The American dream no longer represents home ownership. Whether you’re looking to rent or buy, everyone wants the same thing: A place they call, “home.” Not a house, but a home. There is a difference.
Today, I am talking with Chris Litster, CEO of Buildium, which helps property managers handle properties, leases, tenants, and units. Chris shares how property management firms should focus on customer service, relationships, and reputation.
[06:53] Service Oriented, Relationship Focused: Avoid treating residents, owners, or vendors adversarially, if you want to be a successful property management firm.
[07:43] Millennial and Baby Boomer generations view home ownership as a burden. When things change, personally or professionally, they want to be able to move.
[09:25] One reason to rent is to avoid dealing with and doing maintenance. Time is better spent focusing on other priorities.
[11:19] Multiple generations want technology from property management companies to automate payments, submit maintenance request, and perform other tasks.
[12:04] People demand a strong relationship with their property management “firm.” Their moving away from using the term, “Landlord,” because of the baggage it brings.
[12:25] Property managers should make their language more friendly and appealing.
[15:50] Property management firms should shift their mindset to be service-oriented and understanding to have stronger relationships and less resident turnover.
[17:40] Property managers have a massive network and influence with owners, tenants, potential residents, and others. They can cause a ripple effect and change the world.
[19:50] Every property manager says they’re the only good ones. All others are terrible. A mindset of scarcity has been falsely created in the industry.
[20:50] Low levels of awareness and perception impact a business’s ability to grow.
The industry needs collaboration over competition.
[22:41] Buildium believes, knows, and has evidence that service orientation and relationships matter.
[25:38] Core principle and goal of technology is to take care of customers and solve their problems efficiently.
[28:53] Strategic vs. Tactical Timing: Expanding and growing a business takes time and effort. Automating processes gives you time to think strategically.
[30:57] SEO Lottery Addiction: Spending revenue on SEO won’t generate ROI.
[37:21] Ladder of Autonomy: Companies that understand their business, customers, message, and differentiator are at the top level and benefit everyone involved.
[38:43] Fundamental Funnel Basics: Brand, pricing, reputation, Website, sales process.
American dream no longer represents home ownership.
Landlord Stereotype: Evil person who collects your rent, but doesn’t take care of things.
Low levels of awareness and perception impact a business’s ability to grow.
The industry needs collaboration over competition.
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Jason: All right, we are live. Welcome, DoorGrow hackers to the DoorGrow Show. If you are a property management entrepreneur that wants to add doors, make a difference, increase revenue, help others, impact lives, and you are interested in growing your business and life, and you are open to doing things a bit differently, then you are a DoorGrow hacker.
DoorGrow hackers love the opportunities, daily variety, unique challenges, and freedom that property management brings. Many in real estate think you’re crazy for doing it, you think they’re crazy for not, because you realize that property management is the ultimate high-trust gateway to real estate deals, relationships, and residual income.
At DoorGrow, we are on a mission to transform property management businesses and their owners. We want to transform the industry, eliminate the BS, build awareness, change perception, expand the market, and help the best property management entrepreneurs win. I’m your host, property management growth expert Jason Hull, the founder and CEO of DoorGrow. Now, let’s get into the show.
Today, I have a special guest. I am here hanging out with Chris Litster, the CEO of Buildium. Chris, welcome to the DoorGrow Show.
Chris: Hey, Jason. How are you? Thanks for being here. Thanks for having me. I’m just flabbergasted by that opening. The energy, I could already feel it. It’s going to be a great hour.
Jason: Yeah. I put quite a bit of thought into that little intro.
Chris: It’s great. It’s fantastic.
Jason: Yeah. We’re pretty passionate about this and we want to champion a cause here. Chris, I’m really excited to have you on. I love to get a little bit of background on you and how you got connected to Buildium. Give us a little history here.
Chris: Sure. I’ve been with Buildium now for just over a little bit of 2½ years. I have been in the SMB or the small- and medium-sized business market space for probably 15–20 years. I’ve been in tech for a lot longer than that. I was with IBM for a while, a couple of other tech companies, then I landed at Constant Contact in 2006. It was an email marketing firm for small businesses like MailChimp and a couple of other players in that space.
I was with Constant Contact for 10 years, started with them, they’re pretty small, and that when we grew them and scaled with a great team at Constant Contact. Ultimately, ended up selling them three years ago, selling Constant Contact. Took a year off to reacquaint myself with my wife and three boys. During that 10 years they have the short end of the stick as we’re building Constant Contact.
