Discover MLS

Archive for April, 2012

Anatomy of a Good Installation

You usually only read about the bad installations of new products and services in the Real Estate industry.  As is the norm, most media published tends to be directed towards the bad, failed attempts or negative.  It seems to sell better to the public.

Announcements of new deals and partnerships hardly get read any more, or usually as only a passing gesture to kill time to see who is buying what from whom?

This article is going to be about a successful mobile product launch and about great partnerships and why it should be the norm.

Let’s start with the disruptive event:  Changing from one MLS vendor to a new one, launching a new version of a tax product, elimination of some products and services and the elimination of a critical search component within the MLS.

This all occurred the first week of April in Corpus Christi.  The leadership decided to change from one vendor platform to the Discover MLS platform.  In conjunction with this, they decided to upgrade their Realist tax product to the latest version on the same day.  They also decided to eliminate the use of a forms product, a CRM package and several other ‘linked’ products/services that some of the members were using.  Finally, they took away ‘Area’ from the listing input, reports and search capabilities from the MLS altogether.  This final decision was very political and disruptive enough in most situations to tackle by itself, in my experience.

Guess what?  With fairly nominal negative outcry, it all is working just fine and the members are actually getting over the ‘who moved my cheese’ moment with grace and acceptance.

As the selected vendor for the new MLS system, we entered into this situation with great expectations and some level of trepidation.  Lots of changes being pushed onto a membership all at one time is hard on leadership, but equally as hard on the vendor and their team that is out doing the training for the new system, as they are usually the ones to bear the responsibility of answering all of the questions regarding “WHY?”  Why can’t I search by Areas anymore?  Why do I have to accept the new ‘Terms and Conditions” for the tax system to work?  Why can’t I use the old MLS system anymore?  Why do I have to call a new phone number for support?  Why wasn’t I told this was happening?  No one told me about this!  Why, Why, Why???  Oh, and don’t forget the “Who” question:  Who made these decisions?

So, what went right?  First off, the Corpus Christi Association of Realtors and the Coastal Bend MLS decided months ago to make significant changes in how they were doing business.  They were losing members and money.   Many financial cuts, personnel cuts and services were being evaluated.  It wasn’t easy, but the leadership team came together, made hard decisions with some pretty significant input from users and plotted a course of action.  Then, they stuck to it!  Once most of the hard decisions were made (new MLS vendor, upgraded tax product, elimination of other products and services), work was still ahead of them.  They had to implement.

Three weeks before launch of the new MLS system, they decided to eliminate the ‘Area’ field.  Wow.  MLS vendor has to change the system, and modify our training approach.  However, in all of that, the leadership at Coastal Bend MLS decided to make sure that at least one of its volunteer leaders and one of the staff members would be present at all training sessions.  This was critical.  The ‘why’ and the ‘who’ questions could be addressed by one of their own members, not be vendor training staff who were there to answer the ‘how’ questions.  At no point did any of the sessions get out of control about the ‘why’ and ‘who’ issues and remained focused, allowing the members to actually begin the process of change with real information about how to maintain their business practices.  After all, this new system does everything the old system could, plus much more, just in a different way.  Training was accomplished effectively and efficiently—due to the partnership between vendor and customer.

Don’t get me wrong, things were difficult at times.  If anyone thinks that vendor changes or new product launches of critical services to Real Estate professionals is easy, let them stand in front of a room of anxious users who do not read advance notices (no matter how frequent or how far in advance they were sent out) about ‘exporting their contacts into a CSV file’ and become “ALARMED” and see what happens!  Reactions are either downright angry or hilarious!  As an example, one user claimed, with 10 days left to accomplish this simple feat, that ‘she couldn’t possibly find the time’ to export her 38 clients.

The point of all of this:  There IS an effective way to accomplish significant change and implementation of ‘disruptive’ product rollouts in the Real Estate industry without angry blogs and social networking sites getting blown up.  It involves strong leadership and great partnerships (not just legal documents) with vendors and communications with the users.  It takes flexibility on all parts (the MLS ‘Areas’ discussed here were left as a map overlay for those users who just couldn’t function without them), and it takes courage to do the things that you know have to be done.