadership team. This way, they can provide their prospective agents with the information that will help them make the decision to join—in whichever format is most comfortable for the recipient.

And once that agent decides that they do want to join, they meet Ansley’s transitions manager. “What she does is she really takes the agent and holds their hand through the process of transition.” That includes everything from the paperwork and transitioning their license to a new brokerage, all the way to one-on-one systems training and helping walk new agents through everything they need to do when they land their first listing.

“She anticipates the need before the new agent asks for it,” McCormack notes. “And we’ve had incredible

feedback that she has made the process so much  happier and simpler,” engraining agents into Ansley from the first day. “It also prevents the fear,” McCormack adds. “When you say, ‘Here’s a new system; watch a video and learn how to use it’—agents aren’t going to do that.” But they will sit down with someone who’s willing to show them exactly what to do.

Culture-heavy from the start

The culture and history at Wemert Group Realty in Orlando is, like many boutique brokerages, one of the biggest facets that sets it apart from its competitors. Emily Smith, Chief Operating Officer, explains that the company began life as a team within a large, well-known franchisor; now, it operates as a “teamerage,” a sort of hybrid business model offering white-glove support for its agents.

“We’ve worked really hard to figure out how to stabilize our onboarding process because it’s a lot to try to figure out how to integrate people well,” she explains.

Onboarding starts before an agent’s first day. “We have a team runner who will deliver a gift to the front door a day or two ahead; it says ‘Welcome to the Team.

They need to know they’re stepping into the middle of a really great story, and there’s been great effort put in up to their entry point.” They also work to incorporate the agents into the story and impress upon them that their chapter will help shape how the rest of the plot unfolds.

Culture is a big emphasis in onboarding at Wemert. “We’re very competitive with the market and want to win on behalf of our clients, but we don’t compete with each other; we cheer each other on and help each other. And we teach them that from day one.”

There’s also a designated Director of Agent Services, who works closely with new Wemert agents as they

learn the ropes and get their bearings. She’s also heavily involved with helping agents manage their databases and leads; working on onboarding helps  her understand every agent’s database and gives her the opportunity to start integrating her team into their lead funnels as soon as possible.