Chris Vandervalk, COO The Whissell Group - Tactics Your Head of OPS Can Use To Drive Clarity and Calm In Your Business

Zac Muir
October 8, 2020

[00:00:00] All right, next week, we're bringing in Chris Vandervoort from the Whistle team. Chris, I'm going to I'm going to bring you right in, man. What's up there? Let's do it. How are you, man? I'm doing super good. We're two hours in and lots of good stuff. Man, I'm really excited to have you on the roll with whistle is maybe walk us through a little bit your roll your background. I think people would love to get to know you a little better.

[00:00:28] I appreciate that, man. Thanks so much for having me. I appreciate you and Brian a lot for giving me the opportunity and excited to share. So my role started originally an inside sales and real estate. About five years ago, I joined a really great team in Chicago that was primarily focused on Oreo and was looking to do a little bit more on the traditional side. And obviously you can create your own business by regenerating and and converting. And so we built a nice model there.

[00:00:56] It was me. And then we added three more in the next year and had a lot of success with it. Shortly thereafter, I went to do my own thing, got in a major accident. So that didn't work out too well. After about four months into that, ended up in San Diego, highly suggested one of the best cities I've ever been to and found Kyle Whistle's, started up with him, came in for the Zello program that we had had a lot of success with our team. But at the same time, we were starting to build a model here. And it's just kind of naturally progressed into looking at one of the best businesses in real estate I've seen and how do we analyze it? And that's kind of what I want to talk about today and help at scale and look at scalable processes and just really inspect what we're doing to add scalable models to grow. And when you take something like Zillow offers that we worked with or a lot of these agents out there with Zillow Flex or really any partnership even in your market space is like working with a mortgage lender. It's really hard to partner with people if your own processes can't handle the scale that you need to do to actually advance and elevate to that level. So. My job uniquely kind of progressed from that inside sales development here, it was still to now coming in as chief operations officer and really just inspecting everything inside of the business and helping it the more scalable duplicable process so that as we go to five hundred transactions next year that Kyle talked about in his, it has to be able to handle that stress that those added transactions are going to add a lot of people.

[00:02:26] And this is why I really wanted to have you on talk of trying so hard. And a lot of people think, I think have this mindset of man. I just I just got to go and just process everything out until we get to go. But I think and I think that there's insanity right now. Well, just wait five years. The technology is not going to stop coming. We're going to have more technology thrown at us.

[00:02:50] I'd argue it's going to make it worse. It's going to. And Robbie, I think he spoke a little bit ago. I don't know if he covered it, but he said it really well at the conference. I was just out with him. Is it it's going to literally exacerbate the problem and scale. The more tech that's going to come, the worse your processes are and the more cumbersome they are and the less clarity you have around them. Tech is going to make it worse, not better, if they're not fleshed out yet.

[00:03:15] And so I think as a as a team, especially as a team looking to grow, you've got to just be able to roll with these punches. You've got to be able to absorb them. You got to have processes that can at least keep you some clarity right now, but that you can continue to mold. It's a living, breathing thing, right? The worst thing is you get this process. It's not a computer and it sits somewhere. No one looks at it and never changes. It's not going to work. So, yeah.

[00:03:38] And that's why one of the first things I did when I came into this role in meeting with all the departments is just accepting. And actually my mentor in my first company, really ingrained, is really good leader in that way and just identified. There's always going to be a stress in the business if you're growing. So if, for example, of sales people are overwhelmed with the amount of leads they have, we don't have enough sales people maybe to work in the quantity of lives we have. Right. And at a certain point, those are become transactions, which is going to lead to our Tsay in our admin department being overwhelmed with the high influx of transactions we have now. So now that could be a process problem or a people problem. And it's a very important to look at is the process. And that's why we start with that. Is the process the most efficient it can be? And is it streamline them as much as possible? So it's scalable and that's kind of tough to do that. So that way, when it's time to scale and add people now you have a ratio of one to can handle sixty transactions. So at all times there's going to be something that's that's getting stressed. Either my salespeople are working too much of a pipeline and they're not happy.

