The Real Estate Dish: 20 Minutes with Jessica Holt, VP of Professional Services at Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices | PenFed Realty
Join QuantumDigital’s EVP and CMO Eric Cosway as he gets the latest dish on real estate technology with Jessica Holt. In her role as VP of Professional Services, Jessica oversees the operations of marketing, technology, training, and agent services department of Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices | PenFed Realty.
Eric: Jessica, welcome to the podcast. You’ve been with Berkshire Hathaway PenFed for about 15 months now. How has that gone for you?
Jessica: It’s been great! It’s a dynamic group, a strong leadership team, and it’s been a lot of fun.
Eric: You have a really broad set of responsibilities. As VP of Professional Services, you oversee marketing, technology, training, as well as agent services. That’s a pretty wide portfolio for PenFed. Can you tell us more about that role?
Jessica: I work with all of those departments to increase collaboration, and really just to work together to enhance the level of services that we provide to our agents, to drive efficiency in all of our processes, so that we’re providing the highest level of services, tools and resources to our agents, so that they can better serve their clients.
Eric: It sounds like you have a pretty deep background in process, measurement and systems. Would that be correct?
Jessica: I do. I absolutely love operations and driving efficiency. It’s so rewarding to be able to take a process and improve it, improve the level of service that we can provide. That’s just a lot of fun.
Eric: You’ve got a background in operations and even accounting. Does that drive the passion for analytics, or is there more to that?
Jessica: It sure does. I have a lot of experience in different industries, using technology and analytics to drive growth, and improve service. I’ve found that using predictive analytics and managing trends has been really instrumental in those processes. I started right out of college in the manufacturing industry. My husband and I joined his family business. It was a manufacturing company. We had a factory domestically, and worked with factories abroad. We were using green ledger sheets for accounting, to track all of our inventory, ledgers, sales, and commissions. At that point is where I learned how we could leverage technology in order to gain insights and improve processes. My husband built an access database that was pretty slick, to help manage our commissions and our sales process. We were able to leverage the data from that in order to make key decisions about products that we offered, working with our factories, and helping our sales professionals. I think that’s really kind of what spurred my love for leveraging technology and big data.
Eric: As you moved to PenFed, were those back-end systems there for you to be able to get that measurement and those metrics? Or is IT continually working with you to drive out that framework?
Jessica: In whatever we do, there’s always room for improvement, to look at more components of the data on the back end. What we have done here, since I’ve come in the last year, is try to take a look at how we’re managing the service that we’re providing to our agents for PenFed Realty, to bring that all into one system so that we can track efficiency and performance, and use that data to identify bottlenecks in processes, or common issues, so that then we can use that in order to improve the experience for our agents in the long run. So, that’s been really helpful.
Eric: Are you able to apply that across those functional areas, even to marketing? Is your marketing becoming more data-driven, data-specific now? I know there’s also technology training and agent services. Does it apply to all four of those functions?
Jessica: Absolutely, it sure does. On the marketing side, marketing has certainly become more of a science. It’s key to get the right message in front of the right consumer at the right time, and we can leverage historical data to track where business is coming from, track conversion ratios, and to help our agents to understand that, if they want to grow their business, it comes down to the number of contacts that they make, and how many prospects do they need to speak with in order to reach their goals. Sometimes, they might be working towards meeting certain goals for the following year, but may not know that they need to increase the number of conversations they’re having on a weekly basis in order to meet that goal. So, we can provide those insights in order to help them grow their business, and to have more success each year.
Eric: Your agent base is probably diverse. You probably have prospectors, lead converters, and people who are networkers. A lot of agents typically get into the industry who are really networkers. Do they absorb that message of more proactive systems and follow-up, and data? Is that resonating with that crew as well?
Jessica: We work very closely with our managers to train them on these tools and processes. They’re really invested in our agents. We have a coaching program called “Surge” where we work with our agents in a mentorship perspective to help them take their business to the next level. So, I think having that mentor and that one-on-one relationship really makes all the difference, so they’re not going at it alone. They have a partner. Our vision at PenFed Realty is to provide a gateway to a better life for our clients, sales professionals, and employees. Through our coaching and mentorship program, we’ve been able to help our agents achieve that.
Eric: I think I saw that on a video you published back in May. There was something about weekly coaching. Is that the “Surge” program?
Jessica: It is, yes. We are using that program to go over our tools and resources. We have a lot of experience across all of our leadership teams, to share those insights with our agents, to help them take their business to the next level.
Eric: When you and I spoke before, we were chatting a little bit about some of the research that came back. About 83% of the homeowners don’t re-engage with their current real estate agent because they can’t even remember their name. As an industry, how are you specifically helping your agents work this challenge, and continue to build that relationship that probably requires years of follow-up?
Jessica: It’s a huge opportunity in the marketplace right now. We’re very excited about a new program that we’re rolling out here at PenFed Realty to help our agents combat that problem. The key is to stay in front of your clients and your contact database. And that’s hard to do, because our real estate agents are busy, and they’re busy servicing their clients. Studies that we’ve seen have shown that the majority of real estate agents spend an hour a day on marketing their business. As you can see, the results… 83% of homeowners still don’t re-engage with their real estate agent. Agents don’t have time to be a marketing professional as well. So, what we have done is we’re rolling out a new program here called the “Accelerated Marketing Program” and we’re calling it “AMP” for short. It’s a hands-free program that we will run on behalf of our agents to help develop awareness in their marketplace, and help them gain market share, and to stay in the forefront of the minds of their contacts. The key that we have found is it’s important to have consist messaging and use multiple channels. A lot of agents are kind of dabbling in different pieces, or areas of marketing, so they may use one email program and send out campaigns that are there, different direct mail pieces, or use another program for social media. But the messages aren’t consistent, and so that creates confusion within the marketplace, and then it’s not creating recognition and memorability in the eyes of the consumer.
