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First Person

How Vanessa Bergmark Builds Relationships with Other Brokerages to Better Her Business and Community

“You know, if you just put head down and stick to your business and stick to your way of thinking, I think you miss out.  But if you can lift your head up, get out, and grow that network, you can really actually infuse your own company with great information.” -Vanessa Bergmark, CEO and owner of Red Oak Realty

Here are a few highlights:

  • The importance of learning and collaborating with other brokerages to grow your own company.
  • How growing relationships grows a successful business
  • The power of listening to the needs of your community to better serve them

Rather read it? Check out the transcript here:


Mike Schneider:Welcome back to another episode of our First Person series, where we talk about the intersection of relationships and business, particularly in real estate. And I'm honored today to have Vanessa Bergmark, CEO and owner at, Red Oak Realty.

Vanessa Bergmark: Thank you. Thanks for inviting me.

Mike Schneider: Thank you for joining. Well, uh, we'd like to rewind and, and go-- since we're about first, uh, I'd love to hear how you first got into real estate.

Vanessa Bergmark:  I, uh, was working, actually-- apparently I did it backwards. I was working at a venture capitalist firm [laughter].

Mike Schneider: Okay.

Vanessa Bergmark: So I guess I should've stayed. Um--

Mike Schneider: Me too.

Vanessa Bergmark:  Right? Oh, look at that. And, I wanted the freedom, to, you know, design, sort of, my day to day experience. Bought a home, a brutal process but actually really loved what I learned and loved the energy and loved how quickly it moved. So I took the test, became an agent, and then about 14 months after becoming an agent, went into management. And then about, uh, four years after management, went into ownership. And then that's kind of been the story. I've been in it about 15 years now.

Mike Schneider: That's really interesting. I love the creativity aspect of that.

Vanessa Bergmark: Yeah.

Mike Schneider: We were on Indie Broker yesterday and you were a great moderator there. But that was a big theme for me. My big take away was the ownership of running a business. So how's that, how's that transition been for-- it sounds like you made that shift early.

Vanessa Bergmark: Well I think when you--

Mike Schneider: Let’s  talk a little bit about that.

Vanessa Bergmark: When you're an agent, you are running your business, right? And, uh, there is creativity in, in the business side of it. So, I still, right now, am, am, am working with agents and I, I pay attention to the market and I pay attention to the data and what is going on with the economy. But there's also running a business piece of it. And I think if I had to say what was my favorite part and what's even my favorite part of being an agent and then transitioning into an owner, was the creativity in building a business, in building a brand, in building a team, and hiring to that team, uh, the recruiting practices, the clients, how you advertise, how you end up dominating a market, how you collaborate within that market. That's exciting for me--

Mike Schneider:Yeah.

Vanessa Bergmark: So I sort of evolved into it sort of starting from an agent perspective and then grew into a larger sort of, society, community perspective.

Mike Schneider: That's really exciting. And, part of what we wanna get to in this series is getting down to some of the specifics that other agents that are thinking about that transition can be applying to their business.

Vanessa Bergmark: Yep.

Mike Schneider: But first, I just wanted to ask, you know, how you see relationships playing into this industry, because that's one of the things that we've built our company around. It's always interesting to hear different views on that. How does relationships fit in real estate?

Vanessa Bergmark:  Well, I mean, I think this is-- everyone will say this is a relationship industry. Uh, so from the agent perspective, huge relationship industry.

Mike Schneider: Uh huh.

Vanessa Bergmark: Yes, there can still be new relationships formed in different platforms, especially digitally, but, it's always gonna be how well that relationship does that gets you through the business and then adds more business. So, the better you are at relationships, the better you are at people-- we just heard the emotional IQ--

Mike Schneider: Mmm.

Vanessa Bergmark: --in growing relationships, I think that's what grows a really successful business. So, I take --  I look at how to help my agents growing their business--

Mike Schneider: Yep, yep.

Vanessa Bergmark: --through relationships. But then there's also the job that I am having as their broker, owner, that my relationships matter too.

Mike Schneider: Sure.

Vanessa Bergmark: Because they add value to the business, which then adds value to the agent, which then trickles down to adding value to the consumer. So, again, it's relationships in every domain.

Mike Schneider: All different aspects. So can you, can you unpack that a little bit for us. What are some specific examples of, of how, either, your relationships at the, at the brokerage level, or something you coach your agents on--

Vanessa Bergmark: Yeah.

Mike Schneider: --how does that play out on a day to day basis for--

Vanessa Bergmark: So, um--

Mike Schneider: --for driving business forward?

Vanessa Bergmark: So, I can say from the business level, the creativity is important, right? But, you need to go outside of your island or your experience or your brokerage--

Mike Schneider: Yeah.

Vanessa Bergmark: --your community, to find new and inspiring ideas that are rarely often found even just within real estate, right?

Mike Schneider: Sure.

Vanessa Bergmark: So it's other industries. I could be traveling or get stuck at the airport or whatever it may be, and actually get inspired by something that I can bring back to my business. So, that's just a, you know, from a tactical, getting outside and having a perspective. But then it's sometimes getting outside, having a perspective or a meeting or a relationship with someone in another industry--

Mike Schneider: Yep.

Vanessa Bergmark: --that is inspiring or, challenging, that is creative--

Mike Schneider: Mmhmm.

Vanessa Bergmark: --that you can then bring back in and infuse into the brokerage. And, you know, you've probably heard quite a bit yesterday at the, at the independent brokerage day--

Mike Schneider: Yep.

Vanessa Bergmark: --is that we have the freedom to actually, kind of, pivot when we want to. That-- there, I used that word--

Mike Schneider: There you go.

Vanessa Bergmark: --that's not supposed to be used. But, you know--

Mike Schneider: Yeah, welcome to San Francisco.

Vanessa Bergmark: Exactly. You can change your mind. Um, you can get inspired by something and change the course of where your company goes. But a lot of that is built through what I'm seeing other people do successfully.

Mike Schneider: Hmm.

Vanessa Bergmark:Right? And then I take that and some of it's not gonna work, but some of it is really going to work. So, I have built a network of independent brokerages that I feel are doing an incredible job.

Mike Schneider: Hmm.

Vanessa Bergmark: And, uh, are inspiring and are doing things, maybe, differently or-- whatever it may be that I find in them. And we've built that network. So we'll meet in different cities. We'll get together and share some of our tactics that we're using, uh, some of the things that work, some of the things that didn't work. And so now I've got this, this group of people that I can dial into almost at any stage of my own growth or challenges.

Mike Schneider: Yeah.

Vanessa Bergmark:And, um, and that's a give and take thing, right?

Mike Schneider:Hmm.

Vanessa Bergmark: That's-- you don't just show up there and say, "Okay, what have you got? What have you got? What have you got? I'm gonna harvest this and take it back."

Mike Schneider: "Hey, help me this problem, everyone."

Vanessa Bergmark: Right. Like, you always-- somebody has to be coming with what they're doing and when you also have a lot of giving.

Mike Schneider: Yeah.

Vanessa Bergmark: So, whether it's around information or intel or something that--

Mike Schneider: Sure.

Vanessa Bergmark: --you've gone through first, you can pass that along, package it and make sure they you're both, you know, that you're reciprocating--

Mike Schneider: Sure.

Vanessa Bergmark: --in that relationship. So there's been a lot of that.

Mike Schneider: Do you mind sharing something that you've brought to that group recently, as in, "Hey guys, I did this and it really worked,?"

Vanessa Bergmark: Um--

Mike Schneider: Or, "It's really exciting."

Vanessa Bergmark: Uh, so, we're actually-- I, I could say something that was interesting that was shared with me, was--

Mike Schneider: Sure.

Vanessa Bergmark: --were-- there-- you might've heard, just recently-- um, I was talking to Jonathan Boatwright recently.

Mike Schneider: Yeah.

Vanessa Bergmark: And he used a book called Traction in the EOS system.

Mike Schneider: EOS, yeah.

Vanessa Bergmark: And they are two years into that. The other person in our group is a year into it. We're just starting it. And they were giving me the guidance on, "Here's where you gotta shortcut. Here's where you gotta add this in. Here's what this is going to do to your firm, and how to get through that." And it was just this incredible advice from people that I expected that were on the-- either deep in the middle of it, a year out of it, and giving us practical advice on going into it. Um, the same has been with, I'm in the Bay Area. There's been a lot of disruption there. And it's heading back east. And there was plenty of information and support on how we're weathering it as independents and what we're doing that is actually working with our own, sort of, tribe.

Mike Schneider: Yep.

Vanessa Bergmark: And sharing that information with these other brokerages that are, kind of, now starting to see things that are two years out from--

Mike Schneider: Sure.

Vanessa Bergmark: --what we saw happening back west. So, it's just keeping those relationships. I think the power of a network is that, again, that reciprocal piece.

Mike Schneider: Right.

Vanessa Bergmark: But it's also in what you take and actually do with it. You know, if you just put head down and stick to your business and stick to your way of thinking, I think you miss out and I think that's one of the things where the ones that are-- and it happens, especially when you're in your own brand.

