By Margery Weinstein
Mastering the art of the deal may be the oldest corporate learning pursuit. After all, is there anything harder in business than assisting home buyers to make the biggest purchase in their lives? For real estate giant Coldwell Banker, 2012 was a year to not only fine-tune proven sales training methods, but to take it a step further into the realm of innovation. Along with packaged learning programs that offer turnkey solutions to managers and agents, the company delved into social media-inspired programming, offering its own network a chance to contribute directly to training content.
“The training program from the last year that Coldwell Banker University (CBU) is most proud of is Sales Meeting in a Box (SMIAB),” says Vice President of Learning, Coldwell Banker & Coldwell Banker Commercial Real Estate LLC David J. Birnbaum. “It’s a train-the-trainer tool kit for sales managers to enable them to offer mini-training sessions within their existing, ongoing periodic meetings with their agents,” he explains.
Weekly or monthly office sales meetings are common in real estate, but many sales managers have difficulty finding meaningful content to deliver with their busy schedules, Birnbaum points out. SMIAB was developed to provide managers in the field with multiple 20- to 30-minute training sessions, each covering a specific topic. Each session includes a leader’s guide, a participant handout, scripts, an expert video, and an agent peer “best practice” video. The objective of the SMIAB initiative is to create a library of topics for sales managers to choose from that lead to near-term actionable business outcomes for Coldwell Banker agents by improving customer service, furthering in-depth local market knowledge and increasing listings and closings. “The ultimate goal of all our initiatives is ensuring consumers who choose Coldwell Banker agents receive exceptional service,” says Birnbaum.
In 2012, Coldwell Banker University released a suite of nine different SMIAB modules with plans to release new modules on a monthly basis. “This program has enjoyed phenomenal success as there already have been more than 5,000 downloads of SMIAB modules by sales managers,” Birnbaum notes, which exceeded the program’s 2012 targets.
In addition to its Sales Meeting in a Box program, the company offers managers Talent Attraction Boot Camp and ACT Now. The purpose of Talent Attraction Boot Camp, a live one-day workshop, is to help managers find, understand, and be prepared to articulate the vast benefits of Coldwell Banker resources to a potential agent. It incorporates manager-agent role-plays, as well as roundtable and group discussions. More than 90 percent of managers completing the program felt it would improve their recruiting efforts by more than 20 percent, according to Dave Rood, senior director of Learning, Coldwell Banker Real Estate LLC, who led development of the program.
Act Now is a two-day traditional classroom course for managers to increase the productivity and profitability of their office through recruiting of quality agents, leadership, and building a culture that attracts and motivates sales associates. Each participant creates an action plan during class and is partnered with another class member to support them in completing it when they return to their office. The course focuses on creating a plan to assist their associates in superior customer service, strengthening the productivity of their existing sales force, utilizing effective leadership that drives both individual and office results, and building a learning culture that enables team members to reach their maximum potential.
More than 80 percent of Act Now participants (i.e., the managers) reported that the program significantly affected their local office productivity.
Coldwell Banker’s BluePoint career development program provides both new and experienced agents the opportunity to better serve homebuyers and sellers, and, thus, grow their business with the assistance of their local manager. The platform allows Coldwell Banker managers to quickly gauge a newly hired agent’s productivity level and learning needs to guide him or her on a “roadmap” of appropriate learning interventions and activities, ensuring the agent’s success. Managers categorize agents into four experience levels, from new agent to seasoned professional, and then use pre-established course suggestions for each category. The manager is able to track an individual agent’s progress and refer to built-in talking points for scheduled coaching sessions. It includes several Coldwell Banker exclusive training programs, along with others from outside partners.
David Rubenstein, senior director of Learning, Coldwell Banker Real Estate LLC, says Coldwell Banker University’s biggest ongoing challenge is to constantly measure the impact learning is having on its agents. “To this end, we constantly are tweaking our training measurement systems and executive report cards. Everyone—from a field trainer to our president and CEO—needs to know we are meeting our objective of superior customer service and that Coldwell Banker University supports our agents and managers to achieve—and even exceed—that objective.”
For five years Coldwell Banker has been collecting Kirkpatrick Level 1, 2, 3, and 4 and ROI data. Leveraging predictive Level 4 results, more than 8 of every 10 sales associates who have completed a CBU program said their income would increase more than 20 percent.
To drill down even deeper—ensuring agents are getting maximum support from the brand—in 2012, CBU introduced “big data” Level 4 mining, where instead of sampling business results of programs, it now measures 12-months pre- and post-sales data points on its core programs. Every core Coldwell Banker training program thus is measured for agents’ increased sales transactions and increased gross commission income (GCI).
Coldwell Banker is also at the learning industry forefront with hybrid approaches for informal/social learning measurement using both social learning portals and mobile learning apps.
User-Generated and Fully Participatory
Coldwell Banker currently is in the process of partnering with a leading industry vendor to provide a mobile, peer-to-peer, and collaborative app that uses crowd-sourcing to rate and categorize shared learning nuggets of useful information, tips, links, and reviews. This will enable both new and seasoned agents in the field to ask for information they need, and to contribute content to the Coldwell Banker community for use by others, as well as to record and report on informal learning within the entire organization.
The Managing Broker Academy (MBA) portal blends various tools and resources to allow users to learn from each other and from the moderators and authors (Learning Department) for the site. It facilitates peer-to-peer and expert/mentor-to-peer knowledge sharing, and collaboration. It enables the Coldwell Banker Learning Department to facilitate and monitor social learning, as well as create a culture of learning and collaboration.
The MBA Portal opens as a virtual Coldwell Banker office lobby, where students are greeted by a helpful avatar to guide them to key collaborative educational sections such as Online Discussion Groups and the Broker Blog, where they can engage with industry experts and leave their own comments. Additionally, the MBA provides users with the following social/collaboration tools: communities of practice discussion groups, expert forums, blogs, FAQs, and various types of user-generated content (documents, videos, blog entries, discussion group comments).
A second collaborative social learning portal was developed for sales associates. Known as BlueView, it has a similar range of functions, including:
Both portals serve as a front-end to Coldwell Banker’s learning management system (LMS). Any self-paced courses that weren’t compliancy based were pulled out of the LMS and put in the social learning portals, eliminating the need for registration. The “click-and-launch” self-paced courses saw a ten-fold increase in usage.
A similar portal is in development for commercial real estate practitioners. “Managers in commercial offices dispersed across the country will learn from each other in online discussion groups or by submitting their own best practices,” explains Ann Dillon, director of Learning, Coldwell Banker Commercial.
The BlueView Portal was improved last year, using HTML5 to make it readable with user-generated content on iPads. “We were looking to go beyond simply dumping training content onto a small screen,” says Birnbaum. “While not all our experiments in mobile training were successful, Coldwell Banker believes in continuous innovation.”
Birnbaum adds, “We are living in a period of rapid change, which is only accelerating. New learning technologies arrive each year, and need to be assessed by your Learning Department for its ability to support the overall objectives of your company. At the same time, the sheer amount of information available is exploding, making it difficult to keep up.”
But don’t panic, Birnbaum emphasizes. “You don’t have to know everything,” he says. “And be aware that new technologies now are being developed that will help you to find, filter, and apply information in more intelligent and efficient ways.”