By Michael Vervena

What do we do now? This is a question many businesses are asking themselves lately. Business is not as usual, and we aren’t likely to ever get back to the normal we once knew. So what do you do when your business is faced with huge and irreversible change?

There are easily a dozen good stories of companies that successfully navigated disruption and thrived. But I think we can learn more from a company that disrupted itself.



For most of us, Netflix is a part of our everyday lives. Its net worth of $194 billion is nothing to scoff at. But it’s a far cry from where it started in 1997. Back in those days, Netflix was a scrappy disrupter of the movie rental business, allowing you to rent DVDs through the mail. By 2002, it was sending over 190,000 discs per day.

At that point, Netflix could have easily rested on its laurels. After all, its business was booming. But instead, company leaders predicted that streaming would soon replace the DVD player and they totally disrupted their own business by throwing out the very thing that had made them successful. They didn’t wait until the DVD player was extinct to act, they made a decision and took a decisive step. As we know, this step paid off, and today Netflix has over 182 million subscribers.

In the real estate industry, we are no strangers to change. Two decades ago, the internet changed forever the way we market, search and converse with our customers. In the years since, social media, portals and mobile technologies have continued to change the way we do business. And now, we face a new disruption. “The way we’ve always done it” has changed again.

The economy will open again. The market will pick up and eventually, buyers and sellers will return to their buying and selling. We are already seeing signs of growth. But the ways in which we conduct business have been altered. Some key areas of our business have been disrupted.

Getting face-to-face

Over the past few months, the methods we use to reach our customers have had to change. Those who depended solely on old-school methods have had to adjust. In times of crisis and chaos, customers focus more on their needs and less on their wants, and the entire industry has been forced to find new ways to meet those needs.

Even the biggest and most nimble tech companies have had to scramble to accommodate adding links to virtual tours, 3D home tours and videos. Title companies, lawyers and lenders have had to adjust their strict policies that have long resisted digital signatures. And many agents who have dug their heels in on adopting video have realized that it’s time to make the leap. These digital practices won’t go away. They will become even more of an expectation.

Marketing

Customers don’t see floor plans, room dimensions, professional photography and 3D video tours as extras anymore – in the past few months they have come to expect them as a necessary part of the transaction. This won’t go away when we return to the “new normal.” Agents have had to get creative, step up their game and use new technologies and tools to provide a more safe, immersive, interactive and virtual shopping experience. This is the standard now, and what will be expected going forward.

Real estate marketing has finally had to overcome its own greatest love – holding back info in order to generate leads. Instead, it’s had to acknowledge that what the customer really wants is to fully see the house before they ever visit the house. The time to be the gatekeepers has truly passed. It’s time to throw open the doors and give information freely.

Communication

Social media has been a powerful industry tool for over a decade, but in these past months, it’s become a lifeline. It’s been used to keep small businesses afloat, create a sense of community and inform neighbours where they can find important information and answers. Its greatest power has been in helping people solve real and immediate problems. The agents who continue these practices long-term will be seen as the leaders.

Netflix didn’t wait to see what its competition would do. Company leaders didn’t wait to see what would happen when the rental industry went bust. They were willing to throw out the rule book and do what they believed the customer would need down the road. They didn’t have a map of the future, they simply did what they believed was the next right thing for the customer, even if that meant disrupting the things that used to work well.

Like Netflix, we don’t have a map of what the next year will look like. But we can learn some important lessons from the past few months about customer expectations. What do we do now? We do what the customer needs us to do.

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Michael Vervena is the VP of sales and marketing at Planitar Inc. – the maker of iGUIDE, a proprietary camera and software platform for capturing and delivering immersive 3D tours, detailed floor plans and reliable property data. Michael has over 20 years of expertise in marketing and sales with a successful track record of product development and bringing products to market, from consumer packaged goods to B2B solutions. He has established the iGUIDE brand in Canada as one of the leading 3D technologies and has most recently led the expansion of iGUIDE internationally.

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