The Real Estate Dish: 15 Minutes with Jonathan Peterson, VP of Business Development at QuantumDigital
Join QuantumDigital’s CMO Eric Cosway as he interviews Jonathan Peterson, VP of Business Development at QuantumDigital. For 20 years, Jonathan has helped brokers and real estate agents identify and implement custom-tailored software solutions. He’s worked for Lone Wolf Technologies and Docusign, where he’s cultivated a really intimate understanding of systems and processes for brokerages and real estate agents alike. Jonathan's unique consultative business style and artistic side help explain his success in this face-to-face industry.
Eric: Jonathan, welcome! Maybe you can tell the folks a little bit about yourself and how you got into the real estate business.
Jonathan: Well, I got into the real estate business by accident. I was putting myself through school for journalism, yet the highest-paying jobs were accounting jobs. One of the companies I worked for was The Koll Company in Orange County that does asset management and real estate-related property management. From there, I did accounting for a number of years, and eventually wound up at an escrow and title company. That was my first real foray into residential real estate. I happened to meet the owner of Lone Wolf at a convention that I was at in 1999, and he hired me after the second meeting we had. I was in real estate from then on. It’s now something that I’ve been in for close to 20 years.
Eric: I think you once told me, that you were the first US employee for Lone Wolf?
Jonathan: I was the first US employee for Lone Wolf. I think I was number… seventh employee at the time or something like that—very early on. I started with them in January of 2000, so it’s an easy date to remember. It was sort of written on a napkin—they didn’t even have a plan in place as far as how to pay me, but it was an interesting experience. I watched that company grow over the years and had a lot to do with that.
Eric: Were you the only employee that found accounting software exciting?
Jonathan: No, but eventually I had to lead a bunch of salespeople who had to find accounting software fun as well.
Eric: You’ve come at real estate from a numbers perspective—software, marketing, accounting. What do you find you’re the most passionate about? What areas of real estate really interest you? Or is it the people side of real estate?
Jonathan: A lot of it is the people side. It’s still always a face-to-face, or as a lot of people say, the term “belly-to-belly” business. To me, the interesting side of it is it’s never really going to be completely replaced by a technology, because it tends to be the biggest purchase a person will have in their entire lives. Agents will always be involved.
Eric: Being on the service provider side for so long, what would your coaching be to young consultants and salespeople serving real estate brokers?
Jonathan: I would say, number one, remember it’s a very small industry. The strongest marketing in the real estate industry is word of mouth. It’s all about your reputation and how you service people. You’re definitely not selling widgets. Since it’s a sales environment, as it is, you're selling to salespeople. You have to really remember that and understand it. It comes down to relationships, how they feel being around you and their experience with you.
Eric: Are brokers typically receptive to service providers from your perspective? Or is it hard to get brokers’ attention?
Jonathan: It’s kind of hard to get their attention. Brokers have a lot of people coming and vying for their attention. It’s hard to stand out in that. Consistently being a friendly face, really more of a consultive sales approach, is what works best. Being knowledgeable with the industry, about what technology is coming, and just being receptive to conversation as opposed to just trying to close that deal. I think that approach definitely goes a long way in this industry.
Eric: For folks that may know you in the industry, what would they be surprised to learn about you that they wouldn’t know?
Jonathan: I write screenplays. I write books. I’m a surfer, I love surfing and sailing. A lot of the stuff I do hobby-wise has absolutely nothing to do with business or sales. So, yeah… I guess that would be the thing that would be surprising for people.
Eric: I know you have 2 children, and you said your son is the reason you’re writing a children’s book. Can you tell us more about that?
Jonathan: Yes, I’m writing a book. My son has—like we all do— that sort of voice in his head that says, “You can’t do this. You’re terrible.” My ex-wife and I refer to it as the “bully” in his head. One day, I sat and told him this story and I thought, “Why am I not writing this into a book?” So, I actually started writing a book called The Monster in His Head. It’s a little boy who has this monster in his head that follows him around and tells him he can’t do things and how he learns to overcome that. My son was the inspiration for it, for sure.
Eric: You know, you should probably write an adult book because we have the same monsters.
Jonathan: Well, funny enough, I actually refer to that in the book. The boy notices that there’s adults who have the monster in their head, too.
Eric: I just found out recently, you’re writing a script for a screenplay.
Jonathan: I have a couple, actually. I have one that’s being read by a movie producer right now—I don’t know if anything’s going to happen with it—and I’ve got a couple of others I’ve written. It’s just something I’ve always been passionate about. In my early 20s, I wanted to be a script or screenwriter. I wanted that to be my career. Then, when I was close to 30, I said I can’t be that guy living in the basement, hoping that he sells his screenplay. So, I had to go out and get a real job. I took my life a little more seriously and put that to the side. But, I never really gave it up. It’s in there still.
