Do you want an innovative realtor? I don’t! But, I’m grateful some people do!

I was just meeting with a realtor – a friend of a friend – to offer some ideas about marketing her real estate services. I was asking her to tell me about what words or phrases she believes would resonate with her prospective customers. In other words, would her customers want a realtor that was risk adverse or risk taking? Would they want a realtor that knew and repeated what had worked well in the past (to sell houses) or would they want someone who was cutting edge?

It was a very interesting exercise. Some phrases or words were obvious – experienced, knowledgable, familiar with their neighborhood, technically competent, etc. When we got to whether clients would want someone innovative. She quickly said – “of course, I want to be considered innovative…”  This is where it gets interesting.

Let’s step back for a minute and think about what an innovative service provider (or product) does. By definition, they do things differently. They try new things. They approach the problem differently. They take risks. They experiment.

Let’s think now about the application of these traits to a realtor trying to list high-end houses in a generally risk-adverse population (suburban, professional families). I’d suggest that almost none of those prospective customers want to talk to someone who is trying something different or risky. My hypothesis is that they’d actually prefer someone who is sophisticated, not innovative.

Here is the difference. Someone who is sophisticated knows what usually works and what usually doesn’t. She is experienced, perceptive and mature in her approach. She watches what other people do and learns what does and doesn’t work (she borrows successful ideas). Someone who is innovative is doing something that isn’t proven to work today. She tries new things and makes many more mistakes.

Is there a role for innovation in selling real estate? Of course. Will new ideas work better than the old ones? Almost never. But, the exception usually makes up, in the aggregate, over time, for the rule. Here is the point – it’s outstanding for all of us in the long run that there are realtors trying out new things, being innovative. But, for me personally, I’d rather have a sophisticated realtor sell my house. Let the innovative realtors experiment with someone else’s house. And, we should all be grateful that there are early adopters out there – willing to take the risk – which usually won’t pay off – to help the rest of us get better service in the future.

Here is the funny thing – I bet that if you replaced realtor with cell provider, automobile, shaving cream, food, etc; I bet that I’d still rather buy the mature, sophisticated product/service. What about you? Do you want to be the first user of a new food? The odds of finding the next truffle oil aren’t very good.

As almost every company selling any type of product or service today seems to be using the word innovative, I’d like to quote Inigo Montoya (Princess Bride): “You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.”


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