Survival of the fittest
HIDDEN AGENDA - Mary Ann LL. Reyes (The Philippine Star) - May 24, 2020 - 12:00am

The term “survival of the fittest” has been defined as the natural process by which organisms best adjusted to their environment are the most successful in surviving.

Many small and big businesses alike are finding ways not to earn profits but merely to survive these days. After all, the quarantine period is not going to last forever.

One business that is trying to survive by adapting and adjusting to the so-called “new normal” is the real estate industry. Just like other industries, property owners and other stakeholders are using online tools to remain in business. They are using online property marketplaces, using video conferencing tools to keep in touch with team members and prospective buyers to sell their property. At the same time, property owners and developers are also innovating to meet new requirements of property buyers.

In a webinar conducted by online real estate marketplace company Lamudi, Aboitiz Land chief executive officer David Rafael shared his thoughts on this new normal with Lamudi corporate accounts head Deborah Ong.

Having joined AboitizLand just last year, Rafael said he realized that since the company did not have enormous resources for sales and marketing initiatives like the big industry players, he had to turn to digital initiatives. This turned out to be a blessing since their online strategies were already in place even prior to the pandemic hitting businesses.

Rafael pointed out that the company has a dedicated digital group executing AboitizLand’s whole digital strategy, not because they anticipated COVID but due to necessity. By the time the health crisis happened, they were already relatively secure, he said.

But introducing digital as a key strategy in the company’s operations last year, Rafael emphasized, was not a particularly smooth journey since many of their sellers and marketers were still doing face-to-face meetings, trippings, and open houses which are the traditional ways of selling real property.

He said however that while convincing them to adopt the strategy was not difficult because they realized what AboitizLand is up against, the hard part was teaching them the process and techniques, getting them to learn the technology and making it as easy as possible to them.

For one, he mentioned that it was difficult for more seasoned sellers to break away from old habits, to change and accept a different strategy, especially if most of them have been successful for the longest time.

But while it seems like they’ve already “made it” in terms of proficiency in digital strategies, Rafael admitted that there’s a lot more to be done. He revealed that they’re only at 50 to 60 percent of the sales from pre-pandemic lockdown, with solely digital strategies rolled out, but market sentiments had to be factored in here, with many facing loss of jobs and feeling uncertain about the future.

Rafael said that a lot of their success is attributed to going digital and because of their early preparation in digital, contactless selling, they weren’t caught unprepared.

Called #BetterAtHome, AboitizLand’s contactless home-buying solutions campaign involves three stages which are similar to traditional selling. The first one involves prospecting or qualifying leads and according to Rafael, one must get as many qualified buyers as possible to solidify the pipeline of prospects. 

The second one is the selling itself, which involves the buyers knowing more about the product, its details, location, amenities, price, and payment schemes and all of which are available on their online platform.

Rafael explained that his team has been doing this by giving property seekers an opportunity to view virtual tours and materials on their website and Facebook pages, as well as request an actual video of the unit. Interested buyers can likewise book a meeting with a real agent from the channel itself, should they have more questions. They can easily do this by shooting a message to the company’s Facebook page or email address, he said.

The third one meanwhile is closing the sale, which involves buyers filling up forms and settling payments on the platform. The reservation agreement is online and can be signed with the e-signature feature. He explained that payments, the reservation and monthly amortizations, can be done through their official website or bank apps where AboitizLand is registered as a biller. 

And because some home buyers still prefer the traditional way and will never adapt to this new technology, Rafael said they are still be ready for that, and suggested the idea of phygital, the mix of physical and digital.

However, AboitizLand’s CEO stressed that the key to establishing trust with property seekers in a virtual setting is the property developer’s track record, “since it helps in reassuring clients that they’re doing business with a legitimate organization.”

He added that sellers likewise play a huge role in establishing trust, so they are trained to be ingrained in product knowledge as well as salesmanship.

I can easily relate to this. For the most part of the lockdown period, I have been searching the net for a condominium unit to rent in Metro Manila. I have tried a number of online real estate marketplaces. Since an onsite visit is not possible, I have to rely on the pictures and the description of the property that are posted. First, I find out who was the developer of the property. I limit my search to reliable names in the industry. But even if I find a reliable developer, there are times when the broker or the seller is far from being cooperative. They do not take time to give you a detailed answer to your questions, they do not respond immediately, they post bad photos provided by the property owner. But prospecting is only part of it. Once there is a meeting of the minds, how does one make payments? How does one fill up the contracts or send the requirements? Sellers have to be extra-patient these days because after all, seeing the property personally is still preferred and a prospective buyer or seller naturally will be posting and sending a lot of questions online.

Rafael described that “agility” best describes AboitizLand’s response to the current crisis, so that there was a real willingness on the part of their sales force to change and adapt immediately.

Even if the lockdown is over, he revealed that they are not going to ease up on their digital strategy and will continue to invest in areas like CRM, measuring the productivity of sales people.

For comments, e-mail at mareyes@philstarmedia.com

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