Eric: What creates the energy for writing a screenplay? Something you do as a hobby, after work, or your passion? Is it how you unwind, or how does that evolve?
Jonathan: It’s an unwinding thing, an expression. I feel like, for me, I need some kind of artistic outlet. It’s something that really gives me energy. And I’ve gotten to the point of, “Well, if I don’t sell anything that’s fine. It’s a nice creative outlet.”
Eric: There are a lot of technology players, and part of you coming to QuantumDigital was to help our company focus on all the channel partners and technology players. What advice do you have for the many startups and small technology companies out there trying to get into this industry?
Jonathan: I think it’s not just solving one small piece. A lot of technology companies coming into this space are trying to sell the little widget. The big play that all brokers are looking for is one source of entry—agents not having to input information into multiple resources. So, working with the other companies that are out there is going to be the key. I don’t think one company can do it all. I’ve seen a lot of companies that have attempted it and not done it well. The more technology providers can integrate makes the broker’s life easier and makes our products more accessible and stickier in the offices.
Eric: You’ve sold a lot of software. How does a broker make that successful? I’m sure you’ve seen implementations gone wrong or software not deployed. What would your coaching be to a broker who’s going to buy software down the road?
Jonathan: There’s the misconception in the industry that just because agents are independent contractors, they’re not going to embrace new software. The brokerage has to do a top-down approach—promoting that product, promoting what they’re doing with it and why it’s so important, how it works for the agents, how it’s going to service them better and help them more. This approach from the broker level always is more successful than the brokers that say, “Oh, yeah. Here, you can have access to my agents and sell it to them.”
Eric: What would you say to a broker who resists the technology? They may say things like, “agents can do this on their own,” and “I just don’t want to get my head around it.”
Jonathan: The challenge for the broker there is that they’re not really controlling their brand and the messaging that’s out there. They also have no consistency as far as what their agents are using if they are not promoting specific tools. It causes, sort of, a fracturing in a company. Agents have no loyalty to stay around. If tools are easy for agents to use and are being promoted, brokers communicate the value of how important they are. It goes a long way to really making company retention better. I think that’s a big part of it.
Eric: What about learning? There are so many technologies out there. How do you keep ahead of the industry? And for a broker that’s looking at multiple demands of implementing technology in the next couple of years, how do they get information regarding these technologies—what would they need to attend, read, go after, and consult with to be able to better understand the whole landscape?
Jonathan: That’s a really good question, and I don’t have a great answer for it. There are great resources in the industry through Inman and RISMedia. I also believe in looking outside of the industry. There are a lot of disruptive products that are out there. The drone space is big right now, because you’ve got aerial photography and that’s very enticing. I still think, again, it’s a belly-to-belly business, so a person’s not going to necessarily buy a home that they see drone footage of, but it gives them a little more accessibility to your content and listings. So, it's important to always be aware and keep eyes and ears open on just what’s available. For example, locally in Austin there’s SXSW Interactive Festival, which is a great resource of what’s out there and what’s coming. The CES show in Las Vegas is another one. It doesn’t hurt to look outside of the industry. We get very tunnel-visioned—like, “This is what we have to be doing.”
Eric: Knowing brokers get a ton of sales calls, would you encourage they do demos?
Jonathan: Absolutely! Demos and more importantly, testimonials. Find out what brokers are using and what success stories that particular technology has. Who are they working with? What’s their longer-term vision of their product? There are a lot of these companies that have a nice, little flashy thing. But, what’s the long-term plan of that? What’s the strategy? How can agents put that into their system? And how are agents going to benefit?
Eric: You mentioned you’ve been in hospitality, you’ve had an accounting background, and you’ve had software sales experience. I see you now as much more of a consultant, a coach. You really understand the dynamics. What would you say are the 2 or 3 elements you’re bringing to the table that really helped you develop a consultative style?
Jonathan: Well, number one is listening. It seems very obvious, but it’s amazing how many people I’ve been in rooms with that don’t listen at all. You have to really absorb a lot of what’s going out there. Going to trade shows is a big part of it, too. You’re hearing what the brokers are hearing. You’re hearing what agents are hearing. You’re out there and experiencing what they're experiencing. That’s a big part of it, just knowing what’s going on in the industry and having your eyes and ears open to that. Because you can’t sell in an office with a computer, you’ve got to get out there—it’s a face-to-face business. Being receptive to what’s coming, as well. It’s very easy to be dismissive of startup companies. I regularly pay attention to these companies because you can see the ones that have a good model and have a good vision. You never know what’s coming.
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