During that time off, I had the opportunity, through different acquaintances and such, to meet the former CEO and one of the founders of Buildium, Michael Monteiro, who I know that you had on this show. Michael, at that point, was interested in just talking with folks who had scaled companies before. Buildium was on the verge of that inflection point of really scaling and revenue growth was starting to really accelerate. Michael and the team at that time over the past 12 years or so, had grown Buildium to where it was. Now, because of our great product, great team, and great customers, we are ready to go to the next level.
We started talking and it took three times of meeting each other. Finally, it was either he or maybe it was I who had said, “Hey, wait a minute. Do you want me here and did you say, ‘Hey, would you want to join us?’” I wasn’t really ready to jump back into the space yet but there’s so many great things going on here at Buildium that I decided to. The fact that Buildium again was focused of small and medium business was something that really attracted me because this is where I get my passion from the small business folk. The fact that it was then focused on one vertical instead of hundreds, that being property management on the residential side, I jumped in.
I joined a couple of years ago as the Chief Customer Officer and for that, I was responsible for sales, marketing, partners, support, and success. I did that for the next year, year-and-a-half or so. Around that time, Michael and I started talking about Michael looking to transition out of the CEO role. He’s been the CEO since founding—that was 12 years or so—and we started talking. Last July, we went through the transition. I have now been the CEO since last July and I’m loving every minute of it.
Jason: Cool and what’s he up to now?
Chris: Michael and Dimitris, our other founder, are both advisers here at Buildium. Dimitris has a couple of things going on but he’s here a couple of days a week helping us out with some of the larger initiatives that we have going on. Michael’s here a couple of days a week advising me, the rest of the exec team. They’re both active board members for Buildium. It’s just great having them both here because it just adds to that continuity, builds on the history. I can turn to him and say, “Hey, this customer that’s been around for 10 years. How did we get them and what were the things that they were looking to do 10 years ago?” so that when I go and meet them, I know the history that they’ve had with Buildium and how we’ve helped them grow.
Jason: Great. The topic that we had discussed or that we had down is homes, not houses. Let’s get into that. What do you mean by homes, not houses?
Chris: Great question. I’m sure, as many people know, Buildium is in the residential space, as far as helping property managers with our platform to manage their properties, manage their leases, tenants, and units. Also on the accounting side. We have 16,000 customers, we’re managing on the platform about 1.8 million units, and through that, we have the ability to not only talk and speak with our customers in the residence, but also because of our partnership with NARPM and a few other things, we do a ton of research.
We have most certainly seen over the past couple of years, this trend where the idea of the importance of relationships between the property management firm and their residents has really taken on a new and different light where relationships have become so important. As part of that, the realization that regardless of if you rent or if you buy a home, everyone is looking for the same thing. Even when you are a renter, you are actually looking for a place that you can call home. The idea of referring to this as a rental property or a rental unit, in the minds of the resident, they’re really looking to understand and get that feeling of, “Hey, I’m going to call this home.”
Why are they doing that? Because frankly, there’s many trends that are going on, both at, let’s say, the millennial segment as well as in the upper segments of the baby boomers, where this idea of the American Dream where it used to represent home ownership no longer really stands for that. It’s the whole idea of that, ‘I just want to find a home.’ By calling it a home and not a house, what we’re trying to do is bring that idea of belonging and bring that idea of where can I put my roots down. Just for the fact that I didn’t sign a mortgage and I have a rental agreement, doesn’t mean that my aspirations are different somehow.
Because of that, property management firms should really take that idea really as far down the road as they can and understand that they have to be service-oriented. They have to be relationship-focused. This idea sometimes of looking at residents or your owners or your vendors in somewhat of an adversarial way, is no longer something that you can do if you really want to be a successful 21st century property management firm.
Jason: That makes a lot of sense. I think part of the challenge is that nowadays, millennials and the younger generation, a lot of them see home ownership as a burden. They see it as a tether in a lot of situations. We live in a day and age in which people can work from coffee shops, they can have freedom, they can travel, and jobs change. It’s no longer the day and age where people will stay in the same career sometimes for just 20 years. When things are changing, they want to be able to move.
I think also, one of the reasons I’ve always enjoyed renting was I didn’t have to do the maintenance stuff. I do want to have to deal with that. I either have to hire a house manager to manage the property for me or have a property manager that helps manage those things for me. I don’t want to have to deal with that. My time is far better spent on my business, with my family, those kind of things, and that’s not just a priority for me. I don’t have any sort of kick out of doing that stuff.
