Justify Your Existence

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Sam DeBord

Sam DeBord

By Sam DeBord

Changes in technology are creating questions about the future roles of real estate associations, MLSs, and brokerages. As a result, REALTOR® association leaders have been increasingly focused on defining our value to members.

A good friend of mine, who was an engineer at Apple, used to recount Steve Jobs’ version of this value-seeking process. He’d walk into a room of employees and yell, “Justify your existence!”

Maniacal as his temperament was, his goal was focused and strategic. If an employee or an organization can’t succinctly state the value it creates, it won’t be able to justify its existence to its constituents.

Building Justification for REALTOR® Membership

Here in Washington, we’ve been working at the local and state level, along with NAR support, to create a framework for delivering concise messaging that sells the value of REALTOR® membership to real estate licensees. The tacit compulsion of membership for MLS access is a benefit to some markets, but every association needs a non-MLS value proposition as well.

Seattle King County REALTORS® have been working with a communications consultant and creative agency for the past two years to develop a messaging platform for REALTOR® value. Our work may be of value to other boards seeking to improve their engagement with membership, so we’d like to share it with any of our interested counterparts nationwide.

Our associations need an elevator pitch that quickly and succinctly educates members as to why they are REALTORS®. That requires boiling down all that we do into soundbites that are relevant to members.

Segmenting the Value Pitch

While a general elevator pitch for membership can be a good starting point, a more focused set of pitches segmented by audience improves engagement. Our members are diverse in their backgrounds and their roles. They’re also bombarded by advertising messages every day. Crafting narratives that specifically address each of their needs has been the focus of our rebranding (see nwrealtor.com).

segmenting the value pitch


Government affairs and political advocacy are arguably the most important roles that the REALTOR® association serves in the industry. Brokerage owners and managers usually agree. They’re focused on the big picture of a healthy real estate market for their agents.

Delivering news about legislative wins, as well as legal or political threats, is an effective way to engage to this constituency. Company owners regularly tell us that they simply want to hear about how much money we spend on advocacy, and how well we’re doing. They want us involved, and focused, on government affairs.


Example: “Through advocacy, the REALTOR® Association protects brokers and their agents from onerous financial, legislative, or legal barriers and allows them to build their businesses.”


Real estate agents, on the other hand, are much less likely to be swayed by the value of political advocacy, and I’ve found they’re often turned off by it. The engaged faithful of our REALTOR® associations are, of course, dedicated to these causes, but most agents are simply focused on sales. It’s our job as involved association leaders to keep our focus on their sales as well.

Real estate salespeople want to sell more homes and take home larger paychecks. An association has to be able to show them how we help them do that. If that’s through advocacy, it has to be directly and visibly linked to the agent’s paycheck.

Member benefits, education, and legal guidance are all services that improve an agent’s bottom line, and that’s how they need to be messaged to the member. If it makes the member more money, state succinctly how it does.


Example: “Our association provides the business support tools and financial protections that allow REALTORS® to sell more homes.”

Seasoned vs. New Agents

The services we promote to our members can be focused on those who will be most likely to use them. New agents need business building education and informational support for learning the framework of the industry. We’re focusing messaging for new members on just those items.

 seasoned vs new

The classes that are most valuable to them should be specifically offered to them when they join the organization. Benefits like discounted services, technical support, and a legal hotline need to be immediately promoted to new members to create the first impression of value. An explanation of the direct financial impact of our advocacy efforts on their paychecks will set the tone for their view of REALTOR® membership for the long-term.

Seasoned agents, on the other hand, may need to be reminded of these services, but are also seeking a deeper level of knowledge. They need education about expanding a successful business, building a support team, selling a business for retirement, or becoming involved in leadership.

seasoned vs new 2

Messaging to this group should be significantly different than to a brand new member. Seasoned agents are more likely to have been through an upturn-downturn cycle and be more receptive to the advocacy pitch. It will still need to be focused on their bottom line.

Selling, Not Telling

The overriding theme of the communications audit and creative agency work we’ve done is that we are a sales organization. Seattle King County REALTORS® is selling membership.

selling not tellingAssociations often fall into the mode of telling membership what we’re doing. We talk about our organizational processes. We give annual reports and committee updates. These rarely break through the rest of the marketing noise that our members are faced with every day.

Every time we touch a member, it should be with a sales mindset. Each phone call reinforces value. Every e-mail subject line says, “Open me up because it will benefit your business.” Every dues billing says, “This is why you’ve chosen the value of membership.”

That mindset has been a shift for our board and our staff, but it’s one we’re embracing because it focuses us on our future viability. No matter what technological changes face our industry, if the REALTOR® association is providing clear benefits that our members can see, we’ll continue to thrive as a trade organization.

Our board has spent a lot of time and resources going through this process, but we believe it has been well worth it for our members and the organization as a whole. If your board is going through the same process or would like to engage in it, feel free to contact us. Refocusing our communications by engaging membership with segmented, sales-oriented messaging can benefit any local or state organization.

Sam DeBord is managing broker of Seattle Homes Group with Coldwell Banker Danforth. He is 2016 president-elect of Seattle King County REALTORS® and vice-chairman of legislative steering for Washington REALTORS®. You can find his team at SeattleHomes.com and BellevueHomes.com.

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