As a REALTOR® association executive, you’re working with an entrepreneurial membership. An entrepreneur, as one dictionary defines the term, is a person who organizes a business or businesses, taking on greater-than-normal financial risks in order to do so.
While some brokers and agents may not consider themselves entrepreneurial, the successful ones certainly do. Those are the members you’ll likely interact with regularly—or wish you did. So, figuring out how to work with entrepreneurs is critical, whether you work at the local, state, or national level.
Throughout my 47-year career as a real estate professional and AE, knowing and working among successful entrepreneurs has been a privilege and a challenge. Some were successful brokers, others were mega-producing agents, and some were successful in fields other than real estate. And although they came from diverse backgrounds, they had one common trait: They required management but hated being managed.
Information on Demand
For entrepreneurs, the workday doesn’t start at 9 a.m. or end at 5 p.m. There is no lunch hour or five-day workweek. There is no inbox where they can leave things until tomorrow. Nor is there an outbox that assures they get paid at the end of the week. In many cases, they are unfamiliar with such a structured environment.
Their environment is best summed up as “information on demand.” If they are dealing with a client or customer, they know that person expects them to pick up the phone or respond to an email or text immediately. Consumers today don’t want to go through a series of prompts, be placed on hold, or leave a voicemail message. If they do leave a message, they don’t expect to wait hours for a callback.
By the time their agent or broker gets back to them, the alligator they were wrestling has only gotten larger, or they have moved on to someone or something else. Agents and brokers know this because National Association of REALTORS® designation classes teach and preach the importance of real-time, live responsiveness. We also know this is true because we’re all consumers ourselves, and we all hate the lack of customer service that seems to be the corporate norm today.
With that in mind, what kind of service do you want to give to the entrepreneurs you serve? Start with that thing we call the Golden Rule: Treat your members as you would want to be treated. Here are some ideas that may help:
- Members don’t think you are the most important employee the association has. Odds are, most members will rarely talk to you. Instead, whoever answers the phone or responds to texts and emails is the first point of contact and the person they talk to most frequently.
- If No. 1 is true, be sure the person or people answering the phone know that their most important job is to answer the phone. Unless they are doing something time-sensitive, stopping to answer the phone is more important.
- Develop a workload matrix that tells you when you need to hire more staff or cut back hours. This will likely be different for every association, but the one we use results in about four hours and 15 minutes of staff time per member, per year. Below that, members’ needs are on hold too long or go without a reply for days. More, and staff are playing solitaire on their computers.
- Associations don’t have to be available every hour of every day. Setting the expectation for your hours of operation and ensuring that someone is available to assist your members during normal business hours is all that’s needed.
A candidate for NAR office once asked me, “How is your association different from all the others?” My response: “There are nine local associations in our metro area. We do not operate an MLS, we do not have the lowest dues, and we are by far not the largest, so we focus on the member experience.”
The answer produced a puzzled look. “What does that mean?”
Again, my answer was simple. “When a member calls the board office, it’s not because we are going to make them any money—odds are that the opposite is likely true. When they contact our office, it is because they have an immediate problem or a question that requires information. After they hang up the phone, we want them to say, ‘I’m glad I called. If I’d known they were that helpful, I’d have called them first. Next time, I will.’”
Managing entrepreneurs, however, isn’t only about understanding their timely need for information. Entrepreneurs tend to be self-confident, so when decisions are being made, suggesting that members don’t know what they don’t know can be dangerous.
Instead, foster discussion by asking probing questions to which the answers are not immediately obvious. It may open them to new ideas and allow them to learn more about something they thought they knew without challenging them. It may also help them formulate how to make the much-needed decision that prompted their call.
When members get involved in governance, they bring the same personality traits they use in dealing with the public. To avoid losing control of meetings, preparation is critical.
- Send an agenda to those attending the meeting a week in advance. How the agenda is developed should include input from your chair and others on the committee. Do not, however, allow them to develop the agenda without your input or guidance unless they can recite your strategic plan from memory. This is how committees turn horses into camels.
- All support documents needed for the meeting should accompany the agenda unless something is confidential. The larger you make the elephant, the less chance of someone asking for more information. Only after all of the information is in front of the entrepreneur can you reduce the job to bite-sized pieces.
- If a decision is required, limit the options to at least two but no more than three. Too many options can stymie decision-making with analysis paralysis. Supply only one option, and the entrepreneur will feel managed and ask, “But what about this?”
While entrepreneurs tend to be easygoing, they also are deeply passionate. This can result in easy conversations taking heated twists. If you want to establish long-term, positive relationships with members, master the ability to deescalate. A collegial and adaptive leadership style helps.
Helping entrepreneurial members see the association as a valuable resource is an essential skill for an AE. Successful entrepreneurs know their own value proposition and can articulate it easily. Don’t be surprised if they expect you and your association to do the same.