Chris: Exactly and that’s not only. So, 100% on the millennial side. The idea that even though they may only be a resident for a year or two years, again, they still want to have that strong feeling of being able to call this their home. The same thing, for different reasons, is on the baby boomer generation. Here we now have this generation who are quickly becoming empty nesters left, right, and center, and they now have really no more great use for the large house that they have in the suburbs. They have all this space, again to your point, they no longer want to have to clean in every week and they no longer want to maintain this beautiful house. So, what they’re doing is actually selling their houses.
We’re seeing a big trend of, for example, there’s a brand new neighborhood here in Boston that has just grown over the past decade or so called the Seaport. Many empty nesters are moving into the Seaport and renting. Actually, they’re renting it with some of the leases are almost renting at will, a three-month lease, a half year lease, for the same reasons that you talked about. They want to now travel. They want to have that flexibility that, should they want to pick up and explore another part of the country or another country altogether, they don’t want to be burdened, like you said, tethered down by the fact that they’re carrying this mortgage. That is changing on the top end as well.
The interesting thing that binds these two segments together, these two parts of our industry together, is they’re both asking for technology. They’re both asking for technology with their property management companies for automation of payments, understanding, “Hey, if I have burst pipe, I don’t want to have to call but rather perhaps tell Alexa that there’s a burst pipe or you log into the portal to put in there maintenance request.
Even though many people look at millennials and baby boomers as quite different—in many cases they are—there’s a huge intersection in the property management space that both of these segments share. The largest one that we’re seeing, there’s two. One, again is around technology and the other one is demanding a really strong relationship with their property management firm and actually moving away from even using the word ‘landlord’ because there’s just so much baggage in that word. But saying, “My property management company,” or, “My property manager,” it really works to strike in the relationship that they’re looking to have.
Jason: Let’s talk a little bit about the language then because I think that does matter. I think you’re right. The word ‘landlord’ is always been displayed or the archetype of the landlord is this sort of evil person that you have to pay rent to and that doesn’t take care of things. This is what you’ll see in shows. They’re often this great antagonist in virtually any show.
Because we’re talking about homes, not houses, what sort of language should a property manager be using? How should we be rephrasing this to make things a bit more tenant-friendly and shifting towards being more appealing towards residents?
Chris: That’s it. That last word you just used. We strain and really speak with our property management customers about the idea of resident versus tenant. There’s just a deeper meaning around resident as opposed to lacking emotion the word tenant. As the title of what we’re talking about here today, wherever you have that opportunity, use the word home as opposed to unit. Unit is so devoid of any emotion. Even if it’s a rental apartment or even if it’s a multifamily property, when you’re talking with the residents, talk it in a sense of their home.
And the idea of partnership. We talked about looking for a deeper relationship amongst all of the different constituents that our property management company works with. Instead of looking at it as us and them, you talk about the partnerships. The partnership that you have together with your vendors, the maintenance vendor or your service partners. The partnership that you have with your owner. So really, getting away from, again, that adversarial type of thing and being deliberate about using this language and taking the time to check yourself as a property management firm, to make sure that you’re using that language that holds your constituents or your partners in, as opposed to setting up that wall between you and your resident, you and your vendor, or you and your owner.
Jason: Got it. I’ve heard some property managers joke that calling your clients your owners has this psychological negative impact. If you call somebody your owner, they own you. You’re like a slave to them.
Chris: Yeah. You reminded me of another one. Definitely that idea of client versus owner, tenant versus resident, service partners instead of, “This is my landscaper or roofer.”
Jason: I like the idea of service partners instead of just vendors. The latter sounds pretty cold. All right, we’ve addressed several target audiences here that are connected to property management. Tenants instead of our residents, owners instead of our clients, vendors instead of service partners. Are there any other groups we’re missing here?
Chris: No. I think, yes, it’s language but if you look at the property management firm itself, there’s a mindset shift that needs to happen. It’s that idea of being service-oriented and being understanding that if you get that service-orientation, you’re going to have stronger relationships and you’re going to then hopefully have residents who stay in your properties longer, so then not having to deal with your turnover expense, the constant ins and outs, and just building those bonds.
Ultimately, again, building the language with that mind shift. We have customers that are just living into this idea. Not only are they growing, they start to get a reputation for this. We know in our space, word of mouth is so important that they’re seeing people coming to them and saying, “Hey, I’ve heard that you really are doing something different and you really are looking to help with the service perspective. And on top of that, you’re using some cool technology that helps build on the relationships.”
