The Real Estate Dish: 20 Minutes with First Weber's Tamara Maddente
Join QuantumDigital’s EVP and CMO Eric Cosway as he spends 20 minutes getting the latest dish on real estate branding and recruiting with Tammy Maddente, EVP of First Weber. Tammy’s been with First Weber since 2002 and has worked diligently to keep the company fresh, relevant, and philanthropic.
Listen to the Interview [Audio]:
Eric: Tammy, in total you’ve been in the real estate industry for about 25 years. What kind of jobs did you hold before real estate, and how did that impact your career?
Tammy: First of all, Eric, let me thank you for having me on. I’m honored to have been asked. I actually started working, really you’re going to find this surprising, when I was about 12 years old. And I have always worked. And prior to real estate, which I’m actually in my 30th year this year, I have always been, in some fashion, in either sales or service. So, all of them led up to what I ultimately chose as a career in real estate. I think one of the best parts about being in that business, and to excel in sales, is you really have to learn to be a great listener. Sales people, we tend to talk a lot. And if you can master that critical skill of listening, you can do so much more with your career.
Eric: What about real estate, being in it for 30 years, has really kept you interested and engaged? Are there one or two things that make it an absolute great career for you?
Tammy: There’s a couple of things. First of all, I go back to the people, and I separate this into two compartments. For many years, I sold before I went into leadership. And, as a sales agent, there is nothing more gratifying than being involved in the purchase of someone’s home. It’s really up close and personal. You really establish great friendships. From the first-time buyer, just watching the excitement, to the people that you work with over and over again. And no two days are ever the same. Just when you think you know it all, here comes that curveball and you learn something else. That’s part of the business with government regulations, and all the things that go on. It’s changing. And leadership, the difference is that now my joy comes from watching new agents grow. When you look at somebody that comes from a career… and I had a perfect example years ago of a teacher who was making about $30,000 a year, and took the summer to decide if she would like real estate. In that summer she replaced that income, and has now become one of my top producers. To know that you’re part of that, that you’re a mentor, and when you hear these agents talk freely as they’re mentoring other agents, and they constantly refer to you—that you were their mentor—once again, it’s that feeling nobody can take away from me.
Eric: So, that’s really what’s satisfying. You’re seeing your career as being able to launch new people and see their career take off and be successful. That’s very insightful to understand that’s what keeps you motivated and keeps you moving—to see their success.
Tammy: Oh, yeah it’s great! And now I’ve moved from mentoring agents to future leaders, with my management team, always identifying… at some point I have to identify my replacement! Because, believe it or not, someday I’m going to retire!
Eric: Yes, we all are! So, let me ask a question: You came to our Ignite Leadership Summit back in 2015, and when I saw you and your husband Norbert at NAR, you mentioned that the leadership summit you came to here in Austin had a big impact in your organization. What were some of the things you learned from that experience, and that you took back to First Weber?
Tammy: First of all, what intrigued me and why I accepted the invitation was that it was a very small, intimate group. Now, I attend a lot of conferences across the country because I really always want to know more globally what's going on—on a national scale versus just what’s going on in my state or my community. And we had just undergone, the prior year, a huge branding campaign where we had hired an advertising firm that spent months and months identifying who we were as a brand, and identifying—through talking to our agents, our customers, our sellers, our buyers, people across the state. So, when I got there, and your keynote speaker was really on about “developing your brand”, I was like “Oh! I just did this!” And I thought, “You know what? You’re here, let’s take away something from this.” And I kind of moved it into a different area, and you know there were some critical objectives that… I think his name was Steve, right?
Eric: Yes, Steve McKee.
Tammy: Steve had done. And this is when you go back to identifying your brand. It was why—determining your clear objectives… who—your target… what and how. And he gave lots of examples of different entities that weren’t trying to be all to everyone. They knew what their target market was and they went after it. As I sat there, I thought, “One of the things we’re always working on is recruiting—we’re always trying to bring more people into the business.” And I said, “Okay, what can I do with this information and apply it to recruiting agents?” ...whether it be brand new agents, or seasoned agents. And my why was “Okay, I’m going to take this back to my team and our why is that we need to be better at recruiting.” And then the who—let’s define who that market is. And I’m very fortunate, I have 7 children, so I pretty much have every decade covered, and I have X’s and I have Y’s and I have the millennials, and they keep me sharp.
And I always knew that this was a group I wanted to go after, because this is the buying population coming in. The baby boomers are still a huge force out there, but they’re now moving into a different period of their life where there are vacation homes, or they’re downsizing—whereas the millennials are the upcomers. So I thought, “Okay, let me go out and figure out how I’m going to recruit those people.” So, that was defining the target.
