Adjust your business strategies to succeed in the shifting market.
Today's economic climate is a lot like the weather: somewhat predictable patterns
punctuated by terrifying, seemingly random chaos. The acceleration of change due to
technology and globalization has altered the foundation of business — the flow of
information, goods, services, and capital — just as global weather patterns have
altered local forecasts in cities around the world.
And like the weather, the new business patterns will never revert back to previous
"good" times. For now, the U.S. economic engine continues to sputter along. The trick
is to figure out how to keep your business from merely sputtering along — how to
put it on the track to positive growth.
The answer is to look at what you're currently doing — and change. You must
adapt and focus on the things you can change — strategies within your business
model — instead of the things you can't — like the weather.
These tips from CCIMs and business experts will help to re-invigorate your
Think Like an Entrepreneur
"Tomorrow's real estate firms are start-ups, not legacy re-dos. Ideas are today's
capital that become realized in the hands of insightful leaders and motivated talent,"
says Christopher Lee, president and chief executive officer of national real estate
consulting firm CEL & Associates. In other words: Forget the past and focus on
today's opportunities, which are the ones right in front of you.
For example, Daniel G. Zelonker, CCIM, broker with Mizarch Realty in Miami, has had
success with South and Central American buyers who are flooding the Miami condo market.
"Four of the last five contracts have been with South Americans," he says. He has
started traveling to other countries to find new clients. "Recently I picked up a
Chinese grocery group," he says. To help further his prospects with international
clients, he's using Rosetta Stone to learn new languages.
Zelonker is also working on bank-owned assets through a relationship with community
banks. Other CCIMs report success working with real estate-owned properties and bank
notes. "We're growing, even adding administrative staff," says Mathew K. Marshall,
CCIM, principal in Landbridge Commercial Properties in Tyler, Texas. "We're putting
together equity and buying REO developments and buildings."
An entrepreneurial attitude requires moving beyond your comfort zone, in order to
assess current and future opportunities. "Our company was created with an easier,
faster, cheaper, and better-results mentality from the beginning," says Gregory
Fitzgerald, CCIM, president of Tri-Oak Consulting Group in Canton, Ga. "This is how
21st-century companies are surviving and thriving."
Determine What Drives New Business
"New clients come from other brokers or current and former clients who are satisfied
with our service," says Jody Jedele, CCIM, broker/owner of Touchstone International
Properties/Tierra Bella Realty in Charlotte, N.C. "So really, good service is what
grows the business."
But what defines good service today? The only way to find out is to ask your
clients. What did you do right? What set you apart from your competitors? What could
you do better? Track, compile, and discuss this information with your staff.
Finding out what you could do better may lead to a new service offering. For
example, do deals falter because clients can't get financing? Consider establishing a
strong alliance or partnership with a capital provider that may facilitate deals for
What sets you apart from the competition is most likely your company's story, your
brand, or your value proposition — and it may have changed in the past few years.
For example, Fitzgerald redefined his top three target markets, "based on the profile
of clients who have transacted with us in the past 24 months."
And don't overlook the changes your clients also have made in the recent years. Many
once-aggressive property investors are now seeking value-add acquisitions. Tenants,
such as a large law firm formerly wedded to class A space, now may be leaner and meaner
and looking for trendier loft digs to impress younger clients. Recognize that other
business cultures have changed; capitalize on that change to thrive in an uncertain
"We're not the only ones spooked by an uncertain future," says Ron L. Opfer, CCIM,
CIPS, with Coldwell Banker Premier Realty in Henderson, Nev. Many clients and investors
have been in a free fall for the past few years, not knowing what direction to
"All of our strategies today involve person-to-person relationship building with
clients: reassuring them that we are knowledgeable, experienced, and the absolute best
option," he says. "In some cases, we have dropped the PowerPoint presentations and gone
back to old-school flip charts," he says, pointing out the value of customizing your
approach to your clients' needs.
Opfer also takes his whole team to meet with clients. "We take the time to
demonstrate strength in numbers to clients." Opfer and Jedele both recommend holding
more face-to-face internal team meetings to strategize as well. "Spending the time to
actually talk with other brokers and staff also saves time. Technology can help, but
the personal attention to important matters also is needed," Jedele says.