This idea of technology taking out the human factor is not what we’re talking about. Being a technology vendor, some people are somewhat surprised to hear that. We look at technology being the enabler, to help firms become more efficient so that they then have the time to be able to focus on building these relationships, making sure they’re service-oriented, and making sure frankly that they’re differentiating themselves from everybody else in the pack.
Jason: I think that’s a really important distinction. Going back to what you’re talking about, you’re talking about with residents, with clients, service partners, you’re talking about just in general being a more respectful company honoring other people, caring about other people. I really believe that property managers have a massive network. They have a massive ripple effect between all the owners, all the tenants, all the different people that they connect with, even potential residents, they are able to have quite a big influence. It can be a bunch of little micro interactions that are negative, and it can be lots of micro interactions that are positive. That little shift, even in language and little things. This is what gets me excited about our company, DoorGrow, and impact that we get to have through our clients. But I really believe that good property management can change the world.
Chris: I completely believe that. I’m with you 100%. That’s so great.
Jason: So, good property management can change the world. Bad property management […] industry and it can have a massive ripple effect either way.
Chris: Well, think about this. To you’re point, driving and if you’re commuting somewhere, we know that property management firms love to have the banners, love to have the advertising, “This building is managed by so-and-so.” If they have a bad reputation, people that are two, three, or four degrees away from that actual company, there’s a good change that they know of that reputation. So, even though I’m not directly involved in XYZ property management firm, when I drive into Boston every morning, I know of folks, those that aren’t even our customers, I know the reputation that they have. I think that’s a good example of that ripple effect. They’re always out there. You can’t miss those banners. There’s just this constant on of this advertising for these property management firms, that if they don’t have that great reputation to back it up, like you said, it can impact them pretty directly.
Jason: I think it’s even bigger than that and I want everyone listening to realize this. A lot of property managers I talk to, they say, “Well, we started our company because there weren’t any good companies in our market,” or they tell me, “We’re the only good ones. All the other ones are terrible.” But everyone says that.
What’s interesting is I think some people have this mindset of scarcity that I think has been falsely created in this industry. In single family residential, according to Iceberg Group, we’ve got about 70% that are self-managing. There’s tons of blue ocean, tons of available potential market share, and yet everybody’s been fighting over the coldest, worst, most difficult leads.
I think the thing to realize is that there really isn’t scarcity right now in the US. There really is not and the thing that I really want listeners to pay attention to is that the companies that have bad reputations in your market are hurting your ability to grow your company because of that. The awareness level is low and the perception level is low. Those two things are impacting your ability to grow.
I think what the industry needs right now is collaboration over competition. Collaboration allows you to feel safe helping your competitors. A rising tide raises all ships is sort of true but it sinks some because the tide is low in the industry as a whole. Some of those ships are not seaworthy and they’ll sink. But I think if you can lift up the ones that are seaworthy, there’s going to be a lot more business to go around. The ones that are at the top promoting the industry are going to be the ones that win.
Anytime there’s a new business category in the US, the person that builds the category instead of their own individual brand is the winner. Google built the category of internet search. Now we google everything. Whether you’re on any other search engine, “I’m going to google it.” Kleenex built the category of disposable paper facial tissue. Everyone was using handkerchiefs before that. So now, Kleenex is synonymous with any tissue. “Give me Kleenex.”
Property management has been held back, I believe, and has a huge opportunity to grow. It’s been around for decades but the problem is the awareness level is on par with brand new industries. I don’t even know of any other new industries that exist in the US that are as young in reputation, perception, and that sort of infancy other than maybe marijuana, vaping and these kind of things. Property management can be as big, I think, as the real estate industry. It has that potential. We barely scratched the surface.
Chris: I completely agree. It’s funny that you used the all the boats rising because we talk about that all the time here at Buildium. We talk about the idea that this industry is ripe for so many things as far as growth and a little bit of disruption, as far as technology adoption, and it’s all for the idea of introducing the true human element into the industry. Further, this idea that everyone who really buys into that is then going to rise up because as you said, I think there’s enough pie for everybody.
It’s really interesting when we’re at either some of our meetups or we’re at NARPM, there is a real camaraderie around those folks. You can almost tell those folks that have really been successful around this idea of understanding, it’s the strength of relationships that count. Why? They’re not threatened by the other property management firms because they know that their relationships are solid, that their residents, their clients, their service partners are going to stay with them, because they know the reason that they’re going to stay with them. They don’t mind talking with other PMCs because they know that they’re solid in their business.