Well, then it was the what—what resonates with these people? And what I did was I actually went into a sales office that—I have 53 offices across the state—but, I identified an office where I knew there were a lot of millennials and gen-X-ers, and I sat down, just very casually with them—didn’t prepare them for it—just sat down, and I started interviewing them: “What is it about real estate?” “What brought you here?” “What keeps you here?” And I learned some really interesting things. The X-ers were a little bit different—”I can do this job, and yet I can still attend my kids’ school functions.” “I can be on the soccer field.” “I can do all these things.” The millennials had a whole different message. The millennials were really about—“You know what? I want to live. I have watched my parents live to work, and I want to live. I want to work to live. So, what attracts me about real estate is that I can work where i want, I can be on the treadmill, I can be negotiating a contract. I want to feel good about my job.” And what I did with it, Eric, is that I actually created this whole… I guess you could call it an e-postcard campaign, and one of them was the person on the treadmill, negotiating.
And then I had, you know, “a job that cultivates my entrepreneurial spirit.” I had another one, “I have a job that makes me want to sing.” So, I found out what resonated with both groups. And then, the how—what we decided as a company was to plug into social media. And, I’m sure you’re aware, we could actually buy demographics in social media.
And we could do pay-per-clicks. So, we did exactly that—we identified the gen-X, we identified the gen-Y, and we sent it out there in huge blasts. Let me tell you what happened. We launched it in October of 2015. Immediately, our traffic tripled - I mean, immediately! My marketing manager, after the first weekend, called me up and he said, “Tammy, you are not going to believe this. Our career center web leads have been up 15% so far this year. We had 1,029 requested career packets. We had 31,000 total visitors. We had 27,000 unique visitors. And our average time on the page was 3 minutes, 8 seconds.”
Eric: So, it worked!
Tammy: It worked! And I can’t tell you how many of these people we have hired!
Eric: Right. And it sounds like you really got the message of the rebranding from Ignite—you go back, determine what your why is, determine who you’re targeting, and then determine what your what is, then all the marketing tactics come after that. But, it’s really identifying that core objective, as you said, and the core audience that aligns with that, and what your strengths are, that really is the big part of rebranding.
Tammy: Yeah, absolutely. Just those 4 words that we all know, we’ve all heard all of our lives—really drilling down into them, and really getting to the what and the “How do we do this? How do we do this and have measurable success?”
Eric: So, it sounds like First Weber is different—before the rebranding, and before what you learned at Ignite—and now. Because it sounds like you’re going after an ideal new target. So, have things changed at First Weber as a result of that?
Tammy: Oh, absolutely. We were in the process over the last few years of remodeling all of our offices, and making them more younger-friendly. And I don’t want to just say to the “younger” people, but to anyone. You know, we’re really going for environment. Because real estate offices in the past really weren't about environment. And not only did we remodel them all more with kind of that “Starbucks” look—the high tops and the coffee bar—I started putting in things like pool tables… concrete floors and pool tables, where when somebody walks through the door, they were like “Wow! This looks like a fun place to work!” And what happened was these young people brought all of the—I call them, because I’m one myself, I’m a baby boomer—brought all the baby boomers back into the office. So, instead of coming in and there’s no one around… because everyone says “now everything's mobile”… they’re all back in the offices networking with each other. These young agents are helping the older agents with their social media. The older agents are mentoring these young agents. We’re going on listing presentations. To sit back and watch this… and truly this all came from starting this campaign.
Eric: Tammy, it sounds like the Ignite experiences we talked about really worked for you. Now, let’s move on to First Weber and its support of communities, because I know that you folks are big in that arena. You established a foundation about 10 years ago, for which you serve on the board of directors. Can you tell us a little bit more about that and how it started?
Tammy: Absolutely. How it started was, I was at a conference—here we go again! I was at a management conference, probably 11 or 12 years ago—probably 11 if we’ve been around 12—and I was sitting around with one of my business partners, and Lennox Scott from the John L. Scott company was the keynote speaker and he was talking about his foundation. And it’s a hot button for me. I’ve always believed you can’t receive if you’re not giving. And when he was talking about all the success and all the warm and fuzzies in the community, I was like “We have to have one of these! We just have to have one!” Well, it’s just not that simple. You just don’t start a foundation.
So, obviously we hired the appropriate attorneys and got the right people involved, and we started the foundation. The foundation is totally funded by the agents and staff. We have a 90% participation rate and we have given to date over $1.7 million in our giving program, charitable contributions.
Eric: What motivates you to continue to want to be in that mode of making the foundation successful and giving back? Is that just part of your DNA?
Tammy: It’s part of my DNA. Have you ever worked on a Habitat (for Humanity) house? Go do one for a week, you’ll never be the same.