[00:04:43] So I need to add more salespeople to give them a little bit more manageable workload. And when they start to crush it, my taxes are going to be overwhelmed. So there's always an element of the business that's going to need some love. Right. And I think that's okay to just accept at the beginning that just because it's getting stressed that's normal doesn't mean your process is broken. You should, though, inspect that process. So that's what we started to do, is really go through the process and document everything first. And when I say document, I think it's important to document it when you're inspecting it. But when you document it to go back and revisit it should be 20 percent of those processes that get 80 percent of the results. That I would definitely lean on that theory, because the problem is, if it's a training manual, not a process documentation, your existing core staff are never going to use it. If I have to go through forty lines of text to find the one thing I'm looking for in a pinch in a moment, I'm probably not going to resource that. I'm going to hit someone else up in the company or I'm going to do my own way because having to do that much research to follow a process isn't it's not scalable.

[00:05:45] So I think it's really important to really find the most important parts of that process to document. And then that's documented. Then go ahead and let's evaluate, ask really tough questions. I did it with our department. Like one of the examples is we when we meet with stagers or external people to schedule on inspections, things like that, our teams were going ahead and calling the inspection company or the stager and then calling the client and trying to mittleman a time that worked for both of them in my area that we went through. That is, hey, we trust this company that we work with. We we do 80 percent of our showings through this company or our staging. Why don't we trust them just to go directly to the customer and cut us out and give a better consumer experience? And we don't have to do these back and forth phone calls that are taking anywhere from 30 minutes to an hour a day for all of our files. Why are we doing that? If we trust this person and it would give a better client expense, let's eliminate that from one of our steps. So, too, is just what can we peel away that either doesn't give a good client experience or two is just really unnecessary.

[00:06:49] And then from there and I'll go and do it a little bit more as we talk. Then I try to get a VA to do what's black and white if it's a repeatable process. But when we really launched in the Sisu a lot. Trappin crap out of the data going in is not concise and accurate, I can't use the ability to interpret that data and Sisu that's so strong about the product. And so how do we get the most streamlined data in and how can it be as black and white as possible? Because if it's not, you can't offload and use automation and tech where we're really going. And so after documenting and reducing and refining them now, let's go ahead and what can we offload to a vet? And the whole goal with the VA for our team is how fast can we build an automation, a web hook zappia if you guys don't know how to do that, I highly recommend finding there's a lot of companies out there that can help build this for not a lot of money, automate as much as possible. But the problem is you can't automate overcomplicated processes and VA will help you get accountable.

[00:07:50] When we had our director of operations go ahead and start with the VA, I mean, she was nearly in tears because she was so stressed about how to make this less complicated because one of our agents had this listing's we did this for another agent. We did this for another agent. We did this. And the problem is, is that we quickly found is someone in Pakistan that crushes work for us. Doesn't have the ability to sit there and go, OK, well, what do I do for this person? What do I do for this person? And that's just not scalable. If we want to have one hundred agents, 200 agents. And so the VA really helps you get accountable for those future automated processes by really scaling off the stuff that needs to stay in house. And then most importantly, I would add to that is your your employment of people is your highest cost in a business. And a lot of companies I've seen really don't like to automate their processes. And I've heard arguments like, oh, why pay this person to do that? As if it's like this prideful thing. That's that's why you have staff to do these things. But if you're really high level talent, which I really and I think some people have talked on that today, and that's the highest and best thing. And talent's going to stay if you make their life easier and you get more out of that talent, if you're letting them get creative and letting them bring Steve Jobs talks about it all the time as his business was a startup, even after he came back to Apple, it always had that startup.

