In his more than four years at Compass, Chris Aker has been in charge of growth, helping to make agents part of the explosive expansion of this industry-heavyweight organization.
“[Last year] was a massive year in and of itself for the real estate industry,” said Aker. “And I think when you compare coming off of a record year where we brought on a tremendous amount of agents and entered into so many new markets you kind of think, okay, well, what does 2022 look like?”
“What's exciting for me is the success that we had in ‘21 was even with an incredibly hot market. Agents are incredibly busy. And we were still able to have tremendous success. There was no inherent need for an agent to change brokerages because the market was just so hot.”
“What’s enabled agents to be so incredibly successful is spending the time to build scalable platforms, to build a scalable business and establish processes that really are able to weather any market conditions.”
“So when you have limited inventory, but you can go back into your database very easily and understand and figure out how to create that inventory, when you are connected in with an agent community that's one of the largest in the country through a wholly own subsidiary, you have a better connection of being able to find that inventory that isn't necessarily listed on an MLS system.”
For Aker and his team, then, growth centers on finding and focusing “in on the quality of the agent. What can they bring to the office in terms of culture and expertise and growth opportunity? When you look at it from that perspective, there are going to be agents whose business is focused on rentals, and they're gonna be great agents to partner with others within the office.”
“There are going to be other agents that are more focused on resale or do a combo of both. And, you know, it's about, how can we enable each and every agent, no matter their focus, with the right tools to operate their business?” said Aker.
“And so when you look at it from the perspective of they’re business owners and they’re CEOs, you know, there's a lot more that goes into it than just the specific transaction of the rental or the transaction of the home purchase or sale.” It's about how do they maintain their client relationships? How do they create great client experiences regardless of the type of home they're looking for?
“First and foremost, we go to our current agent community and we ask them, ‘Who would you love to work with? Who would be a great fit for this office?’ And we start there. Because you know, that's where culture's built,” said Aker.
The Compass IPO: An agent-led endeavor
According to Aker, “The core piece that enabled us to get to [Compass’s initial public offering] was our extreme focus and obsession with the agent. Everything we do is in support of the agent: What they need, how they operate.”
“We're constantly collecting feedback from the agents of what do we need in terms of support structure? What do we need in terms of technology? What's the next market we should be going to? Where are you sending the majority of your clients out as referrals? It's a lot of that core DNA and the focus on the agent being our customer and building tools and a solution for them that enabled us to get to the IPO,” he said.
How the agent drives tech adoption at Compass
According to Aker, when making decisions about tech stacks, Compass asks, “What do you need? What's missing? Ultimately the goal is a single platform that an agent can see and view their entire business end to end, as well as the client relationship end to end.” This empowers the agent to be better at the aspects of their job that they do best.
“The key piece is it has to fit into the single platform. The data has to talk to each other because that's the most critical piece. It has to be vetted by agents who say, ‘Yes, this is what we need, this will impact our business, and it's something that we should do now.’”
Now it’s time to meet in the middle with three rapid-fire questions
Aker’s favorite sales mentor is his current boss, Matt Rosenberg.
The one piece of advice he wishes he had known when starting out was to slow down. “What I mean by that is we all have long careers. And when you're first starting out, it's very easy to forget. It's really hard to slow down and focus on perfecting your craft, not necessarily always focusing on the short-term goal, but making sure that you're growing at a steady pace, and not necessarily always focusing on the next sale or the next task to do in order to make this short term goal happen.”
“I believe every moment gifts us with a lesson,” said Aker. “If you don't pull yourself out of the rat race, you're never going to learn that lesson.”
Finally, in answer to the question What’s the most underappreciated aspect of having a career in sales, Aker said, “It's not about the pitch, right? Because, you know, the pitch has nothing to do with the company. It's always about who you're talking to. Can you actually help them? It’s extreme attention to detail and process management. You have to be analytical. You also have to be creative and curious and empathetic towards the person that you're talking to.”
“These cycles happen over the course of 30, 60, 90, 120 days. They're not a single meeting moment in time, and then suddenly contracts are signed and we all go off into the sunset. And so, when you think about the most underappreciated aspect of sales, it's the job [itself, outside] of the single moment.”
The vital importance of scalable systems and processes
Aker says that the same is true for real estate agents. “When you're first starting out and you have a small base of clients, it's really easy to control it without a lot of systems. It's really easy to control it without thinking about scale because it's more intimate. You can have a more intimate relationship with each one of your clients.”
“However, as a real estate agent's business grows, we as humans naturally cannot maintain relationships with a lot of people,” said Aker. That means that the agents who end up doing the best in creating those moments are the agents who take the time to build out scale in their business, whether that be by hiring a team member, automating some process or what have you.
“You start out with manual processes, so you assume incorrectly that you have to continue those manual processes in order to achieve your level of success. But every single real estate coach will tell you if you wanna make it to the next level, you have to figure out how to scale yourself and you have to figure out how to think beyond just the next client or beyond what you do today, because what you're doing today is not going to help you achieve what you need tomorrow. And it's making that leap. And that's a hard leap.”
“If you're building a sustainable business and scaled systems and processes, these are the agents that actually end up becoming the most successful during market lows,” said Aker. “When you have a market low, there's just a natural flight to quality. If you're positioned and you have built out that system, you're going to be that quality agent.”
With strong systems in place, long-term pipelines, fueled by lead drivers like rentals, become more doable, he continued. “Rental is a volume game. So, you have to be able to handle that and [subsequently] many of those renters do become future buyers.”