Internet competition remains a big concern for agents, especially lower-earning home-based ones. It was cited as both a factor that affected business last year and one they are concerned about going forward. Senior editor Jamie Biesiada spoke with Nexion president Jackie Friedman about how agents can differentiate themselves online.
Q: How can newer agents be more proactive in stemming issues they're facing from online competition?
A: The thing I say to agents all the time is don't focus on what the quote-unquote Internet is, focus on what it isn't, and that's personal relationships. That is really, truly getting to know the customer and what they're looking for. That is being there when things go right and when things go wrong, being that resource, being their champion and truly understanding what's important to the customer.
Q: That reminds me of the argument that agents should sell based on value, not on price.
A: Any agent who thinks they're going to compete with the Internet on price might as well give up. If you think about how to compete with the Internet, it's certainly not on price. It's on expertise. It's on relationships. It's on value. Again, it goes back to focusing on what the online players can't do. It's looking at a customer and not at a transaction.
Q: How are agents differentiating themselves?
A: The more they specialize and they become experts in their area of specialty and can articulate that with their online and social presence, finding that niche and focusing on knowing more about less as opposed to less about more. The second is really becoming a master marketer in a way that makes sense for you and for the customer you want to go after. Take the time to really figure out how they can reach the potential clients who are interested in what they are selling. And again, I can't reiterate it enough: Know your customers.
Q: Internet competition continues to be a future concern among agents. What are the main threats?
A: I think some of the Googles or big, big companies that have such reach and such intelligence, if any of these huge online players that aren't traditionally what we would think of as OTAs today but could become OTAs, I think there's a little bit of fear of the unknown in terms of what happens if some of these other companies spill into travel.