What really working here to try to bring that element, obviously in addition to the technology. But there is a change that needs to happen and frankly, it’s not just a, “Hey, we think you should change.” What we’re saying is, “We 100% believe, know, and have evidence that people who take this idea of service orientation, this idea of relationships matter, and using technology to get to those, we know it works.”
Again, 16,000 customers and we have so many of them that are successful, who have bought into that entire idea. What do they have? They have happy long-term residents, they have happy clients, and they have happy service partners that aren’t going to go anywhere else because they know they’re in it together. That’s what we’re looking to really continue to help and help the entire industry here, which is really exciting.
To your point, there’s an opportunity here that not too many industries have. We have seen research that says that the property management industry is the third highest industry in interaction with constituents, let’s say, because they have to deal with residents, they have to deal with their clients. That idea of total interaction and ongoing interaction with people, it’s the third highest. What are the other two? Hospitality and retail. That’s pretty good company that they’re in and hospitality and retail understand that relationships matter. Now, it’s time for the third person or the third set in this industry to realize that.
Jason: That’s really an interesting little factoid right there. Let’s go back to what you mentioned earlier. You’re talking about tech enables you to spend more time on relationships. I think there is this mythical creature that everybody’s chasing after that looks like this robot that will run their business for them. They can cut out relationships and they can have this business that runs itself. It could be super easy. I think when we chase that mythical creature, we end up chasing a pipe dream. It becomes really difficult and we alienate ourselves from our customer base.
I think that’s an important thing to point out what you’ve mentioned earlier. I love technology. I’m a total nerd, I love it, I love automation, I love geeking out on this stuff. But the whole goal of all of it, everyone needs to remember the core principle that it’s about your customer. It’s all about giving your customer more depth. I think instead of trying to hit more people, more superficially, more quickly, we need to figure out how to go more deep, more personal, and connect more with more people. If that becomes the focus, then we can leverage technology and automation to take care of the mundane, while we focus on the relationships and getting us personal and as deep as possible.
I’ve noticed that a general rule I give to my team, that if any is a sticky or difficult communication, or situation, or somebody’s not happy, we want to go as personal as possible. The most personal would be in person. Second most would be a video call like this. Third would be maybe a phone call. But it needs to be as personal as possible because it just calms the situation down, it makes things easier, and really that’s what people want. People want to be taken cared of. A business only exist if it’s serving somebody and if it’s solving their problems and their pains. That’s only the reason a business exist. You cut yourself off from the customer, you’re really killing your ability to have a business.
Chris: Right. Do you want to come and do our copywriting? You’re hitting on every single thing that are just so fundamental to what we believe here at Buildium. The idea of using technology for technology’s sake is a non-starter. The idea of using technology, as you talked about, to serve something and what we truly believe, after talking with our customers and understanding the industry, that using technology leads to the greater efficiency that offers you the ability to then spend your time where you can and where you should from an important business perspective.
There are two things. The efficiency brings your ability to spend time with, again, your various partners or clients and your residents. So really, get to know them, to really understand them, to really interact with them because now you don’t have to be chasing them for, let’s say, the rent payment because that’s automated. You don’t have to be chasing them for understanding their tasks, their needs from a maintenance perspective because that’s automated.
Rather, what you need to talk with them about is, “Hey, am I meeting your expectations to help you build this home, this idea of a home?” “Hey, am I meeting your expectations as my client?” “Hey, how can we think of growing this business together?” That’s the second part.
The second part is how do I look to grow my business? If your goal as a property management firm is to continue to expand, that takes a lot of time. That takes a lot of effort. You really need to understand what type of properties you’re really good at, what types of residents you really want to have, what type of clients you really want to get in business with. That’s not something you can just do haphazardly. You have to work at it. You have to plan at it.
If you’re not focused on, as you said, those things that can be repeated and processes that can be automated, that gives you the time to really think of you business strategically to continue to help grow. You are, in a directed fashion, going after and driving how you want to grow your business, so you’re growing your business and your business isn’t growing in spite of you or growing at you. You’re taking control of it and you’re working in a methodical way now to grow your business and become more efficient.
Jason: You mentioned something that stood out to me, talking about strategic timing. This is one of the first things we have clients do when they come aboard with us, is we have them do a time study to get really clear on how much strategic time they’re spending in the business and how much tactical time. Usually, their strategic and tactical ratio is almost 99% tactical. It’s like everything is completely tactical. You’re just doing work in the business. You’re handling emails. You’re doing phone calls. You’re dealing with your calendar. You’re just working. Business can’t grow if there isn’t strategic time. Strategic time is the time you spend to focus on growth. If that doesn’t exist, you won’t be growing.