[00:09:12] Everyone has an input and the best idea wins. And so if you create that culture where you're getting your talent to be able to collaborate like that, it's important to remove the minutia and the repetitive work that they don't need to be doing, the automation can fulfill. And I think that adds a level of creativity to our business now, where literally everyone can already have the best people I've literally ever worked with before I came here. But now we're getting to a point where they're able to collaborate and add to some already great ideas and make them better. And it's just a different type of collaboration. I think that's the most important thing I would say about the process that we're talking about, of scaling back and offloading a lot of this. Don't be prideful that these people have to do this because that's why you hired them. It's OK to pivot and offload the redundant two of three dollars, five dollars an hour HVA and some automation and now let them do higher level things, because when we scale, we don't want to proportionately scale our salary cost. So if we can limit as we scale to not move our employment with that and have to hire more people, well, now the company is more profitable and the ability to pivot through coronavirus or whatever else happens next, it's really important to stay lean and I think it allows us to do that kind of long answer.

[00:10:24] No, that's separate.

[00:10:26] The value that that you or anyone operationally provides is being able to simplify, to reduce the minutia that your people, these brilliant people that you went out and hired and keep them focused on the things that they're amazing at, that they're talented, that they love you and you spirit in the best companies in the world.

[00:10:47] That is the you know, we're we're in a place where our voices can be heard in our free time and social media allows it. And if you think of it that way, employees are the same thing. There's people and and a lot of them, if they're at a great company, which we're lucky to be a part of, they want to they want to come to the table with ideas and they want to be heard. And and quite frankly, it's where you get your best solutions at. And if everything you're in a culture where everything's able to be brought to the table, the revolution that's going to happen is going to be so much faster in consumer focused and the results that yields are just you can quantify. So the most important thing to even get to that level is they can't be doing busywork. If they're if you can't even get out of the phase of always playing catch up, which it's always going to be. Like I said at the beginning, there's always going to be an admin. If there's not an app and there's going to be a sales, people need or we need to buy more leads or generate more leads or we need ISA's. There's always going to be something in the business. And I think that's just so important to accept that that's not a problem. That's just that's part of growth. And we can all like products either going be behind or that's just part of it. So, look, in identifying all that's we're measuring that data so important, but you can't even get to that if we don't have clean enough processes that everyone knows and everyone is in alignment.

[00:12:00] One of the other things I'd say is when you're doing that documentation do with everyone, like we started the US model for leadership. And one of the first things we had to do is kind of go through and look at processes. So I sat down with our entire leadership team and I want to understand, what is that? What is the left handed? What is the right hand do? And then when is the next person step in? And what we realized, even in one of the best companies in real estate with Kyle, there are people doing the same task and actually crossing over each other all the time because we've scaled so fast in his first five, 11 years of business that he's been it's kiles grown really fast. And so when people leave, another person takes and they just start over with that process, the person before them dead. And so probably somewhere in there, someone else decided to take on the responsibility of what the person that left it to cover someone else. And now that new person is doing it, too. And by 10, 11 years into the business, we're just always running. People are doing some of the same things and it's a little redundant and they're not communicating well yet. We still have great culture. So that was like one of the first steps is like, hey, how do we all help each other versus just sprint and run with our hair on fire to get things done? And I think that's where we get to have this now element of creativity we're going into for next year to really start to aggressively grow our business again.

[00:13:16] Yeah. So when we talk next year and you, you know, going from how you're doing today to break in five hundred transactions. Right. Which is the goal for next year, what are your big bucket items and things you feel like you and your department need to make that happen.

[00:13:37] Yeah, good question. So lead lead generation and conversion. I say backgrounds where I come from. So one of the things in automation that really started for me was automation, is that department, when I was in the role we called only expired and fizbo. So it was grueling work. I mean, we sold a couple hundred homes. Just doing that is our only Legian source. We we both work originally from the area Rainmaker had, I don't know, maybe a thousand people in his database. Never bought paper quickly. It's none of that.

