Your customer called

It’s real estate conference season, which means a good portion of the industry’s tech vendors have hit the road to schmooze, demo their products, and (hopefully) learn more about their target customers in the real estate business.

The good news is, the industry is hungrier than ever for technology solutions. The infusion of $1 billion in venture funding into the U.S. real estate market just last month alone was a clear sign that full-stack companies (i.e., those that build rather than license tech) like Compass and Redfin aren’t going away anytime soon.

Some of the big traditional real estate companies are joining the full-stacks through acquisitions, but that still leaves the rest of the industry to search for licensed solutions that can solve their problems and help them compete effectively.

That, of course, spells opportunity in the tech expo halls of real estate.

And I gotta say… things are looking good. When I glance through the list of companies that were chosen to demo at Realogy FWD in Madison, N.J., next month, I see some new approaches that are truly exciting.

With all this opportunity, it’s also going to get more and more competitive for vendors, which is a good thing for the industry. But it begs the question…

Which companies will be most successful in capturing this business?

Developers (often founders or co-founders in many startups) tend to dismiss the value of good marketing. But at some point, the reality is that it can and does make a difference.

The best products don’t always win, unfortunately. How they are positioned and articulated plays a big role, whether we like it or not.

Though I’ve never been a practicing agent or broker, as a former reporter and Managing Editor at Inman News, I’ve sat through hundreds of vendor pitches.

Some were game-changers … I’ll never forget the day two young guys from Stanford, Pete Flint and Sami Inkinen, came to my desk in our office in a converted warehouse in Emeryville to show me their new listings search site they were calling Trulia.

Others were snoozers … “virtual” tours that were nothing more than images set to elevator music, automated marketing that spit out meaningless content in “e-newsletter” format, or one of my personal favorites … user-generated content platforms that served exactly what purpose again?  

The winners always had a clear story, and an uncomplicated way of explaining it. They usually cut to the chase and answered the “but why?” that people being pitched immediately ask in their minds.

And the winners always understood exactly who their customer was. So many companies miss this critical step. They think their customer is simply “the broker” or “the Realtor” or even the “buyer” or the “seller”. They think their one and only desire is “leads” or “listings” and neglect to dig deeper.

I can tell by their language, which hangs on tech speak and features and lacks understanding and problem-solving.

For instance, if the customer is simply a “Realtor”, they’ve missed the point. What kind of Realtor? What problems do they face? What desires do they have? What are they worried about on a daily basis? Are they busy? Are they not? Are they concerned with image? Are they concerned with the market? Do they have a team? Are they just starting out?

These are the things that define customers and lead to effective marketing. And these are the things to nail down and understand before hitting any conference, or giving any pitch, in real estate. It shows in a marketing brochure, a sign or a sales pitch when this deeper thinking has or hasn’t been thought through.

It’s a wonderful new world out there. But it’s noisy. Now more than ever, a compelling story clearly told to your very specific customer can be the difference between winning and losing.

[Disclosure: Realogy is a 1000WATT client.]