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Training & Learning

How One L&D Coach Helps Real Estate Firms Balance Learning Against Sales Targets

As with many fast-paced industries, real estate firms often don’t have the luxury of being able to dedicate enough time and resources to support tailored learning. Instead, many firms put learners through the same standardized ‘one-and-done’ training programs.

This cookie-cutter approach to learning isn’t exactly inspiring. In fact, it leads a lot of people in the real estate industry to see training as a form of punishment rather than an opportunity to grow. So, how can firms deliver learning experiences that match learner needs?

Recently, I chatted with Sarah Cannistra, an L&D professional in the real estate and property management industries, coach to L&D job-seekers, and the host of the Overnight Trainer podcast. We spoke about the unique learning challenges within the property industry, and how she helps firms balance learning priorities against sales targets.

We kicked things off by discussing two of the biggest L&D challenges in the property industry right now.

The 2 biggest L&D challenges in multi-family real estate 

As an L&D leader in the property industry, Sarah specializes in multi-family real estate, more commonly known as apartment complexes, or buildings with more than one rentable space.

“I’ve been a director of training for a number of real estate companies specializing in multi-family properties,” she says. “What’s interesting is, we think of COVID-19 as giving rise to a lot of new challenges for business. But businesses in the multi-family real estate industry have been dealing with these same challenges for a long time now.”

As Sarah explains, there are two L&D challenges specific to multi-family real estate: a highly competitive market, and a focus on operations at the expense of people development.

Challenge #1: A highly competitive market

“There’s a lot of competition in the multi-family real estate sector,” says Sarah. “I live in Austin, and there are cranes everywhere right now. Nine times out of ten, these are brand new apartment communities being built. This really ups the supply, leading to more competition.”

“Pricing is another key factor. A lot of new apartment communities offer two, three, or sometimes even four months’ free rent. You might have a stabilized community that’s been around for a while, but if a brand new community opens across the street, it’s hard to compete.”

While these conditions might be great for renters, they can pose a real challenge for real estate companies–especially from a training perspective. “The main question is: how do we train people to overcome the challenges of such a competitive market?” 

“For example, someone might approach a salesperson in an established apartment community and say, ‘I like your product, but across the street, it’s newer, it’s nicer, it has better amenities, and they’re offering me four months’ free rent.’ For us, that’s a huge external factor.”

Challenge #2: A focus on sales targets at the expense of people development 

“Then, there’s the internal challenge,” says Sarah. “Multi-family real estate firms can be a lot more focused on day-to-day operations than they are on people development. Firms prioritize driving business and getting more leases. But sometimes we forget that we need people to push for these bigger numbers. This takes the right training and development to get right.”

“There’s always a push and pull between how much time we can spend training people versus how much time we can spend on the sales floor doing things that actually drive revenue.” 

For Sarah, this takes the right balance between learning and operations. “I’m a firm believer in investing in people to boost revenue, but it’s a challenge in the multi-family industry because it’s so competitive and focused on operations. Those are our two main challenges, and they’re huge challenges for learning and development.”

So, how does Sarah prepare realtors to face these two challenges? It all comes down to 3 key pillars.

Related: How to Change the Way Your Teams Think About L&D

Firms prioritize driving business and getting more leases. But sometimes we forget that we need people to push for these bigger numbers.

3 key pillars to respond to the challenges of a competitive market

“We have three main pillars we use to respond to these challenges, especially the level of competition,” says Sarah. “We focus on ‘sell yourself,’ ‘sell your product,’ and ‘sell the value.’ Then, we try to create our training to reflect that.” 

As she explains, succeeding in real estate involves accepting some hard truths. “First and foremost, it’s very hard to sell the product if people don’t like you. Once they trust you, then you can focus on selling the physical asset. After that, we focus on selling the value: how will living here make your life better? How can we save you time, money, and energy?” 

“It sounds simple in theory, but the harder part is reflecting these pillars within our internal L&D approach,” says Sarah. “We need to ensure we have the right training and development to allow realtors to work on these skills and take the right steps forward.”

A big part of this training approach? Finding a way to help firms shape training experiences to suit each learner’s needs.

First and foremost, it’s very hard to sell the product if people don’t like you.

How the Learning Cluster Design Model helps firms focus on developing people

As Sarah explains, helping learners to develop these three key sales pillars might sound simple. In reality, however, it requires L&D leaders to shape their training to suit each learner’s specific strengths, needs, and capabilities. This is where the Learning Cluster Design Model comes in.

“The best approach I’ve found is the Learning Cluster Design Model, from Designing for Modern Learning by Crystal Kadakia and Lisa Owens. It really dives into how to create learning that drives improvements to on-the-job behavior and also meets immediate business needs.” 

“That’s what’s so wonderful about the model,” says Sarah. “There’s this never-ending struggle between meeting business needs and developing people, and the Learning Cluster Design Model really helps bring everything together, even for busy firms.”

As Sarah explains, the model works because it focuses on matching people with the right learning resources to suit their particular needs and circumstances.

“Let’s say we’re creating sales training for our leasing consultants,” says Sarah. “The Learning Cluster Design Model looks at the exact personas of the learners we’re serving. A persona might be ‘new-to-the-industry-Ina,’ or ‘previous-manager-Molly.’ You have to look at their needs and try to create learning assets to meet these needs.”

“For our sales cluster, we don’t ask everyone to go through instructor-led training. But, if you’re new to the industry, you’ll complete this training, be matched with a peer coach, have a mentor, and be given extra articles to read. It’s about providing the right assets at the right time”

This specialized approach is a key part of a learner-centric L&D strategy, and helps to provide people with the right tools and resources at the right time.

Sarah and I finished up by chatting about the importance of learning in the flow of work.

Related: The Right Way to Do Training Needs Analysis

There’s this never-ending struggle between meeting business needs and developing people, and the Learning Cluster Design Model really helps bring everything together.

The importance of learning in the flow of work

According to Sarah, there’s a good reason why some learners don’t see training as an exciting prospect. “I’ve seen a lot of multi-family real estate companies fail with learning because they put everyone through the exact same one-and-done program. That’s how you lose people. It’s the reason why some learners think of training as a punishment.” 

“Businesses need to look beyond just one-and-done training, which is another big issue in the multi-family property industry. People need the right support to learn in the flow of work, rather than seeing training as time away from work.”

As Sarah explains, learner collaboration also plays a key role in this approach. “I’m always looking for ways to make learning more personalized. Having people work and learn together always helps to wrap the learning experience around the learner. We need to take every opportunity to make learning more relevant and engaging.”

I’ve seen a lot of multi-family real estate companies fail with learning because they put everyone through the exact same one-and-done program. That’s how you lose people. It’s the reason why some learners think of training as a punishment.

Thanks again to Sarah for taking the time to share her insights! Be sure to check out her podcast, The Overnight Trainer.

While you’re here, check out my expert interviews with Emma Schain of Better.com on how to scale onboarding from 350 employees to 3,000, and with Lauren Fernandez of Flexport on how to find the right balance between centralization and decentralization in L&D.

Want more peer insights on transforming workplace learning? Check out #CLOConnect, our interview series with top L&D leaders on driving growth and scaling culture through Collaborative Learning. Or you can subscribe (below 👇) to our weekly newsletter to receive our latest posts directly in your inbox.