6 ways your CRE back office can be your secret weapon

The days of your back office salary being a grudge purchase are over! As tech automates increasing levels of “hands work” away, these efficient team members, who (crucially) understand CRE, can move into the “head work” that makes your business more competitive. This article explains how.
Commercial property back office efficiencies

(The above image depicts the growth of team members. Personal growth is one of the most rewarding and meaningful aspects of business – for business owners and the growing team members alike. This article, hopefully, is a catalyst for such growth)

Newsflash

These are the 2020s. We’re in a digital age where businesses and business models are transforming. You are hearing more of the buzzwords like data analytics, CRETech and process automation, and buzzphrases like “data is the new oil”, “software is eating the world”, “tech-driven disruption”.

You want to respond, but how? You need to find people who can help your business stay relevant and competitive in this new age. But who can you trust? Where do you find these people? Will they understand CRE? Will they understand your business?

The good news

These people exist. What’s more, they exist in your organisation. They are on your payroll. And they, increasingly have capacity.

Where and who? Your “back office” team.

Who is your back office? These people have names like data capturer, admin, system manager, office manager, broker support, asset manager intern, marketing assistant. They are tech-savvy. You can trust them. They understand CRE. They know your business.

In today’s tech innovation battle, your back office is your business’s front line soldiers. As tech inevitably automates away increasing levels of “hands work”, these staff’s role is evolving into knowledge workers. Freed from the drudgery of hands work, these team members can do the “head work” that is required for your business to succeed in the 2020s.

CRE back office team members, correctly deployed, are now as important to the success of the business as their deal-making colleagues in the front office.

How? In the days before tech, valuable back office personnel in brokerages spent a lot of time moving data. Today we are seeing genuine, game-changing, tech-driven efficiencies – the below explains the “before” and “after”

Old CRE businesses (“before”)

  • Brokerages capture vacancies manually from spreadsheets, PDFs and emails sent by property funds. Brokerages also capture proprietary (unique) information.
  • CRE businesses manually extract data for reporting – taking hours or sometimes days
    • Vacancy schedules
    • Property brochures
    • Deal reporting / budgets
  • Data silos – same data living in disparate systems (websites, doc mgmt systems, CRM systems, property management systems, lease management system, accounting system, budgeting system, vacancies management system, legal system, facilities management systems, source data in soft- and hard-copy documents (from PDFs, to PowerPoint, to Excel)

The CRE business of today (“after”)

  • Brokerages are receiving high quality vacancies feeds within 1-3 days of that information being available. Now the team simply, and only, manages proprietary (unique) information
  • CRE businesses build professional reports at the click of a button
    • Vacancy schedules
    • Property brochures
    • Deal reporting / budgets
  • Data silos are eliminated. Data lives in one place, fewer, separate systems, and these are now connected. Changes are logged. Processes talk to other processes. No crazy filing systems. Now you have an always-on office, in the cloud.

Thus efficient, technically savvy and talented people, who understand CRE, are being released from their low value “hands work” drudgery. With the power of technology growing, these peoples’ opportunity cost is increasing. The time is right for them to focus on high value work.

This article aims to be a user-friendly “cheat sheet”. See it as a “how to” guide to for your business to benefit from the wave of positive, technology-driven industry changes. We have two goals:

  1. To explain and try anticipate how CRE back office people’s roles can evolve painlessly, and
  2. Empower ambitious back office people with a roadmap to “move the revenue needle” and grow into the role of secret weapon for their companies.

As the esteemed Mr Dylan said way back in the 60s: (after a 15 second harmonica prelude :))

This article is written from the perspective a CRE back office team member. In reviewing these opportunities listed, we suggest asking yourself 2 questions

  • How exactly are you spending your days?
  • What could you be doing with more efficiency?

And taking action on the below doesn’t require a “Big Bang”. Some tasks are easier than others. Some fruit is lower-hanging than others. To clarify, you can decide to implement projects on a gradual, phased approach, as you achieve business buy in, and grow in confidence.

1. Grow incoming leads, make outbound sales calls easier

CRE back office personnel can make deal-making for their front office colleagues a lot easier.

How? In short

  • “Warm up” possible cold customers.
  • Help your CRE business (brokerage, property fund, property manager) stay top-of-mind with existing customers.
  • Drive referrals and customer-relevant thought leadership.

This new age boasts a host of user-friendly, low cost marketing tools, online – from social media (Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, LinkedIn etc.) to inbound mailers. Correctly used, these tools can drive marketing that help the brokerage’s brand to live in the minds of its customers.

