Steve Bois, CEO of the Rockford Area Association of REALTORS®, Ill., is on the forefront of consumer outreach. He works not only to build the brand of the REALTORS® but also to define the public image of the association as a source for credible real estate information and issues affecting the local economy. He involves his association in local economic development and neighborhood restoration projects because he believes that creating a vital downtown area and wealth-generating jobs will boost the real estate market and, thus, help his members.
“You can’t just harvest your market,” he says. “You have to plant the seeds of growth.”
Bois is a member of the NATIONAL ASSOCIATION OF REALTORS® AE Consumer Engagement Workgroup. Here, he describes his approach to successful consumer outreach.
Q: Your association’s main Web site appears to be more consumer-focused than member-focused. Why is that?
A: It was important for us to keep the consumer as attached to our association as possible versus third-party sites that really don’t have a focus on our market. It was also important to establish a relationship with consumers so that we could communicate with them, keep them engaged with the local market, educate them on local market news, and get them to use local resources for housing. We used focus groups and learned that consumers wanted a preshopping experience long before they wanted to connect with a REALTOR®. The board of directors, which represents the members, drove this Web site focus decision.
Q: What’s the biggest challenge to effective consumer engagement today?
A: We need to figure out how to help consumers interpret and differentiate the real estate information that is already out there and how best to insert real estate agents into that information stream. Members are transitioning from being transaction specialists to taking more of a consultative role with buyers and sellers. We all want to figure out how to keep members at the center of the transaction, so as we go through the generational shift, we’ll see that millennials’ information needs are unique. They want instant information, whether it’s a phone call or text or e-mail. It’s all about instant response. They also won’t go with just one answer; they want to investigate options. We need to make sure our members have the skills and resources to facilitate this.
Q: How do you think the type of consumer engagement programs launched by associations in the next few years will differ from those in the past five years?
A: We need to ask ourselves, “What are the attributes of a truly consumer-engaged agent?” Response time has to be more rapid. A breadth of knowledge has to really be there, along with the willingness, ability, and patience to communicate with the consumer in the way that they want. Sometimes, it’s having the confidence to say “no” to clients that don’t fit your style. You can’t be all things to all people. At some point, we’re going to have to look at REALTOR® ratings. That will change the industry. Ratings will improve the quality of the transaction process for everyone in the industry, and you’ll see improved behaviors.
Q: What’s the best role of the AE in consumer engagement?
A: We control the message we send to consumers—and share with the media—by having the same person, the CEO, deliver a consistent message. You can’t train an association president in one year on how to handle the media. The consumer sees a consistent message with the same person providing the same message in a consistent way. Yet the association CEO doesn’t act on his own; communication with the association board is key. If we don’t offer a proactive message to the media, no message would get out or the message would be negative. We’ve been able to paint the true picture, realizing there is positive in all news. We have no problem with negative news; we just counterbalance these single snapshots of the market with market trends. The trends are more important than the headline.