When Verity Hodge started in business development management eight years ago, BDMs were a rarity. Yet, with a market that is increasingly competitive, BDM contributions are now more valued than ever before
In the world of automobiles, there are always two key roles: the driver and the mechanic. While both are experts about cars, their merits differ due to their skills and knowledge. A driver knows how to drive a car, whereas the mechanic knows how to build and fix them.
This is the analogy that Verity Hodge uses to describe the role of business development managers and property managers.
“In our industry the property managers are considered the mechanics – they deal with the nuts and bolts and the nitty and gritty side of things,” she says. “The business development managers are considered the drivers – they are able to steer things in the right direction.
“In practice, I’m here to provide the property manager with time to service existing clients who are already utilising our service, and their strengths are in maintaining those relationships into the future and handling the daily demands of property management.
“For me, my strength lies in building those relationships from the very beginning and gaining trust, working with clients and converting those leads to actual business.”
The different skills required for both roles were what motivated Verity to switch from property management to business development management eight years ago. She now works as a business development manager at Realmark, where she has been since 2009.
“I think by nature, I’m better at speaking with people and I’m quite comfortable with meeting new people and building those relationships,” she says. “I started to gain a personal interest in property investment, so that probably drove my ambition in terms of business development and being able to express a genuine understanding or sincerity about what those clients might be trying to achieve out of property investment.”
Verity says when she began her first business development management role at Wentworth Mutual the role was a foreign concept.
“A lot of principals and agencies really didn’t justify the expense of a business development manager in their business,” she explains.
“Now there’s been this sort of awakening as to how valuable your portfolio is to your business, and how competitive the industry has become because a lot of owners have got a lot more savvy and people’s expectations have increased.
“They have a better understanding of what they want in their properties and from their agents, and it is an increasingly competitive market.”
She adds that the value business development managers offer property managers is their skill in converting leads and winning business.
Verity says she has been able to achieve this because of the relationships she has built internally and externally for the business.
“Having consistent referral business and maintaining those relationships is so important,” she says. “Success in my mind is more about a dollar rather than the ‘numbers’.”
At Realmark clients are a high priority.
“We really take an approach whereby we specifically find out what the clients’ needs and expectations are and how we can meet them,” Verity says.
“When I speak to a client over the phone and then meet with them, it’s very question-orientated.
“Naturally, they look to me to provide a lot of the answers, but it’s also very important that we’re on the same page so that the relationship moving forward is on the same level and a viable, realistic one.”
Verity says sincerity and genuine understanding of clients are what wins them over in the end.
“I think the fact that I have an interest in that on a personal level has been very helpful in building confidence with clients and then ultimately starting the business up, particularly when you’re competing with however many other agencies,” she continues.
However, she points out that Realmark’s focus is always on highly maintained fees and quality properties rather than signing up new management.
“We’ve got to a position where if a property is presented poorly and the owner is not prepared to put the time into presenting that property to attract a good quality tenant, we know that management is not going to be viable for us because it’s probably going to consume a lot of our time, and it’s going to take our time away from the quality properties,” she explains.
Verity is critical of agencies that emphasise reduced fees over quality service to win over potential clients.
“A lot of agents, rather than going in there and convincing clients of the level of service they can expect to receive, they’ll just reduce their fee significantly to win business. The landlord has bought a service based on fee rather than service and that can actually end up costing that landlord a lot more than the savings in fees, due to poor management.”
She adds that this devalues the work of business development managers.
“It does bring the industry down,” she laments, “and we’ve worked so hard to build a reputation to get people to appreciate what we do.”
POINT OF DIFFERENCE
Realmark’s point of difference is always changing, Verity says.
“Other agencies will always be catching up with you, so you need to be looking at what you can do to stay one step ahead of everybody else and make yourself stand out,” she says.
This year the focus has been on the group’s Tailored Solutions.
“Tailored Solutions essentially gives clients various options in what they want from our service,” she explains.
“We’ve got three different fee schedules available for consideration depending on what suits their needs, their properties – whether it’s a high turnover property that’s leased with a new tenant every six months or whether it’s a property out in the suburbs that may have the same tenant in it for three years.
“Your fee package may vary depending on the demographic of tenants that you’re attracting to your property and that’s usually dependent on location as well.”
Realmark also has a leasing-only service for individuals who manage their own properties privately.
“We’ll use that as an opportunity to establish some sort of a relationship with that client, provide an excellent service for them in that leasing scenario and then use that as an opportunity to touch base throughout the year to see how things are going,” Verity says.
“Ideally at some stage, if they do decide that they’re tired of managing a property themselves or things start to go wrong, Realmark will be at the forefront of their mind when it comes to employing an agent to manage it full time.”
As testament to their successful business model, Realmark have won various national and state awards.
Last year, the agency won REIWA’s Residential Property Manager of the Year and Large Residential Agency of the Year, an award they previously won consecutively between 2009 and 2011.
While she is proud of the acknowledgements, Verity is modest about Realmark’s awards.
“I very rarely even point them out to client to be frank,” she says. “I think really listening to your clients means a whole lot more than showing them a piece of paper with a bunch of printed awards on it.”