The steps: Firstly, brainstorm some unique strategies you think will have success. (Success means content that will be valuable to your customers). Secondly, choose them. Then, learn the tools. Most importantly, do it! 

2. Increase transactions / efficiencies through data-driven insights

Data is the oil that CRE runs on. And back office personnel understand data. CRE back office personnel can help management to extract value from their data asset “gold”.

For example

  • Assist time-starved front office team members with on-risk consultative projects and presentations for customers. For instance, this can range from nodal analyses to rental comparatives
  • Acquire owner information for specific types of assets. – e.g. I want the contact details for all owners of these properties, within this specific area
  • Sweat business tenant data and assist brokers with tenant canvassing and relationships (by loading tenants as leases, managing and assisting brokers’ canvassing processes and data collection)
  • Coming with data-driven deal ideas – let’s look at all industrial properties within this area, owned by owner XYZ, that are less than 2,000 sqm in size and more than 50% vacant
  • Use the data to identify recurring issues in the business, identify solutions to these problems, and execute

3. Back office = chief efficiencies officer / coach

Change is hard. Likewise, technology is understandably intimidating to front office staff who may be stuck in their ways, or simply fearful. As a result, valuable business efficiencies opportunities are left on the table by team members who haven’t adopted new ways of operating.

And these good people are suffering because of it.

Back office personnel are ideal efficiencies “change agents”. You understand CRE, you have the relationships of trust, and your success is tied to that of front office staff. Therefore you can easily mentor, coach and upskill front office colleagues to use their efficiency tools better.

Your success, as change agent and efficiencies coach, is measured by your team’s use of efficiencies tools.

As day follows night, if your team is more efficient, so will your business be more profitable.

How to do this:

  • Focus initially on the quick wins / the big dopamine hits: brochure generation, report generation etc.
  • Drive the move away from Excel and paper, using systems to manage deal meetings and deal update reporting.
  • Walk new features through with the team, or regularly organise sessions to guide your colleagues on the use of unused features.
  • As a new breed of “super-user”, operating “at the coal face”, you can drive innovation by suggesting new system features, and improvements to service providers.

In your upskilling initiative, the most receptive team members are generally a) the innovators and early adopters in your organisation (please see an explanation here), and b) your more success-orientated, self-disciplined colleagues (see a breakdown of deal makers here). Your less disciplined, generally weaker team members will be more reactive and less enthusiastic – and tend to move only when the efficiencies of the others becomes obvious.

4. Assisting brokerage mgmt. with budgets and cash flow info

Reducing management’s stress and time spent doing admin, means more time for management to focus on revenue-generating deals and efficiency.

Brokerage data is now becoming available in more analysis-friendly formats – like charts and graphs and Excel.

Using the new data formats, CRE back office personnel can now give management valuable visibility on the performance of their business and cash flows. In other words, back office team can take responsibility for this admin task.

5. Improve marketing spend

Do our deals come from marketing like signboards, or websites, or canvassing, or portals, or referrals or relationships?

Where do the big deals come from?

Do different geographies and deal types respond differently to marketing efforts?

How competitive is the brand online? How are your online “shopfronts” like websites performing? Are there unsweated opportunities to improve?

Lots of ROI questions, not so many answers…

Consequently, there is a lot of guess-work around

Most importantly: what is the best deployment of scarce marketing time and money?

Meanwhile, brokerages are operating in a B2B marketing environment. So brokerages need to know these things.

Answering these questions for your brokerage will mean it can do two things:

  1. Cut back on certain low-impact expenditures (time and money)
  2. Spend more time and money to those deal acquisition activities that deliver results.

6. Mining and sweating your “data gold”

Can your data assets be trusted – what is your data quality like? Deduplication of properties, businesses, contacts is often an overdue project.

How “underweight” are your data assets? Are you missing images, logos, contact info, descriptions? What about tenants on those properties? Are your data assets bound to unique identifiers?

Yes, these “data hygiene” projects are low glamour and time-consuming. But they are rewarding. The better you arm your brokers with high quality data they can trust, the more successful they can be in the competitive world of broking.

We hope you have found this useful, and inspiring. We are proud to highlight ways for businesses to be more efficient. Moreover, we trust this provides a road map of opportunities for ambitious, motivated CRE back office team players to thrive and prosper.

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1 Comment. Leave new

  • John Mudge
    Aug 5, 2019 5:10 AM

    Hi Will, Good blog. I am just starting out as a broker in Australia. Am looking at outsourcing the broker back office function etc. Can you suggest some good firms who can act as broker back office support? Not sure if there are some good ones in Malaysia, Philippines or Vietnam etc. Regards John Mudge (AUSTAX)

    Reply

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