[00:14:06] So everything we did, I mean, it was literally mojo as a CRM, no cards and experience of fizbo. And we crushed it, but not scalable and not and not bullet proof for longevity. Like, that's not working in California because we don't have experience like that, which is a market ten. So when I came here, I'm like I had to reinvent how we do. I say because that model wasn't going to work here. And so one of the biggest frustrations when on the phone was if I got on the phone, my my appointment set rate was insane. I mean, if I got on the phone with you and you were actually had a need or were motivated, we were working other people that weren't I mean, that's a lot of numbers. I can't make someone motivated to sell a house or buy a house. That's not possible. So I knew that at the basic level when I came in, in the biggest frustration was in that role. The answer was not that great, even with the triple line dialer. That was my leverage. That was my automation back then. Right. And and my target list was expired because I knew they were bottom of funnel. So none of that those are the basic levels that didn't change. The problem was when we were businesses that won't work here. So I really started to get how do I get people on the phone the most if I build the best sales department, if we as a team have the best salespeople, which I believe we do, how do I get them talking to people that want to talk to them as much of the day as possible? And so that's where the call action for us really came in and and automating.

[00:15:29] And I know that Robin the muse, Cierra interactive for automation texting and we used have sly dial. So automating the sales process, the whole goal was how do we create inbounding? Jesse Overcaution talks about a lot like that whole system is to create inbound conversations. So our outbound for ISO is went from eight percent to forty five percent contact rate. So that's how much can we add to the top of the funnel. How many possible conversations can we have in that first lead where a lot of leads never even get reached because they never answered. And to text call leave emails for two weeks sometimes to get that first response to even disqualify the person that takes a lot of man hours. So now, because of call action and a lot of this automation on the Legion front that we've done, it's actually allowed one IAC to have the same production. That I used to have for like five, the scalability because of that, the amount of conversations they can have with people that actually want to respond in conversation. I haven't even seen the conversion rates on the bottom. Even if our skills never improve. Now one person equals five one, just conversation wise.

[00:16:38] So what that does for our transactional growth is now our agents, instead of calling day one that we know have an 18 month window and Zillow nurtures that are six month average close like those are just realistic data points that. We've kind of changed our model to do automation on most high profile stuff and to give clients the experience why Lupo's so granted it is, I want to listen to what their intent is and what they're doing, see them where they're at and offer conversations that match it. So we do automation. Irsay and Agent kind of is our workflow and that funnel is aspirational. Jesse talks about research and transactional and so anyone that's aspirational and they're not really looking, it doesn't make sense to hit them with three phone calls out of the gate, call them every day for the first two weeks just because they visit my website. If anything, that's negative behavior and that's negatively reinforcing them from registering and using my site. And that's what Zillow found out. That's why they've done some of the things they've changed is someone that's just looking casually doesn't mean they're not ever interested. They just want to build a relationship with your brand. So rather than having salespeople committed to an outcome of financial transaction with this person, we found that automation through our automation, through like a call to action. Cierra has allowed for a better consumer experience so that by the time our ISA's see them do a certain trigger event, whether it be scheduling a tour or wanting to actually do a meeting or they visit a property, so many times it makes sense to outbound reach them.

[00:18:07] Well, now the ISA's are using that emotional intelligence to perceive that intent, and now they're nurturing the relationship from anywhere from three months to five years and really have that mindset of willingness to nurture our database long term. And and to me, buying leads or any of that, that's building the database. That's just people that if I market right, we'll transact or refer people, because I believe because of the video and the engagement we have with our community, we're adding value, rather we transact or not. And so then at the bottom of the funnel, our agents primarily are focusing on that three months or less time frame people, which is what they're the best at anyway, and that you're offering the best high level consultative service to the people they meet with. And I think that's just such a shift from what we did before, because that's what agents get into this business to do. They want to transact and they want to meet with people that want to meet. They're not looking always to meet and nurture that two year relationship. That's where the rainmaker's of the world really come in. And they see that vision and that's why they built teams. But not every real estate agent gets into it to build that type of longevity. Initially, they come into this need money.

