Selling a 6-star service

May/June 2016 edition

Customer experience and service is at the heart of Matthew Bourn’s success. Here we look at how he incorporates this into his business and what sets him apart from the pack.

By Helen Hull

Drawing on his experience in the hospitality industry where he was part of the opening team at the Ritz Carlton Sydney in 1988, Matthew Bourn borrowed their 6-star ethos of exceptional service when he set his sights on a career in the real estate profession.

“No matter where you went at the Ritz Carlton, there was consistent service and standards of quality,” Matthew said.

Prior to the Ritz Carlton, Matthew worked in sales at Budget Rent a Car and attributes founder Bob Ansett’s “can do” attitude as further inspiration.

“I’ve always been motivated by organisations and leaders who instil the value of fulfilling the needs of clients and the team.

“At Budget Rent a Car, exceptional service was about creating a great customer experience. ‘If we don’t have a solution, we’ll find a solution’ was how the business operated. Too many people today put it back on the customer.

“In another life I might have been an architect, but real estate is where I have very happily ended up. I’ve always been interested in the look and feel of a property.

“Remembering back to being a tenant, I didn’t find the process very satisfying with regard to service and I felt that this could be a point of difference for us when I created McConnell Bourn on the Upper North Shore of Sydney 16 years ago with my wife and business partner Samantha.

“Client service and delivering on our promises are our core values, and this goes back to our days working in hospitality together. The client should receive exceptional and transparent advice along the way and that is the cornerstone of our success,” he said.

Prior to launching McConnell Bourn in April 2000, Matthew spent six years with the franchise Richardson & Wrench.

“At Richardson & Wrench, I was a commission-only salesperson and my wife started running McConnell Bourn as a property management company. Richardson & Wrench was aware that we had opened the agency and I had sign off from my boss, as they didn’t see it as a conflict of interest.

“Then a client called with a referral to sell a property under the McConnell Bourn brand, and that was the catalyst for taking the agency full steam into sales.

“It was a sudden decision to move McConnell Bourn into sales. We had just started a family and we were wanting a consistent income due to the nature of the sales roller coaster. Property management provided that reoccurring income.

“It was also the time of the Olympics and there was an air of uncertainty around real estate sales.

“We considered purchasing a franchise, but with a franchise you need to conform with head office processes. We wanted to be the masters of our own destiny and be in control, so decided to create our own brand. It was a leap of faith at the time,” he said.

Property management is still a very important aspect of the business and, according to Matthew, from a revenue point of view it represents about 10 per cent of the business.

“We have recently appointed a Business Development Manager and have a growth plan in place,” he said.

Why I love real estate
Matthew’s passion for providing outstanding service and outstanding marketing is the driving force behind his appetite for the profession.

“I love the thrill of the chase and meeting new people. I am competitive by nature and always enjoy challenging myself to be the best I can be. I love negotiation and the auction process. 

“I also love evolution. I don’t like the status quo and I strive to think outside the box. So seeking out even the smallest innovation that can make a difference for our team and clients is always a priority for me. 

“Being in the industry 22 years, every day is an exciting day. Seeing someone’s home and how they live in it is something that you can never be bored with.

“I also enjoy mentoring, providing support for the team and helping them execute the business,” he said.
Numbers game
Matthew is proud of what they have been able to create at McConnell Bourn, which services Roseville to Wahroonga – an area with some 38,000 homes and 3000 sales a year in the Ku-ring-gai municipality.

“We have a recognised brand and are being looked to for what we achieve. We are providing a platform for our team to grow and succeed. It isn’t about financial success. It’s about individual success and people achieving something for themselves.

“We started at zero and today we are selling in excess of 240 properties a year, with $570 million worth of sales, and are managing more than 200 properties.

“I’m very big on the numbers. We don’t just look at the number of sales and values. 

“I’m passionate about data and utilising it to assess every facet of our market, business and performance,” Matthew said.

He also uses the data as a tool to highlight the brand’s success to its clients and those looking to sell their properties with McConnell Bourn.

“Qualification to clients is important. We can confidently say the last 100 properties we have sold have in fact sold within the range we told the client. There is lots of shooting from the hip in real estate and making assumptions about how things are tracking. We know from our data that when we tell someone what a property is worth, that is what it’s worth.

“A problem is that it is principals that collect lots of data and they sometimes don’t know what to do with it. Agents don’t get anything back from the information that they provide.

“At McConnell Bourn we collect it, analyse it and our team can access it and utilise it in client presentations.

“It is great to be sitting in front of clients and say ‘this is how your sale is tracking’, and quantify what we are saying with charts and graphs.

“A very important aspect of the industry is technology, however it can get in the way of working face to face with clients. Technology has a time and a place, and we have seen how effectively sitting at desks with CRMs works. If you give an agent a call sheet and a phone, productivity increases. But technology can also be a little bit distracting. How much technology do you need? We’re in the relationship game. It all comes back down to human interaction,” Matthew said.

Matthew’s top tips for real estate success
Building relationships and providing outstanding client service are key to Matthew’s success. He shares some of his other tips.

1. Market knowledge. Be a specialist, not a generalist. Work your farm area and know it inside and out. Know your numbers and become the authority in your marketplace.

2. Transparency. Have complete transparency in all your dealings. Ensure you provide clear and concise communication every step of the way. Clients should never have to wonder what is happening during their campaign.

3. Planning. Be diligent in your planning. Chunk it down into simple goals and have a clear understanding of what it will take to deliver results.

4. Professional development. Find an amazing business coach. Surround yourself with great people that can mentor you along the way.

5. Be human and just help people!
Advice to new agents
“Some newcomers to our industry expect it to be easy and they look for a silver bullet. My advice is to be patient, and have a prospecting and marketing plan.

“Lots of agents rely too much on building a client base quickly. But you need to be patient. It’s like an apprenticeship. It can take three years to get going, particularly in our conservative area. Each year you need to work hard to build on realistic targets, and eventually you’ll achieve good traction and gain momentum.

“Looking ahead, we’re aiming to broaden the McConnell Bourn brand so it is about more than just property. We want to be the go-to brand for the lifestyle our area has to offer and are building relationships with local cafes and restaurants, as well as property sales. We want to attract great people who are passionate about real estate and want to stay, play and perform with us and contribute to our annual growth trajectory,” Matthew said.
Evolution of the McConnell Bourn brand
Branding can play a key role in the success of a real estate agency, particularly in lifestyle areas like those targeted by McConnell Bourn.

Since its inception in 2000, McConnell Bourn has undergone two brand updates.

“Your brand really needs to be updated every 7-8 years. We did our first upgrade in 2009 just when the GFC hit.

“The timing was right for us because Samantha and I believe it is good to invest in a brand when other people are retracting.

“We spent time and observed the market place, our brand and where we were in our journey. To some we were a brand new agency, and we wanted to explain who we were and where we were from. The branding put us on the mind shelf with our slogan ‘the only name you need to remember is real estate has 2 c’s, 2 n’s, 2 l’s’.

“With our next update, at the end of January this year, it was time to mature the brand. It was a 10 month process and a journey to get it right.

“There is lots of talk that the market is going too slow, but because of that you need to make more noise and invest in brand, people and presence.

“This time around, we were more well-known and wanted to step it up a notch. We wanted to show that we were professional property marketers and negotiators, and wanted to incorporate a lifestyle component.”

Focusing on lifestyle
“People come to our area because of the lifestyle, education, large garden blocks and character homes. In recent years the area has diversified a lot with cafes and gourmet delis. It has become more cosmopolitan and we decided to link our brand with the lifestyle the area has to offer.

“We are reflecting this with our association with local businesses and the lifestyle attraction of how people interact and like to live in their home. We are using ‘real life’ style photography in our advertising to capture the essence of the room by including pets and people and little things that create an interest.

“We don’t have any copy on our ads anymore. We believe the photos tell the story. Rather than a hero shot, we put nine photos in our advertising to help people slow down and make a decision on more details. By slowing them down and making them look at each photo, we have a better impact and uptake.

“We have received positive feedback from people who have purchased homes since our rebrand about how we promote our properties.”

As part of the rebrand, McConnell Bourn has opened a new head office in Gordon. 

“The office has been designed to link to the brand. It feels like a house and showcases how people can interact with a house that is for sale. There is a clear correlation between how we market our business and a client’s home.

“We have created a lifestyle magazine. It is a risky move but something needed to change because everyone is doing the same thing. We need a competitive advantage in the market and so far it has been taken up really well by the public,” Matthew said.