Hannah Gill: Beyond Business Development

HANNAH GILL FROM Independent Property Management (IPM) in the ACT is no ordinary BDM. She is highly motivated, continually striving for excellence, career driven and winner of numerous industry awards, including the REIA Property Manager of the Year in 2014. Currently managing a team of 12 and a fortnightly marketing magazine while maintaining an enviable list-to-lease conversion rate of her own, Hannah is surely one of the industry leaders of the future. Interview by Samantha McLean.

THE ROLE Of Business Development Manager (BDM) today is an absolutely vital part of property management business, focusing attention on revenue and rent roll growth. As a BDM Hannah’s list of achievements to date is very impressive. She maintains a 99.3 per cent appraisal-to-listing ratio (not including multiple listings where more than one property is pursued at the same meeting), manages 12 direct staff, handles the marketing side of the property management business and is continually looking to improve repeat and referral business strategies. The management fee she achieves on average is around one per cent higher than the ACT average, maximising both agency and landlord cash flows. She is a licensed real estate agent, the agency’s youngest shareholder, and will complete a management and leadership diploma this year, as well as being enrolled in the Australian Institute of Company Directors’ course.

When I met Hannah it was easy to see why prospective clients are drawn to her; she has a great energy and an easy going, down to earth manner at the same time. I start by asking her a bit more about IPM and how the business operates. She answers, “Independent is quite unique. We are a one-stop-shop, basically. We’ve got everything from PM, strata, sales. We’ve got projects, town planning, marketing, HR, finance. Everything you need for property transaction, we can offer. We have seven sales offices and one property management office.” The team of 12 that Hannah manages is made up of other BDMs, leasing consultants, admin and a graphic designer/photographer. I note that having a designer on staff is quite unique to property management. Hannah responds, “We used to have the PMs take their own photos, and in our marketplace that was the norm. Then we employed a person who has a graphic design degree, but has also done photography. So the overhead is minimal because it’s just salary. But with professional photography, we can obviously provide a whole different level of service for our clients.”

As it happens, this salary is cleverly taken care of by another key part of IPMs marketing strategy, a professionally designed and printed magazine called Move. This magazine is also unique to the Canberra market and replaces the standard rental list. I ask Hannah how this came about.

“The inspiration for the magazine came from a Melbourne agency who were doing something similar,” says Hannah. “I was looking again at the standard of our brand and what we want to be providing for our clients. The standard rental list is three or four A4 pages roughly stapled together; I just don’t think that cuts it any more. These days we are talking ‘tech everything’! If we’re going to be doing paper publications, let’s make it the best it can be. We do average anywhere from 150 to 200 properties available at any given time, so we’ve always got the stock to be able to produce the magazine, and it’s evolved from there.”

The magazine is available through the seven sales offices and at sponsor shop fronts, local restaurants, cafes and businesses. “The way we’ve achieved this to the standard we have is that we charge our owners – obviously it’s marketing and advertising. We charge them for the costs involved per listing. Then we also have a number of our suppliers and tradespeople companies advertising in there. As a result, we’re looking at roughly $91,000 of profit in a 12-month period.”

Apart from the magazine, what methods do you use to attract landlords and tenants? “We have a referral program with our sales team that started in July 2013. For every listing they give us, they get a cash payment. In the beginning, we were running about 70 per cent sales referrals and 30 per cent from other business. But we thought we shouldn’t just be accepting these referrals; how can we actually improve our business so that the sales referrals are just the cream on top? So we’ve put in a whole lot of strategies to prospect and get out there in the market ourselves, and now we’ve turned that around we are running at 65 per cent from referrals other than sales. “For the sales guys, it’s important that we do have a good relationship. I spend a lot of time just getting to each of their offices and driving training for them. We go to every one of their monthly meetings, and it’s all about educating them about the value of property management.”

Hannah continues, “We’ve got a pretty good team, and the sales teams are supportive of the program. I have recently put together a web-based referral system. They don’t need to email forms or anything. They can just submit things on their phone. We try to make things easy for the sales team, but then we also make sure that we follow through and deliver what we say we will. That builds trust for them and for the clients.”

So between publishing a magazine, creating other marketing programs, managing staff and staying on top of her game, how is it possible to fit everything in? I ask Hannah how she handles it all, especially balancing her own business development activities along with managing a team. “Yes, it can be challenging because you do need to give enough time to your team so they can grow and they can do their jobs better, but I’ve still got my targets that I need to meet. I try as much as possible to work to a structured ideal week. Most times that does work, but then there will be times when you go out to a conference, or you go for a course, and it throws everything a bit. In an ideal world, I’d prefer to be in the office as much as possible for my team, because even though the listings are ticking along nicely at the moment the team still need to feel supported.”