[00:19:14] So giving our agents the opportunity to transact, I think, is is a win win. It's what they expected when they got their license. And it's what we can offer if we build the right flow. So to scale to answer that, it's allowed us now to prioritize very assembly line style in the highest and best use of time for everyone in the company. Which is going to increase appointments, increase contacts, and now we know the data so much better and we can measure it better, that now we can justify if we want to upgrade, spend on a certain lead source or if we want to try another thing. And and because that's all tracked better with that inside sales department. Now, in monitoring the numbers a lot more closely because they're employees, I can I can have a lot more requirements on how we measure data and send it to you to interpret. And then agents are getting more appointments. So they're happier than just getting paper quickly. It's. And therefore, the transactions follow because everyone's doing their best use of time and then you can monitor it closely because you know what everyone's doing. And so you know what to tweak back to the thing. We don't have enough leads or we have too many leads, not enough agents like wherever the conversations, you know what to coach to know, which gives us the precision to really dynamically adjust as we go through the year, all of it.

[00:20:24] I suspect that for a lot of people there, you know, there are twenty twenty one thing, if I'm hearing this from you, I'm hearing this from from Robby Novak, all these people as separate prospectors and composers because it's a different don't put your clothes out to pitch in baseball.

[00:20:44] You know you don't. There Will Chapman in the World Series. And the Cubs didn't throw them out in the first inning, you know, situationally. Yeah. And we should adjust situationally. But I use sports analogies a lot in this because I don't think it's I think it's more relative than people think is situational. You know, the best coaches in sports are, you know, Bill Belichick, you know, look at the Spurs, Popovich like people that adjust to the scenario and listen to the situation and respond. And maybe that's something I learned in the military. I'm not quite sure. But it seems very intuitive to address the situation, observe, look at the data and apply a specific situation, which we're all consumers. That's what we want to receive, any business we go to. And Mike actually did a really good job when I was at the summit. Mike Noveck talked about that a little bit, is like just understanding what they're doing, like why are they doing what they're doing and believe them where they're at. And you can't convince someone of something that's not true. You can't sell a house. I've said that since I got into this five years ago is this isn't a sales job, is a consultation.

[00:21:47] It's a you're a consultant. You can't motivate someone to buy a house. You can't it doesn't matter. I mean, I for example, I would never thought I'd live in a one bedroom and a downtown area, but I like to work a lot. My house is one hundred yards from my office. I value my relationship with my significant other. So I like to work a lot. My priority is to get home after I work a 12 hour day and not be in a car for thirty minutes to an hour. Wasting that, you know, would I ever have picked before that motivationally to buy and live in a one bedroom? Never in a million years and definitely not in an urban area. I'm not from that. I don't like that that much, but I like that my motivation was to be close to work so I can have a good family life. So we're all consumers. We're going to have reasons that we decide to do things. I think it's very important as salespeople to remember the person we're talking with is just a consumer. And our job as consultants is to give them a positive experience, meeting them where they're at.

[00:22:46] And I think that specialization of work, the closer's doing with the closures, do you know, I don't want to slow them down and make them less of a closer I want to give them people to close because you're good at that. Let me let you do that. And the relationship building. Let me let someone that's more we're giving the stability of a salary plus some incentive. And I say let me let them incentivize them to nurture long term and not be tied to the immediate close. So that specialization allows us to give a better experience for the consumer.

[00:23:15] It's a totally different skill set. The the closer mindset versus the prize, it's totally different and neither one is wrong.

[00:23:22] And I think that's important to accept.

[00:23:23] Oh, no, not at all. Yeah. And people are saying the same thing is you got to, especially with prospecting, disconnect yourself from the outcome. You've got to have it.

[00:23:35] Otherwise it's literally only making commission. Hey, don't be tied to the outcome. Don't just do it objective. But there are significant others at home not working. Take care of the kids. Maybe some of our agents, they have a why so big? They have to provide for their family, the head of household.

