Where do you find good sales staff – and how do you attract them to the profession???
In one of our team planning meetings recently it was recognised that while we are fortunate to have a stable group of sales staff – we also have an aging core of sales staff, and 2-4 of our key salespeople are looking at retiring within the next five years. While Allan Sykes and I (being two of the three company directors here at Allens) may be over 50 and a hell of a lot closer to retiring than Vanessa – the facts remain that we have an ageing team. And we really don’t think it’s just limited to our office… instead thinking it is perhaps representative of the industry as a whole.
We once had dreams of a “super office” taking in people new to the profession, training them til they reached their maximum potential then elevating them to the “top” (both literally and figuratively in terms of commission structure as well as moving them to our top floor offices). We soon realised that both the economic climate, population declines and seeming loss of talent to overseas markets as well as media negativity towards the industry, new regulations and increased costs taking the “shine” off an already challenging industry. Now we are by no means knocking the REAA – the changes this body has brought about to the industry have been positive.
So we decided it was time to embark on another recruitment mission - to further extend our service to Northlanders, and to ensure the longevity of the Allens brand. Now, it’s not just about numbers, it’s about finding the right people – and hopefully finding a spread of people across the ages who are passionate about real estate and passionate about doing good business.
Now we’ve all tried throwing money at recruitment campaigns – full page glossy ads in a variety of media – but with markets becoming more segmented, we have to get more savvy. We needed to sell the brand, sell the team, sell the passion and we need to do it face-to-face and continuously. At Allens we are fortunate to have a fun, loyal team who are passionate about the industry, their jobs and the community. Our team are regularly “out there” in the public eye – actively raising money, getting involved and having fun. This is one of greatest recruitment strengths. We want to use it – we want to promote it – we have a culture and we love it. We firmly believe our teams public profile are one way of promoting Allens as a great place to work – however, people still rarely knock on our door to join our sales team.
Although we have strong brand loyalty and agent loyalty – it is extremely hard to recruit young energetic people to the industry – specifically in Whangarei. We’ve seen the likes of international companies recruiting and headhunting business graduates in centres such as Auckland and even in Australia – and we see some truly amazing young business savvy people speeding up the ranks in such centres. But how do we achieve this in Whangarei – how do we lure university graduates back to Northland, but even more simply – how do we simply recruit young people (graduates or not)? When was the last time you heard a teenager say that their career goal was to become a real estate agent? It just doesn’t happen. So how do we recruit young energetic well educated and dynamic people to Whangarei – when, in all honesty, they could go work in the big smoke – and no doubt earn a hell of a lot more?
So, we took these questions to the team in an “Allens Team Discussion” titled: Recruitment: Moving Forward. Setup in our auction room the meeting was non compulsory, simply a round table “discussion” with us asking for everyone’s ideas and input. We had a great response and massive team turnout. Yes, we needed to overcome the fact that we are asking our own team how to recruit more people to this industry which would ultimately mean more competition to them – but the team took it well, understanding the benefits to them collectively oh having an even bigger, even stronger, sales force. (We were all in agreeance of course that we need the right people and the issue was more than just sourcing bums on seats.) Surprisingly everyone seemed to embrace the challenge and positively contributed.
Interestingly between the time of our initial Directors meeting and the time of the team meeting we had the NZ Herald delivered to the office and the front page feature article was “Quarter of Estate Agents Walk Out” which highlighted a drop of 26% of agents Nationwide leaving the industry. Now I can confidently say although we have said goodbye to a few people over the last 24 months – our losses have been nowhere near as high as this.
So where do we find the right people, and how do we lure them to the industry?
Some really interesting stuff came from the meeting. To target a younger demograph ideas included offering apprenticeships to school leavers to give them a “taste” for the industry as well as targeting careers counsellors and Polytechs. But then we also looked internally – at our branding – making that more vibrant and dynamic, embracing new technologies to sell the sizzle of the industry (and also help promote ourselves as industry leaders). We looked too at changing our current Allens Education Foundation Scholarships (currently given to school leavers looking to further their education… which primarily goes to those wishing to undergo University studies) to include an apprenticeship or “special” scholarship component specifically for someone wanting to enter a career in the property market.
We looked at other ways to give people a taste of the industry – to overcome the fears associated with not always having a steady pay check/income – whether it be by employing “buyers” agents and telephonists and take advantage of government subsidies and grants currently available.
Leads are scarce – having the opportunity to talk to someone about the profession is gold! To overcome the fact that people rarely knock on our door or answer recruitment ads (even in times when it is increasingly hard to find salaried employment) – we created an internal lead reward system (or “finders fee”) for agents who recommend someone to us. We’ve said it before that success comes back to “people and attitude”. The ideal candidate is someone with enthusiasm, business savvy, strong communication skills, with a competitive streak. People who have a passion and a desire to win while still possessing the ability to empathise. People who are prepared to learn and continually up skill and better themselves.
And for those already in the industry we talked about head hunting existing agents in our area, and outside areas too – selling the sizzle of Northland (after all we’re passionate about Northland – why wouldn’t you want to live here!), and we even talked about offering relocation packages from Christchurch based real estate agents.
Head hunting existing agents – now this is something I’d like to elaborate on a bit more – we have resisted head hunting from other agencies. We don’t do it because we wouldn’t like it to be done to us. We presented this to the team. When we asked how our agents felt about this there was an overwhelming majority in favour of it – “why not” being the common response. I guess real estate is a slightly ego driven industry – why wouldn’t you like to know you stood out as a peak performer, why wouldn’t you like to know you’d been recognised… and valued. Collectively as Directors through – we remain in limbo about the morality of this one.
So what came of all of this?
Well, we are continuing to run recruitment ads (in both traditional and non-traditional media) , but now too have measures in place to achieve recruitment (or at least enquiry) targets. We’re continuing on with our community involvement. We’re continuing to use social media, and we’ve set the wheels in motion to review our internal systems and ensure we are at the forefront of technology – to help us deliver an energetic, forward moving brand (and we remain hopeful that we can recruit some “youngsters” to the team).
We know we’re not the only ones facing these issues – but what are others in the industry doing about it?
Just out of interest, here’s a copy of one of our ads: