Digital Transformation for Digitally First Companies – PropertyFox

Uber took an existing service and made it relevant to customers by digitizing the product of calling a cab and giving customers more control over the process. Now we know there is a cab around us, how long you must wait for it, how much it will cost and they made payment of the trip easy.

We need not find a new industry to be great in the digital age, we need to be inspired by our capabilities to go beyond where we are.

When it comes to digital transformation, we all know the theory. There are two pillars that need to work together for success:
Your people, and your tech.

We can further break this down into 3 areas that are critical to your business: Marketing, Ops and Customers.

It is when these three areas are out of alignment, that things go wrong. And when you’re in the middle of it all, it’s not always easy to see which part is out of alignment.

I’m going to take you through the process of how we discovered we were not in alignment as a business, and what we did that assisted our own transformation success. Hopefully some of these points resonate with you and you are able to apply this to your own business to help you identify if you’re in, or out of alignment, and how to get back on track.

It’s a long one as I’ve tried to be thorough. For those that aren’t so keen on long reads, the headings and bold text should help 🙂

I joined PropertyFox as CMO mid 2017 until January 2019 when I created my own digital consultancy again. PropertyFox is in itself known as an industry ‘disruptor’ and has turned the real estate industry on its head. It is transforming something that has been done the same way for decades and bringing it into the digital era much like Uber.

I think often people think that digital transformation is only for companies that are stuck in old, outdated ways of doing things, but the same process can be used for those already transforming industries.

The company had been going for just over a year when I joined. It was a small close knit team that had started to gain traction, but business, ops and marketing were completely disjointed. Although we didn’t know this at the time.


My mandate as CMO was of course marketing, so I focussed on getting the marketing messaging right.

We tested various messaging on our consumers and measured this through tools like Google Analytics – to see where certain messages triggered more of the responses we wanted, which of course was more property listings –  and HotJar which is a heat map software that shows how people interact with your website, and whether or not they understand what to do with it. And of course also platform specific conversion rates such as with FB business and Google Ads (which is used for paid advertising – and to help us test specific messages faster ).

Within a few months we picked up that there was a serious disconnect between Marketing & Operations. We discovered this by looking at our data and saw that there were plenty of leads coming into the business, but not many signing up with us. This was our first red-flag that there was a disconnect somewhere. Not knowing quite where to start we started listening in on conversations the Ops team were having with potential leads through call tracking software. It only took us a couple of calls to realise what the problem was.

What people saw on the internet and our marketing messaging, was not delivered in their experience when coming through to the floor.

And we knew at that moment that we were not equipping our Ops team with the tools they required, and so put together a few things we thought we could test to see if things would improve between marketing and operations.

We implemented five key elements used for digital transformation to build this bridge. 


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So the first thing we looked at was:


1. Enabling the Team

  1. It wasn’t the departments fault that they didn’t know about the specific marketing messaging. As business owners we often assume that our staff are as invested as us in the success of the company, and pays attention to the company’s marketing. But in reality, they don’t. We started by calling weekly meetings with the Ops team to introduce them to what messaging was being shared with customers, which channels we were using and also if there were different messages for particular channels and what we can see digitally is the outcome.  We played back one or two of the recordings to show them where the disconnects were (which without context, they would not have ordinarily picked up on at all). And moving forward we helped them to better script their calls against that week’s specific marketing messaging and provided further support by extending potential triggers words to keep an eye on from customers that could be related to a specific marketing message.
  2. We shared the outcomes with them on a weekly basis and by using tools like Google Analytics and HotJar; showing concretely that where they were on-point so to speak in their delivery with the messaging that lead clients to us in the first place, their conversions increased. Increased conversions to them meant increased commission. 🙂  So they all started working harder to get this right.
  3. Later we also picked up conversations in-turn from the floor and we used this in our marketing messaging, such as specific questions that were frequently coming in about how we differ to our competitors. By doing that and answering questions prior to leads ever hitting our floor, we started delivering more qualified leads to our floor from our advertising.
  4. If this had gone unmeasured it would’ve looked like we were delivering less leads to the floor, but what was happening in reality is we were delivering fewer leads, but they were more qualified – ie more inclined to sign-up with our company.
  5. We realised communication between departments was key and that prior to this we didn’t know how little communication there really was. To help cement this behaviour we started putting up digital dashboards throughout the office for everyone to see and to measure that week’s performance by staff member. Once it was so clearly visible, a kind of internal competition arose from the floor staff, pushing their conversions even higher as they proactively started seeking out what was happening in marketing & the industry. (some even started reading industry press releases & news)
  6. As a Company our conversions quadrupled within 6 weeks and as we kept refining this process, the better our lead to conversion rate became.


