Giving Zolve.com’s referral engine a test run

In anticipation of my next referral opportunity, I decided to give the Zolve.com referral submission tool a bit of a test run.

My first concern is that the Customer Contact Information screen in Step #1 asks for fields best suited to a residential broker.  I would love to see a future version offer a drop-down box to select residential or commercial (perhaps even investor as well).  Upon selecting the appropriate the type, the most suitable contact fields would be displayed.  For instance, with a commercial client, it’s handy to be able to include company name and even website.

Under Referral Details on the same step of the submission process, we are offered radio buttons with three choices.  Using a hypothetical business client seeking to lease space in a new market, I selected “Referral to Real Estate Broker”.  Unfortunately, this then provides me with a Transaction Type drop-down with options of a) Selling Real Estate or b) Buying Real Estate.  Commercial leasing options are not addressed yet.  I chose to work around this by selecting “Referral to Real Estate Service Provider”, which prompted me with more flexible fields to complete details of an office lease requirement.  I didn’t like that the fields are text boxes, giving me too many options to complete the request, but this will only become a real issue if the data is to be used beyond the referral time frame, e.g. if it is to be mined by Zolve to evaluate usage and improve service.

I very much like Step #2.  The referral source is given the option of screening potential referral recipients.  You can include a message and even ask questions.  Special thanks for whoever implemented the feature of maintaining a frequently asked questions (FAQ) list for quick access.  When I went to select a couple of recipients from my Sphere, no contacts populated in the pop-up window, so that’s a bug that needs to be zapped.  I opted to “Skip this Step” and proceed to Step #3.

At Step #3 – “Send Referral Offer”, I appreciated that the “Rewarded to:” field did produce a pop-up window auto-populated with my Sphere members.  I selected a colleague from UGL Equis and the Terms of Referral section populated with an “On Line Referral Agreement”, outlining the terms of the referral and the guaranteed level of service on behalf of the referred client.  Zolve understandably includes a small fee to account for their support in the transaction.  One thing worth noting: there are two types of referral agreement and anyone who intends to give or receive referrals as a licensed real estate salesperson or broker needs to make sure that they a) correctly choose their profession when they register and b) update their license information to prove that they are, indeed, a licensed real estate agent.  Otherwise, the broker<->broker referral agreement is not available to select.

All told, this is a pretty comprehensive tool for managing referrals.  I certainly appreciate the long-term implications of using this tool.  Not only will we be able to rate the performance of our referral recipients, but our existing and prospective clients will be able to view those ratings.  As Brad Whiteman stated in his recent blog post on Win-Win approaches to the business, we have to pay attention to our primary responsibilities.  I anticipate that Zolve will create a foundation to ensure that only those real estate professionals who embrace honesty, integrity and fiduciary responsibility will rise to the top of this peer-reviewed engine.

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Finally, a real estate media outlet “gets it” – the first* discussion forum for commercial real estate professionals

“It”, in this case, is the new way that internet users expect web sites to behave.  Buzzwords like FaceBook, MySpace, LinkedIn, social networking and Web 2.0 are flying all over the place and new technologies and user interface elements are being embraced.  Of course, the technology sector tends to be the earliest adopter and younger users tend to demand the most in terms of social networking and interactivity.  However, these trends are taking a lot longer to be utilized by certain professional sectors, including law, accounting and real estate… until now.  Just yesterday I posted about Zolve.com and how it stands to truly innovate in the professional real estate services world by developing the first* exclusively real-estate-centric social network.

Imagine how elated I must be now that I have learned of an online forum, hosted by Commercial Property News (CPN), specifically dedicated to commercial real estate topics.  An extension of their online publication, CPN Connect will provide real estate professionals with the first* discussion boards to express their observations, opinions and concerns with trends and activities in our industry.  Since it’s still just been rolled out, there are a few wrinkles to iron out:

  • When replying to a message, some of the buttons in the Message Toolbar have missing or nonvisible icons, so you have to hover over the space to see what those buttons do.
  • The categories are currently only regional – Northeast, Midatlantic, Southeast, Midwest, Southwest, West and International.  Over time, I hope to see some expansion into either the 4 “flavors” of commercial real estate or forums dedicated to particular industries.
  • I appear to be the only person who has yet responded to posts.  Then again, this site has been live for perhaps one day, so I have to be patient.