I think another thing that’s important to point out is you talked about how customer service and relationships really matters. One thing to point out that I think a lot of property managers listening, I talked to hundreds of property management business owners that they want to do good customer service. They want to be the good company. I don’t think of of them wake up in the morning and say, “I want to be terrible to tenants, I want to be terrible to my owners, and fight terrible customer service.”
I think one of the big things holding them back is that the entire industry is addicted to the SEO lottery. The SEO lottery is a losing game for the majority but you get a few noisy winners that hit the jackpot. They tell everybody how they built their business and grew things, they get the top spot in Google, and everybody chases after this myth or this thing like they’re playing the slot machine in Vegas. It’s harmed the entire industry because if the company is spending their hard-earned revenue on SEO, pay-per-click, pay-per-lead, content marketing, social media marketing, and they’re not getting an ROI, then the first thing to go is customer service. They’re worst off than if they have just not spent the money in the first place because they didn’t get an ROI. So, then the first thing to go is that customer service. They’re not growing. There isn’t growth. There isn’t going to be customer service.
So, if anybody’s listening, shameless plug, talk to DoorGrow. We help people get out of that problem and then you can move. I find that when people solve that problem, the next thing they want to focus on is everything else. They want to focus on systems and processes, building a team, creating culture, focusing on the customer, and then they get in to making a difference. But when you’re starving, you’re not too focused on anybody else.
I think there’s a Chinese proverb that says, “Your own toothache is more important to you than a million people dying on the other side of the world,” or something like that.
Chris: I have not heard of that one. That’s pretty interesting.
Jason: I may have adapted it, but…
Chris: I agree with you. I agree, let’s say 99%, and the reason being is because we’re also, as part of the growth aspect of what we offer and what the industry likes is that we do have the whole property management side of our business. However, I’m going to caveat with that, there is a massive impact of relationship and reputation in that side of the business as well. Why? Because you have prospective clients going to that side and going that that marketplace, and ultimately being exposed to local property management firms because they’re interested in having a third party manage their properties for a myriad reasons as to why they no longer want to self-manage.
There is a reputation and relationship aspect that plays into that exposure as well, because again, it goes back to the banners on the side of the building ad that I’ve talked about. When you are exposed to potentially these three, four, whatever other property management firms, if you have a good reputation, I will contend that that owner probably has heard about you. If you have a bad reputation, they’ve probably have heard about you as well and they immediately are going to discount you. If you have a good reputation and they see that, “Okay, this property management firm has said, ‘Yes, I’m open to looking to get more greater properties under management,’” they’re going to turn to that, one that they have a little inkling as far as, “Oh, yeah. I’ve heard that this is a good firm.”
I agree with you about the vast majority of what we’ve just talked about. However, reputation and relationships even matter in that space, too. What goes of value, of all the channels, it’s not binary. It’s not the idea of, “Oh, I can just,” to your point, “focus on this execution aspect and not stuff over here,” because this stuff over here is also going to matter in whatever marketing channel or marketing activity you use.
Jason: Absolutely. If somebody shores up all the major league should exist in the sales pipeline all the way from awareness to closing a contract, then it makes sense absolutely to do different advertising methods, all probably management. But if you have a massive leak where you have this horrible reputation online, or your website doesn’t create trust or convert or answer their core questions, or your pricing is off in your market, or your branding is off like they think you’re a real estate company or something generic with properties or they’re confused, there’s a lot of potential pitfalls.
If you have all those pitfalls, you can turn the spigot on full-blast and it’s not going to work very well. If you have those things tight, you can squeeze blood from a stone and you can use allpropertymanagement.com, you can do SEO services and focus on that, maybe get more business. But you need to make sure that you end up foundation of it, like you said, is word of mouth and reputation. That’s going to trump everything.
It’s like a clamp on the pipeline. You could have everything else in alignment but if you have really bad reputation, they’re going to check you out. Even if your website’s amazing, even if your advertising and copywriting are on point, they’re going to go check you out because they want to feel safe. If you’re a one-star company, they’re going to feel a little bit nervous talking to you, and then you’re going to have to figure out how to spin it. Like, “Oh, the tenants just hate us but the owners love us or something like that.
