I’ve been working in real estate for longer than I’ve been an entrepreneur. During my time working for other people’s companies. I took note of what seemed to work and what required improvements as it pertained to helping clients find their next office space.
Some commercial real estate brokers operate as if their expertise hinges on the knowledge they have access to and uphold. Although it’s true that past work on deals, and negotiating suitable terms on behalf of clients, contributes toward someone’s veteranship, there are still elements to the industry that don’t need to be as buttoned up or as protected.
So when it came time to launch my own company, SquareFoot, back in 2012, I knew that I wanted to approach the industry differently than the traditional players have and continue to.
That began with schooling myself in the world of marketing. I saw that in residential real estate, there were a number of publicly available listings platforms such as StreetEasy, Zillow, Redfin, and more showcasing for anyone who wants to browse an up-to-date set of houses available on the market. But, for some reason, I couldn’t find anything similar for commercial real estate.
As I asked around, I quickly discovered that there wasn’t one compelling reason to explain this absence. It amounted to a decision that brokers far and wide had made to keep this information to themselves, hoping to entice people to enter the conversation beginning with the question about what’s available in the market.
I wanted to begin that conversation differently. So I worked with my tech team to produce and publish a listings platform to convey this information front and center on our website. We would develop closer relationships with our clients, I believed, through giving them something to look at and to sift through online before they reached out to us to help them in their search.
This way, if they found a space on our site they liked, they could move on it more quickly. If they didn’t see their ideal next spot, that was fine, too. They could still find out about costs for average square footage of spaces in various neighborhoods in their areas, to set expectations. In this way, I figured, both sides would win: Clients know more about what they’re specifically looking for before they reach out, and our in-house team of brokers could start the discussion at a more developed, sophisticated level.
But that listings platform wasn’t the extent of it; it was just the beginning. Through conversations I have had over many years with clients, I’ve always kept an ear to what additional resources would benefit them as they go along with their searches. If we can make this process easier and simpler for them, especially those embarking on their first offices, I wanted to be on the front lines of it.
Over the years, we have created tools to keep our website engaging and to give clients more to sample and to inform them. For example, our office space calculator provides simple calculations that go a long distance for clients. The most common question we get is how much space a company of X size should require. Rather than making our brokers have those preliminary conversations repeatedly, we enable, with this calculator, people to plan for themselves and manage this absolute first stage of their search.
Many companies offer some advice and guidance on their blogs to facilitate better interactions. We know that with subject matter that can be dense and daunting for the outsider that our articles must first and foremost help demystify the industry and make it more penetrable for all.
That might seem like an obvious thing to select marketers, but for me, and the direction I’d seen the commercial real estate industry go, sharing some of our knowledge in such a public way was considered innovative. We know that if we have a more engaged audience learning about the industry first, and our services second, that we can capture more of their attention and curiosity.
It’s a slower sell than others in the industry might advocate for or advise, but we know from our data that people who spend some time clicking around on our site and growing acquainted with us wind up sticking around with us, too, when it’s time for their office search. The content marketing we invest in is extremely practical in scope and understandable in nature. We have real conversations because our clients are regular people who need office space, not real estate aficionados.
When I’m hanging out with other real estate people, I can speak their language. But to build and scale my business I have to be a savvy marketer, a role I’ve grown more comfortable with over time.
I think like a small business owner because I am one, and I gained a lot of new insights about office moves from leading one for my own company this past April. I train my team to think about the needs of our clients to help remove whatever barriers exist or they perceive to be in their way as they envision finding and securing their next office space. To do that, we must educate them to help them understand the process from start to finish.
If you shy away from sharing information with your clients in the name of wisdom, you’re actually, in my experience, being terribly unwise. Veteran marketers know that people don’t want to be sold to aggressively, and they also don’t want to feel they’re in the dark. Instead, I’d advise that you help them grow more comfortable as partners, whether you’re selling real estate or refrigerators. Bring them up to speed and give them resources where they can find all of their initial answers on their own.
If you give them the independence and permission to search and discover, they’ll more likely come back to you when it’s time to complete their deals. That way, they’ll be happier with their decisions because they’ve made them without pressure and free of fear.
About the Author: SquareFoot Founder and CEO Jonathan Wasserstrum has worked for over a decade in commercial real estate. SquareFoot is a new kind of commercial real estate company that helps companies win at finding their next (and next) office, providing transparent access to inventory, brokerage services, and a flexible space offering. SquareFoot brings together technological innovation and human expertise to solve clients’ needs.