The increasing reliance on technology for communication makes the need for personal
interaction even greater. A recent Cisco study revealed that 82 percent of business
leaders felt they were better understood after in-person meetings, and that in-person
meetings were critical for building relationships, resolving major problems more
efficiently, and creating an opportunity quickly. While email, Web conferencing, and
Skype conversations save time and money, certain aspects of communication just don't
cross the tech divide: body language, tone of voice, and the total attention of
Industry-wide, the shift is toward a more relationship-based approach to commercial
real estate, Lee says. "Real estate firms … will define themselves
by the quality of advice given and the relationships formed instead of the number of
deals done, properties developed, or square feet managed," he writes in
Transformational Leadership in the New Age of Real Estate.
In such an environment, face-to-face skills are paramount. Does your company know
how to communicate in person with your clients? Can team members who have grown up with
cell phones and text messages reach across generations? Are all clients treated like
clients or do staff members differentiate among different types of clients? The needs
of a lender with REO properties may be quite different than those of a private investor
or an institutional client. The more you know and understand about your clients, the
stronger relationships you can build.
Aim for What Is Achievable
Regular planning and assessing is how organizations stay flexible and prepared for
opportunities. Fitzgerald's company maps out both 10-year and two-year strategic
objectives, and then "defines, measures, and reviews both tangible and intangible
indicators of progress on a quarterly basis."
Lee recommends 100-day action plans, which is a quarterly roadmap that can be
measured and fine-tuned for each succeeding quarter. While long-term strategic plans
are useful, he says, 51 percent never survive the first year and 26 percent never make
it through year two, according to a CEL & Associates survey.
David H. Johnson, CCIM, managing principal of Mohr Partners, a tenant representation
firm in Denver, says his company forecasts out about 18 months to 24 months, as a
result of the clients and projects they are working with. Client prospecting and
selection is very strategic: "Each client and assignment should validate our
agreed-upon focused approach to client development," he explains.
"How do we ultimately earn more money in the same amount of working hours? That's
the fundamental question," Johnson says. As a result, "We are a very flat organization
filled with professionals comfortable with multitasking. We focus on clients, workflow,
and improved client deliverables. Everyone is accountable for client generation and
execution, and we keep it fun — not life and death."
Both Opfer and Jedele strategize to be ready for opportunity. While Opfer's company
has been representing banks in REO deals since 2008, "our attention is now shifting
toward tenant representation, owner/user ground-up projects, and new businesses coming
to Las Vegas. We see things moving from a recession-based investment/growth strategies
to recovery-based investment/growth strategies. We want to have the relationships in
place when things shift."
But identifying opportunity is not enough, Jedele adds. Earmarking what internal
changes are needed to handle potential new business is also essential. This might mean
adding software or staff to handle a new service line.
Use Technology Where It Counts
"Our time is best spent in the field with clients," Opfer says. "Nevertheless, we
need information to get the job done." Having the information while with clients is
what counts for many CCIMs today, which is why many companies are utilizing cloud-based
services, such DropBox and Google Docs to store and transfer documents. Such
third-party options allow users to access documents from any computer or mobile device
such as a smartphone or iPad. "Internet-based software allows access from multiple
locations by multiple team members," says Jedele. But along with technology, "you need
procedures in place, so everyone knows what to do, reducing time spent duplicating
Other ways to make technology work include mandating a customer relationship
management program for the entire office, instead of each person using their own system
or program, which is what Mohr Partners has done. "We've agreed to go through some
short-term implementation pains to achieve more revenue and process improvement,"
Create Business Rituals
"The best way to ensure you'll take on difficult tasks is to build rituals —
specific, inviolable times at which you do them," says Harvard Business Review
contributor Tony Schwartz, author of Be Excellent at Anything. People never forget to
brush their teeth, because they don't have to think about it, he says.
Put a process in place and use it religiously, as Mark D. Bratton, CCIM, vice
president of Colliers Monroe Friedlander in Honolulu, has done: "Before dinner, I
organize for the next day and that allows me to be on the phone prospecting for
business every morning. In the afternoons I do my administrative work. Then, I start
Sara Drummond is executive editor of Commercial Investment Real Estate.