The ‘Forever Cloud’: Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices Boldly Overhauls Technology By Suzanne De Vita
A dream realized. A fresh start. A new, promising venture.
There is no disputing the element of humanity in real estate, and the emotion integrally tied to it. From the beginning, Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices has been driven by experience—the one their affiliates have when interacting with the network, and the one consumers have with their salespeople—as well as the inherently interpersonal nature of a real estate transaction.
As the brand has grown in scale and stability, this critical focus is now pivoting to technology, with an all-out initiative to reconfigure and reimagine its systems. At its annual convention last week, Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices formally introduced the project, centered on a CRM and freshly redesigned websites, as well as critical data implementations and infrastructure necessary for the network to “own” its technology—all to build out and deliver on its “forever” vision.
“This is the ‘forever cloud,'” explains Chris Stuart, CEO of HSF Affiliates. “We want our network agents to be forever focused on the humanity involved in their relationships, and not focused on incremental, small wins that they’re getting by investing in technology. The ‘forever’ brand, to us, is to encourage a mindset in our professional sales associates that their ability to build and sustain a career in real estate is something we want to support, and that means a collection of ever-expanding tools from which to deliver that value to their clients. We’re taking the long-term view of what that means for them.”
A Dynamic Production System
Backed by the development power of Salesforce, the globally-recognized sales solution, the Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices CRM will be informed by, and operate from, one primary question: How was the lead produced?
Consumer inquiries come from a number of sources—email, an outside referral, text. As avenues for business change with new technology, these contacts are dispersed and segregated over time, and productivity suffers. Moreover, attending to a lead from an open house, for example, requires a separate set of tasks than cultivating a lead from social media, or a website.
Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices is acutely aware of this distinction. The core of the CRM is a production system, with which agents can capitalize on deep intelligence, and with rapid results. Its capabilities hinge, importantly, on how leads are originated—in other words, how and where contact was made with the prospect—with the ability to advise agents on the best course to take, building efficiencies and maximizing their time. These capabilities include customized engagement plans, designed to nurture their relationships; and aggregated analytics, so that agents can easily interpret what their most productive tasks are, and be accountable for their goals and level of productivity.
“Agents that operate from a plan do better than those that don’t,” Stuart says. “The progression that an agent should take to close deals is a function of what the lead source is from which they’re generating their contacts. There are industry-recognized best practices that create suggestive selling paths that agents should be aware of, and we’re codifying these anchor tenets in our production system.
“Data and information is not knowledge or wisdom,” adds Stuart. “We’re bringing in analytics from the websites we provide and from the other third-party tools, so that the agents have an easy, simple user experience and an intuitive path from which to triangulate information.”
There will be an AI component in the CRM, as well, with which agents can uncover areas of their business they may not have considered leveraging, or are not maximizing to their potential.
“Artificial intelligence and machine learning go hand in hand [with this system],” explains Mike Fortes, vice president of Solution Strategy at HSF Affiliates. “With machine learning, we’re able to help refine those actions down the line, not only within our CRM, but also our intranet. As people interact with that, we’ll learn the things that matter to them, and what needs to be presented to them.”
“AI takes the questions that we’re not thinking about and potentially answers them for us,” says Stuart. “By aggregating and centralizing our data, we’re more empowered to answer these questions. It’s a combination of what do agents want to know, what can we tell them about their business that maybe they’re not asking, and what can the AI tell us about our business that we’re not asking?”
Enhancing the Experience
In addition to leveraging Salesforce’s strength, Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices has called on Adobe to not only revamp its websites, but also fold them into the infrastructure of the network. With Adobe, the brand can cater to device-responsiveness easily and quickly, whatever that becomes in the future—in an augmented reality setting, for instance. This eliminates the need to re-engineer them with every shift.
“A lot of industry-focused vendors just simply don’t have the scale [that Adobe has], so that was a key driver, because the user experience will change, and the form factor of how users are experiencing these services will change,” Stuart says. “We want to own the user experience between our consumers and our brand, and not leverage another third-party.”
Aside from Adobe’s built-in capabilities—powerful in their own right—the features include distinct marketing by property type (e.g., Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices’ Luxury Collection) and hyperlocal information, all streamlined visually. With the redesign, agents are optimally positioned, hovering on the page as the person scrolls, allowing buyers to connect to a professional seamlessly. This not only elevates their experience, but also bridges opportunities for salespeople.
The Adobe collaboration is as deliberate as it is powerful. Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices began expanding into global markets in 2018, with the addition of an affiliate in Germany, and will continue to develop franchisees on the global stage—something Adobe, with its recognition worldwide, will be a crucial partner in.
Executing on ‘Forever’
Bringing these capabilities and features to fruition involved overhauling the set-up of the system. In 2018, Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices debuted an intranet, redesigned with Salesforce, that centralized all of its data and integrated SSO. Within this framework, the brand’s data is now safer and more secure, and accessed easily. In fact, the brand is closing in on a 30 percent jump in usage since the intranet was launched.
“In the past, our technology was limited because of security concerns,” Fortes says. “Our franchisees had limited access to our products and solutions from their own intranet. Now, we’ve allowed those companies to log right into our systems; they don’t have to remember multiple passwords, etc. It’s one solution, from their location, on any device.”
With the foundation set, Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices has committed to its franchisees’ long-term success, and has a firm hold on all of its pieces of technology.
“Agents and brokers and brands who are unable to be accountable to where their data is are going to be at risk,” says Stuart. “Data security and personal privacy protection for buyers is going to become a front-and-center topic, and we want to create an environment where our brokers and agents don’t have to worry about that.”
Throughout the development of these projects—which involved leadership at Salesforce, as well as in-house teams—the brand has counted on its network to participate in the process, with assigned groups to each initiative. These have been comprised of in-the-trenches agents, brokers, managers and teams, meeting regularly—every three or four weeks—for feedback and input.
There have also been brokerages piloting the production system, including Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices Georgia Properties.
“What we are excited about is making a commitment to the brand,” says Dan Forsman, CEO of Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices Georgia Properties. “We’re on a mission to optimize a national platform to give consumers a better experience, and improve agent responsiveness and efficiency and give the broker an opportunity to provide real value to their agents, and eliminate redundancy. We’re going to be nationally-affiliated and locally-driven, but marching with one cadence, one song, together.”
“With the direction of our network focus group, we haven’t been siloed into housing particular elements of the design or intellectual property,” Stuart says. “It’s a shared and collaborative process, so that, internally, we can start to own the development moving forward.”
With both efforts expected to launch in July, and more in the pipeline this year, the brand is forging ahead methodically and strategically, with a clear focus on the human interaction and personal touch—something Stuart believes has not been, and will not be, disintermediated.
“Technology, to me, should always be the stick of the spear, not the tip of it,” says Stuart. “A lot of times, companies get out of that sequence. The process of buying and selling real estate is very emotional—there’s almost always a very sensitive life event hovering around a transaction. We’ve always imagined that technology should be an enabler of the very human experiences that this industry is centered on.”
For more information, please visit www.berkshirehathawayhs.com.