Mike Schneider: Sure.

Vanessa Bergmark: That it's just your way of doing things and--

Mike Schneider: Yep.

Vanessa Bergmark: --and you can get a little bit complacent in that, you know?

Mike Schneider: Yeah.

Vanessa Bergmark: But if you can lift your head up, get out, and grow that network, you can really actually infuse your own company with great information.

Mike Schneider: Let's go really, really specific.

Vanessa Bergmark: Excuse me.

Mike Schneider: When you think about relationships, and maybe it's back to your agent time, I think your comment on, "Get a network. Build a network. Contribute and learn from the network," is really valuable. I mean that's the goal with other business owners that you can learn from.

Vanessa Bergmark: Yeah.

Mike Schneider: In terms of actually growing your business or how you coach your agents, is there something about how you manage or something you picked up, around the relational aspect that you do that's a tip or trick, you'd say, "Here's something you should try this year, in 2019,"?

Vanessa Bergmark: Well, I think that the one thing we-- that humans complain of is that we are great talkers but not great listeners. And, so, when you are doing business with somebody, the most frustrating thing is when you feel like you're telling them what you want over and over again, and they're just not hearing it. If you've had a successful relationship, and if we bring it back to real estate, it's the sale of a house or the purchase of a house, you've spent time with that individual. A lot of time. You've-- if you've been listening, you've been hearing a lot. You get to know a lot about that person. I would say the same thing if I-- right now as a business owner in my community, I spend a lot of time listening to the needs of our community.

Mike Schneider: Hmm.

Vanessa Bergmark: Listening to them, not even making an opinion, but hearing them and then figuring out how do you serve that. So, if you're keeping that relationship going, or you wanna break into that sphere and you wanna get continued business, it's-- what did you pay attention to all along that mattered, and how do you apply that to the next customer? Because sometimes they are very specific and, and they show up in, in everyone. But then the other thing is-- one of them was--I was often someone that would listen, remark, remember, and then give a gift or some sort of token that, that showed that I did hear and I did care. And--

Mike Schneider: And that's not just a closing gift? You're saying, just in daily life?

Vanessa Bergmark: Just in daily life.

Mike Schneider: Interesting.

Vanessa Bergmark: I mean, just, even with some of my own colleagues. One of the things I'm big on is collaboration and I feel that a piece of what is missing at an industry level is, we are a bunch of factions and we, and we tend to have, you know, a bit of conflict at the top. And when that conflict happens within a transaction, it trickles down the consumer, like it or not.

Mike Schneider: Yep.

Vanessa Bergmark: And then it changes the consumer experience, right? It's like if your parents had had a bad marriage. It's not gonna be a happy household. It trickles down. So, it infiltrates that experience. And I think that that's been a lot of why people want to see brokerage change, amongst many things. But it's that the experience on a whole isn't great. If you could ask for and, kind of, almost, demand by actions, not just by saying, you know, "We need to treat each other better," but start by treating your competitors better. Then you will see how relationships can form at a bigger level. So that's with both agents. You know, you can still serve your client without conflict. You can negotiate, but still respect each other and make it a good consumer experience. And it's the same at the broker level. So, when I would develop those relationship, there would be a little gift or note or a bottle of wine when there was a transaction that got difficult and we respected each other. And then that created trust.

Mike Schneider: That's great.

Vanessa Bergmark: And then, with that trust, you create a community experience--

Mike Schneider: Yep.

Vanessa Bergmark: --if you really work at it. So I think, I would say, every relationship you're in, especially if you're starting out, does actually matter.

Mike Schneider: Yes.

Vanessa Bergmark: And how you treat people along the way, whether you like the experience or not, actually matters as well.

Mike Schneider: I think that's a really good insightful thing for us to wrap up on. I think a lot of agents miss the fact that their relationship in the broader community have an impact on their customers as well. It's not just me protecting my network, but if another agent knows that I'm great to work with, right,it's gonna smooth the transaction. It's gonna be a better consumer experience. And so, your relationships on all different aspects matter.

Vanessa Bergmark: And it's going to affect your next client.

Mike Schneider: Absolutely.

Vanessa Bergmark: If you were not great to work with, that poor client is gonna have your--

Mike Schneider: That poor client is gonna suffer from how you handled--

Vanessa Bergmark: --your follow-up experience. Exactly.

Mike Schneider: --a previous relationship.

Vanessa Bergmark: Yeah.

Mike Schneider: Well, thank you Vanessa. Thanks for being on First Person, and, uh--

Vanessa Bergmark: Thank you.

Mike Schneider: --we'll call it at that.

Vanessa Bergmark: Thanks.

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