“My view is that it doesn’t matter what we can offer. It really just depends on what the client is after. By qualifying and asking direct questions and listening to what they need or what they want, my pitch will just completely change to target what I have heard from them.”

Next, I want to know – as many other BDMs would want to know – what her secret is to the perfect listing presentation, and how she maintain such a high list-to-lease conversion rate. Hannah replies, “I think the key thing is people get so hung up on what their points of differences are. They might have a great piece of technology or a great service guarantee, and that’s their whole pitch! My view is that it doesn’t matter what we can offer. It really just depends on what the client is after. By qualifying and asking direct questions and listening to what they need or what they want, my pitch will just completely change to target what I have heard from them.”

She continues, “If you do this, the prospect can relax a bit as you can put their concerns at ease. If they come to me and say, ‘I’m really worried about my rent arrears as I’ve just had this horrible experience’ and I say, ‘Don’t worry, we’ve got this great technology and we’ll send you your statements and you can log in and look at them online…’ that doesn’t actually help them. It’s entirely irrelevant to what their concerns are. I think your pitch or your presentation just needs to be adapted for what the client needs.

“Not only that, no two people are the same. I think it’s crazy that someone pulls out a folder or an iPad and just clicks through it for the sake of clicking through it. That doesn’t necessarily meet someone’s needs.”

Her passion for the industry is clear and I ask Hannah what she has enjoyed most about property management. “Well, I started in property management so I do understand that side as well as the BD side. For me, I think what I am passionate about is the chase; to be able to convert a single listing or a whole development that a client’s holding is seriously exciting. I like it because it’s an opportunity to build rapport and relationships with people and really get to know them. It’s even more satisfying when you see something realised that you started from scratch. I’ve recently converted a client who used another agent; we got our foot in the door initially, and now we’re managing half of one of his developments. For me that’s really rewarding. I know that that’s future growth for us as a business.”

Part of Hannah’s competitive nature and team spirit possibly comes from her love of sport; she has played AFL at state level, and is also a member of the SES. “Yes, I’ve played Aussie Rules for about eight years now, and played for the state and played in national tournaments up in Cairns and things like that; lots of fun. I also surf whenever I can get down to the coast, which is not too often, unfortunately. What sport has really taught me is the team culture. I think it’s so important to have the right attitude and the right culture. I’m a big believer in doing all the little things that add up for the team, because if you’ve got one person who is not a team player it affects everyone. That’s really something I try to instill in my team as well.”

What advice would you give someone who wanted to pursue a role in Business Development? Hannah smiles. “Over the years I’ve now learnt to make a point and then be quiet. Or ask a question, be quiet and listen to the answer. When you close, just ask and stop talking. I used to ask and then I’d keep talking! I never actually gave people an opportunity to answer. So I’ve learned over time that to say your piece and then shut up is way more powerful and it does create an impact. The other thing,” she says, “would be to put really good communication trails and follow-up systems in place, because the busier you get the more you need them. That way you don’t forget to follow up or touch base, even when you’re out of the office. If you don’t deliver on what you promise in terms of communication then you waste your previous effort, because you lose respect so quickly. By having those really structured systems it takes the work out of it for you, but it also takes your business to a whole new level.”

What do you see in terms of the market for Canberra in the next 12 months? “We’re lucky in Canberra. There is a lot in the media about buyer nervousness and the market dropping back. We do have the normal ebbs and flows in our market, as any market does. But we run consistently low vacancy rates, about two per cent max. Our average rents sit at around $450 per week or so at any given time. So the market is steady and the listings are there. We’re averaging between 60 and 80 new listings a month, so there is sufficient stock.

“Canberra itself is a huge growth area. At the moment we sit at about 3,200 managements. By the end of 2017, we’ll probably be sitting at about 4,500 with developments settling. There is a huge amount of builders’ stock in the pipeline. Much of that tends to be investment purchases. I think it will be interesting to see what effect the Chinese investor market might have on our market.”

Career highlight so far? “Winning the REIA award in 2014 was pretty exciting. Like everyone, I do tend to have a little bit of self-doubt at times, and it was really rewarding to know that what I was doing was recognised at a national level. Aside from awards, I think the career highlight for me is actually an ongoing thing. I simply love what I do, and when I get a great listing or when I see one of my team members achieve one of their goals, that for me is the most rewarding part of it. I think it’s fantastic when you see other people grow and succeed.”

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Samantha McLean

Samantha McLean is the Co-Founder and Managing Editor of Elite Agent and Host of the Elevate Podcast.