Chris: This is something from a small business perspective that it’s not only property management but it’s everywhere. It’s that idea and I think what you’re saying is shoring up your business model before you pour a ton of gas on the top of what we call a funnel. I can’t tell you the number of not only property management firms but owners from all different types of SMBs.
When you start to talk with them and they want to do that top of funnel stuff, they want to do all of that because sometimes that’s more attractive. It leaves a more sexy type of activities about growing your business. Then when you go, “Okay. Well, are you going to be able to keep that? Are you going to be able to get a response to that lead within a matter of minutes? Are you going to be able to service that prospect all the way through? And then are you going to be able to keep that prospect if they become a customer for a long time because you’re all service?” That’s when you start to see the whole, “No, I can’t do that. No, I can’t follow-up. I really don’t understand that. I don’t really have good service levels.”
It’s very hard for folks to say, “Wow, that would be a waste of money, actually, to really expand my top of funnel work until I get,” like you just said, “everything shored up.” When that happens, you know it.
For us here, we talk about the ladder of autonomy. It’s kind of a 50s phrase but companies that are just existing or at the bottom of the ladder. Customers have this level of autonomy because they have all their you-know-what together, they understand their business, they understand their customers, they understand their message, they understand the differentiator, they’re working on a completely different level than other folks in their industry, notably on the property management side.
Our whole goal is to get everybody up to that top level on the ladder so everyone, again, we think will benefit from it, the ripples, the network effect that you talked about is going to be there. Who’s going to benefit as well? Residents, clients, and service partners.
Jason: Yeah and that’s why at DoorGrow we shifted our focus just to help optimize that whole funnel so it makes sense. Once you have that dialed in, everything is more effective. […] is more effective, Google Ads is more effective, everything becomes more effective when you take care of those things. I usually use the analogy, it’s like trying to do bodybuilding and you’re not eating food and sleeping but you take some really great supplements. Supplements are not going to cut it, but supplements can really help you get to the next level, probably, if you take care of the foundational basics.
Dialing your brand, your pricing, your reputation, your website, your sales process, all these things that are in the funnel, these are the basics. These are […] any business, like you said.
Chris: It’s […], Jason. I love that that’s your philosophy. It’s so important. And also, everyone here at Buildium is going to be psyched that I said the word funnel a number of times because I talk about […] company.
Jason: I love the idea of a funnel. It’s a great metaphor as well. Is there anything else we should discuss here on this idea of homes, not houses? If not, let’s let you plug something.
Chris: I think we covered it. Again, the idea of more and more over the years, we think it’s going to become almost a requirement. Those folks that are grabbing on to it today, competition is there, things are hotter than ever, and it is not nice to have anymore. Other industries have been disrupted through this very same idea and now, we see evidence, we talk with our customers, we talk with general folks that aren’t even our customers in the industry, and we really see this big wave coming.
Luckily, it’s also a cool time because the technology is there to enable the way to become more efficient through those processes that you talked about that are more on the just everyday ongoing type of things. Technology is there now to really allow this to happen. It is an exciting time. It’s an exciting time to be a vendor, it’s an exciting time to be a service provider in this space as you guys are, to see where it really goes. Just the whole property management industry is pretty hot right now and I just like to be a part of it. It’s really exciting.
Jason: Chris, it’s been great having you on the show. I feel like we had a lot of synergy. I really like you. You strike me as a visionary entrepreneur, a decade building up Constant Contact, all this kind of stuff. Not every company is lead by a visionary. I always feel safer with a company that is led by a visionary entrepreneur. That’s why I use T-Mobile, that’s why I have Apple products. I feel like there’s always been these visionaries at the helm of these companies.
One thing I want to point out, to plug Buildium or make them look maybe even better, is we’ve been talking all about being focused on the customer, being focused on your customer, serving your customer. We’ve been talking about that for property management companies, but I’m getting the sense that this is how you and your company view dealing with your own constituents, your own customers, that you want to serve their needs, make a difference for them, and not just squeeze dollar out of them.
Jason: And to that point, some companies are focused primarily, first and foremost, as to serve investors. There’s a different focus there instead of serving their constituents. I think there’s been a lot of talk about this and a lot of pain by people in some other property management software and it’s really difficult to switch.
So, maybe you can touch on that difference a little bit with Buildium and maybe you can tell us how does somebody switch this? Somebody listening might be like, “Hey, maybe I like this guy Chris. I’d rather have him at the helm where I’m tethering my whole business to.”
