Five Top Leasing Agent Skills for an Automated World
by Donald Davidoff | October 07, 2020
Of all roles in multifamily operations, few have changed more radically in the last year than that of the leasing agent. The COVID-19 crisis has forced change on leasing behaviors and processes, but as we have described on this blog, most of these changes were already underway before the pandemic. Self-touring was gathering pace, and companies like Avalon Bay were already pioneering the use of artificial intelligence (AI) leasing and declaring that they have cracked the "1 for 100" staffing model.
The COVID crisis hasn't changed the destination; it's just turbo-charged the pace at which we are getting there. It's important to consider what this rapid change means for leasing agents and how their role adapts to this rapidly-changing environment.
A leasing associate's job has always been unique, with its focus on sales in a service-oriented environment. But since every interaction with a potential prospect or resident is, by definition, unique, agents must also be highly adaptable. Most aspects of what makes for a good leasing agent haven't changed (after all, sales is still sales). But the emphasis of some skills and some key processes are changing.
Leasing agents still must be easy to get along with, have attention to detail, be good at administrative work and always be ready for a prospect to walk through the door or phone in. However, prospect behaviors have changed. Many have already scheduled their tours (whether through a call center or an AI bot), some have self-toured, and most are advanced in their decision process.
I've written before about the dangers of trying to hire to build a sales culture in multifamily operations; today, I'd like to share the key attributes you should be looking for when hiring. You'll notice that none of these attributes relate explicitly to multifamily experience. Time and again, we see very successful leasing associates who come from a variety of backgrounds and experiences. An effective sales process will enable all of these different individuals to be successful.
1. An ability to quickly get to know people
With the increase in self-help and AI-driven technologies, leasing associates are spending less time with prospects and usually much further into the prospect's decision process. This puts a premium on their ability to connect and quickly catch up to where the prospect is. This does not mean that associates must be bubbly extroverts—I think it was Daniel Pink who said, "I'd rather have an interested introvert than an interesting extrovert" as a salesperson.
While the latter is "flashy," the former is much more likely to connect, ask good questions and quickly learn what is most important to the prospect. This shift in focus becomes more critical as our leasing associates become less a source of information and more of a resource to help prospects make good decisions and reassure them that they will be well taken care of.
2. Demonstrated Success in Their Past
The greatest indicator of future behavior (and performance) is to look at how people behaved (and performed) in the past. To increase the odds of hiring a winner, look for someone who has won in the past. Use a broad definition of success. Maybe you're interviewing a 25-year-old looking for the first real job.
Take a look at what they did in college (or even high school). Were they an officer in their clubs or sororities? Were they leaders in student government? Did they organize the best parties? The bottom line is that someone who succeeded in the past is likelier to succeed in the future.
There is probably no attribute more powerful than genuine curiosity. When you think about it, great selling is all about the ability to ask great questions. Someone who is naturally curious can't help but ask questions and dig deeper—it's in their DNA. You know when you're talking to, or interviewing, someone who is curious because they'll be asking you questions.
4. Competitive Spirit
This is a complementary attribute to past success. Hire people who like to win. Find associates who want to win the contests, get a shout out at staff meetings and who are driven to improve. While competitiveness shows up in obviously competitive pursuits like athletics; it can manifest itself anywhere.
Maybe the person you're talking to loves to play dungeons and dragons. That's great – I want to know if they won. I know a young person who's doing great in sales. He was a horrible athlete, but he loved to play Yu-Gi-Oh (a fantasy card game). He loved to compete, entering tournaments all the time. He won several regional tournaments. Today he uses that competitiveness in sales.
Last, and certainly not least, I want a leasing associate who enjoys learning, wants to get better, is willing to listen and try new things. For several decades, the job of leasing didn't change much. Sure, we went from physical guest cards in a green metal recipe box to online tools, but that was a slight change in degree, not in kind. Now, the very nature and purpose of the job is shifting. While we can't be sure exactly where the job will be in the near future, it is obvious that it will be different than today.
That puts an even bigger premium on the need for adaptability, flexibility and thus, coachability. Give us someone coachable, and we can overcome any number of skills-associated weaknesses.
As we have predicted, the near future of leasing is going to feature extensive change. New technologies and prospect behaviors will contribute to a constantly-changing script. But the core attributes that make people good at selling to other people remain largely the same. Keep these five attributes in mind as you think about the skills you need to navigate the choppy waters ahead.