We do that. We build Habitat houses, we do things. You know, our primary objectives with the foundation are housing-related. However, if we have an agent that’s passionate about someone, something and everyone else can get around it… we have a particular agent whose father died from ALS. Well, we got around that in a big way. We’ve gotten around the Boys & Girls Clubs. Anything that is a hot button for one of our agents and we can get everyone involved in. And to work side by side with your agents a week, putting up walls, building a house, and working with the families that are going to live in that house… once again, there is no feeling like it.
Eric: That is fantastic! Sounds like it would be life-changing.
Tammy: It is life-changing. It truly is. This is the girl who couldn’t pound a nail, and I build a mean wall, let me tell you.
Eric: So, as you look back at your real estate career, you became a top producer earlier on. For the new agent out there, what advice would you have for them?
Tammy: Well, you know this business looks easy on the outside, and it’s not. It’s very, very difficult if you really do become one of the top agents. But, if I had to give advice, there are a few things. First of all, you have to show up. You have to have that entrepreneurial spirit. You have to be a self-starter. And then, when you get to that place, when you’re about to make that leap and you go from the new age into all of a sudden you’re doing more and more business, you have to step back and you have to realize you can’t do it so long. And you really do need to hire that assistant, or start that team. I always say to my agents, “You should not be doing the $15 an hour work. You really need to hire somebody else to do that so you can be out there in front of buyers and sellers.” And I can tell you, every time someone’s taken that advice, their career has catapulted in the next year. Because, they’re freeing themselves up from all of the… I can tell you, salespeople are not great paperwork people, so they can get caught up for hours doing that… where they could be paying someone that can do it in 15 minutes… and how many contacts can they make out in the coffee shop?
Eric: So, is it still the same that as a new agent you really need to put roots down in the listing side first?
Tammy: Well, I think what you really need to do, as a new agent… it’s like getting a 747 off the ground. You are just going full throttle until you are smooth sailing. And I think you’re focusing on both. You can do open houses, and open houses just don’t bring in buyers, they bring in sellers. And all of the top agents are constantly looking for agents to hold their opens, because they just can’t possibly do them all. Once again, too, it’s their sphere of influence and really tapping into the people that they know. This isn’t the insurance business where no one wants to talk about death insurance. This is real estate and everybody’s interested in it. Because when you have a home, you always want to know what’s going on in that home. The other thing I always talk to new agents about right away, because I think it’s really important—and I didn’t make this up, I got it from somebody—is the 4/3/2/1. You get a paycheck, because it’s a commission check: 40% you get to spend, 30% you have to put away for taxes, 20% you have to reinvest in your business, and then 10% goes into investing or charitable contributions. But, if you are not using that plan—especially when you get to that 20%—people are afraid to invest to invest in your business, and you can’t show me a successful business out there that they don’t invest in their business.
Eric: And, it’s a relationship-type business. You can’t get away from that. But, those millennials are going to be doing business, as you said, on mobile phones—very differently from you and I, perhaps—but, that’s who you want as part of First Weber. That’s where you guys are heading.
Tammy: Yeah, I mean we want—and I don’t want to say we just want the millennials. We recognize they’re a huge part of the buying and selling population, and we want to be inclusive. We want to learn their patterns to let them know… come on in, the water’s not cold here.
Eric: Speaking of millennials, you folks are known for bringing an integrated multimedia approach to marketing initiatives. As you look forward into 2016, what industry-wide initiatives should brokers and agents out there stay abreast of, and make sure they really understand?
Tammy: Well, I think one of the most important initiatives is really understanding who your audience is now. In the past, if you look at all the real estate firms—and we’re a large firm, we’re the state’s largest firm—but, who cares? You know, who cares? People… for you to tout who we are—in my instance we are Wisconsin’s largest, we’re the best—and even the agents, “I’m the #1 Producer!” and you should just list with me or buy from me because “I’m the best”, and “I’m the top” and “I sell more than anyone.” You know what? They don’t care. You need to focus on what resonates, because everything is about peer reviews now. I do the same thing. I’m sure you do. I don’t buy anything without looking at the reviews. I want to hear from the peers, not from the person selling it. And when you really focus on what resonates with them—and these people really do care, and this is where the foundation is so important—they really do care that you’re active in your communities. They really care that you have the education and the expertise. They don’t need a tour guide. You can go online and you can find houses all day long… when there’s inventory, right? But you need someone that you trust, someone that’s going to give you the advice you need—and you believe in that advice—and really cares about you and the communities. I also think—and I don’t want to say the big, bad word—but, “big data” is a huge part of our life now.
And it’s now… how do we leverage that big data to help the real estate industry? What patterns can we predict from the consumer that will help them—whether they’re in a listing presentation, or whether they’re with the buyer? So, we have a huge focus this year on leveraging that big data to help our consumers.
Eric: Wow, you’ve got your hands full. It sounds like you guys are right on track!
Tammy: Well, when I go to great conferences like yours, you make it easy!
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