Chris: Yeah. I hope there’s a lot of people that have that reaction. It is a core, foundational reality that we love here at Buildium. It’s something that Michael and Dimitris started years ago. It’s something that I 100% believe in. I think that’s why Michael and I hit it off so well so quickly. It’s actually the core essence of every single Buildium and there’s more than 200 of us now that believes in. We do not believe that we’re going to be a 100-year company who changes the face of property management if that’s not at our core and it is.
There’s a reason why we believe that customer success and customer support is not a function in a company but it’s everybody. There’s also a reason to believe that we’ll stay on the phone with customers for however long they need it. Again, property management on the accounting side is pretty involved. We’re not talking about accountants. We will stay on the phone and we will ride out the basic T account and say, “Here’s your debit, where’s the credit?” and we will walk them through that. Why? Because it leads to that relationship and then it leads to that idea that our customers are going to stay with us longer, they’re not going to think about jumping even if there’s a cheaper price or less expensive offering, and they’re going to tell their friends. Word of mouth in this space is so important as it is for our customers. It’s so important for us.
This is not corporate baloney that we’re talking about. It is something that we talk at every single company meeting, we talk about every single functional meeting. We have people listening to our phone calls all the time. We have people out in the field, employees are out in the field meeting with customers. You got to fly to California? Go fly to California. It’s going to pay off with the lifetime relationship that we end up with our customers.
How can people switch and if they are interested in getting to know me? email@example.com. Just email me. We have our standard customer success or support line. It’s on buildium.com. I have literally dozens, hundreds even, customers that I know personally, that the rest of my executive team, leadership team, and all of the Buildians. We know these customers. Just because we’re 16,000 strong doesn’t mean that you’re just a number. We will be here for anything that you need.
We just had customers up here the other day. We have a brand new office, which is great because we grew out of our other one and we spent the whole day with these customers just answering whatever questions in doing whatever we tend to do. It is a core element of what makes Buildium, Buildium and to your point, we 100% believe it. It sets us apart from the pack. It creates space between us and other folks. Frankly, we’re only going to build on it and we’re all going to make it better so that space is just going to get bigger and bigger.
Again, thank you for the visionary aspect. I think also, other folks are focused on just the technology, all product. We have a very good to great product that already throws a ton of value at our customers, that is only continuing to get better. We’re investing heavily in it but we’re also investing heavily in the relationship side. It is something that we have the ability to continue to grow and make even stronger. It’s not something that’s going to go away as we continue to expand.
I’ll also say, we have investors, too, and those investors couldn’t be more supportive of our vision, our mission, and the alignment we have around the idea that is the customer’s first always. It makes my job easier from a board perspective because they’re actually pushing me probably even more to make sure we don’t lose that, which is fantastic. I will always be. A hundred years from now, I won’t be here but I know the idea of customer’s first and always at Buildium will be.
Jason: Love it. Chris, really excited to connect, get to know you a little bit better, and hear a little more about Buildium.
Chris: Thank you so much.
Jason: And I appreciate you coming on the show. Where can people find Buildium?
Chris: buildium.com and they can find me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Jason: Perfect. All right. Chris, thanks so much for coming out.
Chris: Jason, I want to have you come out to Boston and see our nice new offices and spend some time with us.
Jason: Yeah, you’ll have to have me come out. I’ll check it out.
Chris: Love it.
Jason: We’ll hang out.
Chris: Yeah. It will be great.
Jason: We’ll talk shop. All right. Cool, Chris. Thanks for coming on.
Chris: Thanks. I’ll talk to you.
Jason: All right, great. It’s great having Chris on. So, if you are a property management entrepreneur that wants to add doors, and you want to make a difference, and some of the things in the show hit a pain point for you, then make sure to reach out to DoorGrow. We would love to connect with you. We also have a really clear vision that we want to transform this industry and make a difference. It’s not just hype for us. That’s what gets me fired up and excited. The clients that are closest to me know that. That’s why I do what I do. It’s super rewarding and fun for me to hang out with other entrepreneurs. I really enjoyed doing this conversation with Chris.
Make sure to check us out at DoorGrow. If you are not in our Facebook group and you want to be a part of a community where the tide is raising all the ships, make sure you get into the DoorGrow Club. Go to doorgrowclub.com. It’s a Facebook group. It will redirect into Facebook. doorgrowclub.com and it is free but it’s only for property management entrepreneurs. If you’re an entrepreneur in this space, you’re a business owner, you have a company, or you’re looking to start one, make sure you join our group and start getting […] in.
Thanks for tuning in. Until next time, to our mutual growth. Bye everyone.