Eric: So, if I have this right, you’re using AMP as an automated program to execute that consistency right down at the agent level. Because, having some experience in real estate, we can talk to different offices, and brokerages and agents, but to get consistency is really difficult.
Jessica: Absolutely. And it’s important to have that surround-sound approach. So, what we’re able to do is to make sure all during the same month—where the email campaigns that go out, and the direct mail programs that we’re running through QuantumDigital that we’re subsidizing for the agents, the social media posts, the video strategy, the blog strategy, the website strategy—the messaging is consistent across all those channels, and it just reinforces the message, and is so much stronger and so much more memorable for the client.
Eric: It sounds like you’re laser-focused with AMP and the surrounding aspect of that around retention—around consumer retention, brand recognition—and just making it easy for Realtors to have a turnkey way of being able to do that for the long term. Would that be correct?
Jessica: Absolutely. The key is for us to have that consistent message, and that we’ll be able to do that on behalf of the agent so they can focus on the client, and focus on providing that experience for their client, and the level of service that they need once they’re engaged. Between our AMP program, and then our coaching program to help coach our agents on how to increase the level of service to their agent and give them the knowledge about the industry, and contract, and pitfalls in the process, and that type of thing. We feel like we’re really equipping our agents to be able to take their business to the next level.
Eric: Will agents have to buy into those programs, or are they just part of being part of the PenFed group, and part of the commission structure?
Jessica: We’re offering all of these programs as part of our business essentials package that’s available to all of our agents. But, we’re also offering an enhanced level of service at a small additional annual cost that is 10% of what the cost would be to go out in the marketplace and get all of these pieces independently where they’re not going to be in that cohesive, consistent messaging format. In that way, we’re going to be doing that hands-free. We’ll execute every facet of the campaign on behalf of this agent. It’s a great value.
Eric: It sounds like it. In your oversight of technology as well, are you looking to have a platform that different vendors plug into to be able to provide a seamless service, or is this build it your own? How would you even actually implement or execute this?
Jessica: We have a lot of technology platforms that we’re offering to our agent right now. We’ve been building a company dashboard where everything will be accessed through single sign-on. That’s already available internally to our employees, and we’ll be opening that up to our agents as well. But we’re always evaluating new technology, and looking for ways in order to integrate all of those features together. We’re building some pieces on the back-end ourselves, and we’ll be paying close attention to what’s coming out in 2018, new solutions, and trying to leverage those.
Eric: As you look forward, being at the end of the year this year, what key trends do you and your team see or forecast or are starting to look at for 2018 and beyond?
Jessica: We’re paying close attention to distractors in the industry, different technology companies that seek to change the real estate industry. We’re paying close attention to those. A lot of those are focusing on splits, or different components. But, we still are really focused on growth and providing the level of coaching and service and technology to our agents that—I feel like we’re going to maintain a prominent place in the marketplace, even amidst those distractors—that there’s a lot of room in the industry, regardless. So, just paying attention to technology and what solutions are available. In addition, there’s also a great opportunity with the wealth transfer from baby boomers to millennials over the next several years. I feel like we’re positioned with a strong brand, and leveraging the strength of PenFed Credit Union, and the resources and the great real estate rewards programs that we can offer our members, that we’re really well-positioned to support that in the industry.
Eric: Is that consumer change also reflected in recruiting and agents coming in? Or are there more and more new agents coming in who are demanding more technology from you, more follow-up systems, more digital and mobile ways of connecting and doing business?
Jessica: I would say that’s not just limited to newer agents. I feel like experienced agents are recognizing the strength of technology and how it can help them take their business to the next level, and see the results of how, when agents have joined PenFed Realty, we’ve been able to help them grow their business, to raise their average sales price and use technology and our solutions to help support that.
Eric: As a leader, how do you roll out technology in your group? Is it a collaborative effort, where you’re pulling a number of agents or offices, or managers together to look at these processes and build the best from the best? Or are you using other sources to get these best practices out there?
Jessica: We’re using a lot of different pieces to help shape our strategy. One is, we’ve talked about a lot, data and using analytics. I feel like if you can’t measure it, you can’t manage it, you can’t make decisions if you can’t use data to support those changes. So, when we look at technology, we’re looking at utilization ratios, we’re looking at performance, we’re looking at conversion ratios based on people that are using the technology in comparison to those that are not. In addition to that, we run internal focus groups with our managers. Also, with our agents, we solicit their feedback. We’ve been running surveys throughout the company with all of our agents to get their feedback about the tools and services that we’re providing. So, it’s a combination of those different factors that help shape the direction that we’re going. Our goal is to support our agents and provide the best level of service, and the best tools and resources that we can. It’s really important to make sure that we take their feedback into account in that process.
Eric: You have a really excellent, deep career in terms of operations, accounting, marketing, and you’ve gotten a lot of breadth there. What 2 or 3 lessons have you learned over your career that have really served you well?
Jessica: Again, back to using data and analytics. Taking a look at the performance of the things that we do, looking at historical trends, and forecasting what the anticipated results are of anything that we’re looking to do, has the greatest impact overall. I think the other piece is, from a leadership perspective, everyone on our leadership team is really invested in the success of our agents. I have learned in my experience that, if you’re willing to roll up your sleeves and do the processes yourself, and really immerse yourself in whatever you’re managing, then you can impact change and improvement, and understand the impact of the decisions that you’re making in such a greater way. All of our leadership team has that same perspective. That really has just fueled our growth and success.
Eric: Wow, that’s fantastic. Jessica, what a pleasure getting to know you today. Thank you for the time, and best luck in 2018. It was an absolute pleasure understanding a little bit about your business, and all the great work you’re doing for PenFed.