[00:23:54] They're really providing or know it's expensive. We're in a recession in some industries. Maybe the spouse lost a job. What it is, agents are only making commission. So as a company to realistically say, hey, I don't know that I could do that, like be that objective. And I'd like to think that I'm pretty objective. But I think it's a big ask to ask people to not try to close everyone as an agent that they're working with. That's a very long term. And not everyone's financially in that position to be able to think like that every day.

[00:24:22] Yeah. So, Chris, a couple of questions of getting here in the chat. Yeah.

[00:24:30] I think you touched on this a little bit, I think this is a great question, you wish you would have automated sooner, I would say.

[00:24:42] The admin process, so we're using money.com and I probably would say the sales, but the thing is, you can add sales all day, but if you don't have a clean admin process, the customer experience and closing the deals is going to be crazy. Just not a good experience for the consumer if you scale sales faster than admin. So I would honestly, we have some of the best admins I've ever worked with in the industry. And one of the things they were doing a lot of is copy and pasting from, you know, into one system, into the other than pulling data from the CRM and then making sure it goes into Sisu and then working the transaction somewhere else now has a feature to work. Transactions, I think was a huge win and that's why they did it. So everything can kind of be in one space for the admin. But if they're doing moving around, it's the game of telephone. You're going to drop data you're going to miss. And as a looking at a thousand yard view, if my data of lead source that lead came from and and all those little things aren't accurate, how am I making decisions and what am I spending lead money on or how am I pivoting if it's not working, if I don't know.

[00:25:47] It's an emotional decision, which I don't recommend. So I would automate data management from the transaction to Sisu. There's a couple of companies out there that do it because then you're at least making decisions on what needs help. There's always going to be something, like I said, that needs more time or more money thrown at it or more people thrown at it. But if you don't accurately have empirical data to tell you what that is, I don't think you make the right decisions. So automating that data, transferring and as much of that admin process with a Sisu Monday, whatever it might be to do, the actual management think is broken. But there's several out there. Whatever it is, I would streamline get them off of Excel sheets, if that's what they're using and. Yeah, streamline that so your data is good, you're making accurate decisions.

[00:26:31] I one hundred percent agree I'm not a big ops background like you are, but I would get in there and say, where's the spreadsheet and how I'm going to kill it.

[00:26:41] One hundred percent. And and they're going to be tied to that. And, you know, one of the hard things at first is like this is the someone that's good at admin are very tied to their process. They're supposed to be there. Why make dough as a as a rainmaker, as an ops person? Your personality is not that. That's why you don't do it. So come in and protect it and make it not about inspecting their process, but I think it's so important. I'm glad it's like make sure they're involved with the restructuring of it to not feel attacked as if they've been doing something wrong the whole time. It's kind of a mess when I first did it, as I didn't necessarily convey the full the full picture. And it's very easily for someone that's a high ass or C if you follow the discourse like someone is really talented in that position to feel like you're coming at their process versus this is just a company process you came into and we're just improving it and literally get them into involved with because then you don't have to anymore now. And a year from now, they're going to be educated and really in line with where we're going. And they're going to be the ones inspecting the process year over year versus me always having to go in and do it. So I think it's really important to include them with that. Why? Of why we're redeveloping it and really trying to streamline and make their job more. Called creative and impactful to make the business more efficient.

[00:28:03] Well, thanks, Chris. We're up on time. Jeff says you're super smart. Dude, I 100 percent agree. Thank you, guys.

[00:28:11] It's a great conference, by the way. And I've checked in when I can to watch. And you guys did a great job. I'm excited to see this keep growing. It's been fun. And in the near future by.

About the Author

Zac Muir
Director of Marketing and Sales

Zac is blessed to do what he loves - writing content, driving traffic, building sales funnels for SaaS companies, eating unhealthy amounts of cereal and living his best life with his beautiful wife.🍚