The only thing for you to do now is head over to CPN Connect, register and start providing your own comments and posts.  After all, it’s not a dialogue if you’re doing it by yourself.

 * to the best of my knowledge

Is social networking for real estate professionals a “Zolve”d problem?

I am a big proponent of social networking.  As they say, word-of-mouth is the best way to win new business, so why not give those mouths a hand (no pun intended) with the latest tools.  LinkedIn was one of the first sites to focus on building stronger business relationships and networks.  I hopped onboard and now actively use it to meet new business contacts and maintain existing business relationships.

Because of the success I have experienced with LinkedIn, I was doubly excited when I heard about Zolve, the social networking site specifically for real estate professionals.  I took some time over the weekend to explore and I like what I see.  Designed primarily as a resource to help brokers and other real estate professionals to manage referrals, there are some great tools for

  • identifying professionals in your network who cover a particular market
  • tracking the process as they handle the referral business
  • reviewing their performance and professionalism through a rating system

The rating system, in particular, has me intrigued.  As I begin to manage referrals through the Zolve site, I will be tracking my performance and those of my colleagues.  I anticipate that there is some potential for abuse and hope that Zolve staff will maintain a watchful eye over the process as the site gets embraced by the community.

I am curious to see how long it remains purely focused on real estate professionals.  With the referral engine, any major industry that thrives on referral business (physicians, attorneys, etc.) could stand to benefit from similar functionality.  On top of that, I hope that the Zolve staff publishes performance reports accessible to real estate investors and occupiers, in a similar manner to Angie’s List, so that the users can benefit as much as the professionals.

The one major negative that I have experienced on the site is some poor site development.  Getting up and running with a full profile took me about an hour and I’m fairly technical.  I still do not have my entire profile established because some functionality still is not properly implemented or lags too much to be useful, but for a first round tool, the Zolve team has done a commendable job.

In case you are curious, you can click here to access my Zolve profile – See my profile on Zolve

Federal government embraces green building and energy efficiency, gives itself pat on back

David Winstead, commissioner of the US General Service Administration (GSA) Public Buildings Service (PBS), contributed an article in the latest issue of CoreNet’s The Leader magazine.  Entitled Sustainability and Energy Efficiency: The Government’s Landlord Leads by Example, Winstead writes about the myriad accomplishments of the GSA in sustainable design, construction and operations across its massive portfolio of 350 million square feet of space.  For those of you who don’t know, the General Services Administration serves as an effective landlord for many bodies and agencies of the federal government.  The article provides a fair share of “horn-tooting”, but with good reason, as the GSA operates its buildings using less energy than comparable buildings in the private sector and has to represent the best interests of its constituents, like you and me.
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Five office trends to keep you at the front of the curve

I always enjoy when a writer has good organizational skills, especially when they are writing about the organization of your organization.  Ted Heisler, Principal of Interior Architecture and Design at Ware Malcomb, contributed a well-planned essay for The Leader entitled Innovating the Workplace through Design: Implementing Trends that Transcend.  Heisler divided the article into two halves – one is devoted to five key office trends that they have identified and the other analyzes the trends through a case study featuring Ericsson.
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A new way to serve up your reading material

In my last job, I learned the value of staying up on current business events, as well as maintaining a personal development plan that often involved stacks of business and industry texts.  The challenge I always faced, however, was managing the daily commute with 1-2 books, a newspaper, a magazine and everything I needed for the actual daily grind.  Once I was riding on the #136 bus on my way home and I glanced over to see a fellow passenger reading what appeared to be a thin book.  I leaned a little closer and noticed that it was the Sony Reader – a first generation e-Reader for digital books and media.  At the time, it seemed like a novel* concept, but I wasn’t bought in that the company that introduced BetaMax, MediaStick and Blu-Ray (failure pending) had a success on its hands.  I considered it a passing fancy and dismissed it from thought… until I saw the Newsweek cover with a grinning Jeff Bezos and the new Amazon Kindle.
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Another commercial broker takes the leap into the 21st century

I was excited to recently discover that a fellow commercial real estate professional has decided to come full throttle into the world of technology by creating a blog devoted to commercial real estate activities in Chicago.  The Chicago Commercial Real Estate blog will hopefully provide another well-written, frequently updated source of insight on commercial real estate activity in the Windy City.