2. The second part was to look at our Tech and business integration

  1. After we managed to get floor and marketing working together, we wondered what other interesting information was in our data that we were probably overlooking or not picking up on.
  2. We hired a bit of a numbers genius to look at our data and analyse if he could pick up anything that stood-out. We specifically wanted a business scientist that could create and use algorithms to sift through large amounts of data to see if there were any hidden gems within. Kind of like taking large volumes of river sand and sifting it to find gold nuggets. And we were not disappointed. He found 2 pieces of data that we could extrapolate on and built out into our marketing approach, but could also take, and possibly create something that no-one else in our industry had.
  3. One of the gems he found was that our properties sold nearly four times faster than our competitors. This was huge, but we didn’t understand why or what to do with this. So after a lot of further number crunching and cross referencing, we figured out it was due to properties being priced more favourably than our competitors. Now of course one of our USPs is that we don’t have to pay large overheads due to being a digital company, whereas sometimes other real estate agencies add a bit of a buffer into the selling price, to cater for their office overheads. Without the need to add that buffer, and by looking at more data points to determine price (both historical and real-time demand as well as economic factors) our properties were perceived far more on-price point, and thus sparked more interested buyers, and so sold quicker. I make it sound far less simple than it was, but that process took us a good 6 weeks in itself.
  4. So using this gem we knew that our Valuations was one thing that put us ahead of our competitors. But Valuations at the time was quite manual and took nearly a day per valuation. Which at scale is not feasible. Using what we had learned from the data, we built out a smaller algorithm to help us automate more of this process and help us do this faster. In turn we also focussed our marketing message on this USP as well. The outcome of which was that we got in more leads and were able to to provide up to eight times the output than before from the system we had developed.
  5. My take-away on this is that in general if you can learn something from your data and pick up that something can be better or faster through creating tech or buying in digital platforms, embrace it. But you have to be looking at your data. I personally like to apply the 80/20 rule here. ( 80% of the effects come from 20% of the causes) so knowing which is which is hugely advantageous in pointing you in a direction to start.


3. The third step was to share the Vision

  1. At this point we felt like we were hitting a great stride in the business. Marketing was talking to ops, we had built out some cool tools, but it felt like the changes we had made were not yet moving the needle as much as we’d hoped. Because we are modelled on international disruptors, we knew that we could still own a much larger share of the industry.
  2. Internally it felt like we had lost the sense of urgency in the company and teams were complacent in the new found success. But why were our staff not pushing as hard as the senior management?
  3. We were so focussed on getting the machine to work, we did not take a step back to look at whether we were leaving our team behind in the eagerness to arrive at our final destination. But we never shared that destination with them in the first place.
  4. We called a big company meeting and took a bit of a walk back through time to where we started out originally, and how the vision evolved over time, and where that new vision was leading us now. We included milestones (we hit, didn’t hit, and would still like to hit) and started sharing the bigger vision with the entire company on a monthly basis thereafter. As part of these meetings we explained exactly what we were seeing in the business, our rationale for building cool tech, how we are different to our competitors, and whether we were hitting our goals against the larger company vision.
  5. But I think every business owner knows sharing a Vision is not enough to get employees excited. For the best performance of your team they somehow need to buy into your Vision. They have to live it somehow – which more accurately is really then a mantra. Vision is something that is not always easy for every team member to get behind, but a mantra is something you can believe in your core. Think about Google for example. Their mantra is “do no evil” which at the time of creation, Microsoft was seen as an “evil corporation”. Or something a little closer to home like Primi Piatti – ever notice how every single waiter is so helpful to each other and other diners? Their mantra is “to feel like home”.
  6. Your job as manager/CEO/CIO is to make sure the employees buy into the bigger picture – without that buy in it means nothing. If you can’t convince your employees, how are you going to convince customers to care? Otherwise it’s just dictating as opposed to bringing them with you on your journey and getting them excited about the possibilities.
  7. A mantra as an aside also makes it easier to hire employees – if they share core values, they could buy into the bigger picture.
  8. The mantra that everyone could agree on for PropertyFox was “Teamwork makes the dream work”
  9. Once we had shared the larger vision and officiated the mantra, we did notice a turn-around in urgency.
  10. Again, to cement this, we made sure the monthly goals & targets together with the Mantra was clearly visible within the office for all to see.


4. Governance

  1. Thinking everything would surely be hunky dory after all of this, we hoped that things would naturally start picking up a rhythm of its own and keep building traction. But it did not. 
  2. As a fairly laid-back organisation we had hoped that each person would take accountability for their own work and assumed everyone was working together as a team. They weren’t. Without someone leading them and creating processes, each person had developed their own way of doing things, which may or may not always work. We particularly noticed this when some team members were sick and others had to take on their work. Because they had worked in a completely different way, and filed/labled things in their own way, there was not consistency and it took longer for people to pick up on other team members work, which in turn meant that we started getting some negative feedback from our clients.
  3. Again we called a brainstorm meeting of which the outcome was that we needed someone to steer each departments ship in the same direction. We appointed team leads per department that would report to the dept head and department wide processes were rolled out.
  4. The interesting thing about processes is that if you do them correctly, they should be freeing not restricting. If they work they work well and people naturally want to abide by them.
  5. It was the team leaders responsibility to ensure that each member was working against the process. Each division leader was also responsible for running weekly accountability meetings with their teams based on their own processes.
  6. To help us direct some of these processes we again turned to data analytics: Timing turned out to be a critical factor. Between when people sent in lead vs when they were contacted by the floor. The faster they were contacted, the faster they signed up. We also further split this out to marketing channels and determined that some channels needed an even faster response.
  7. So one of the processes we implemented from this learning was that once a lead came in, our team had to respond to every request within the same day.


5. Last but not least of the 5 digital transformation steps, was Company Engagement & Culture

  1. Start-ups always feel like they pay more attention to company culture. They set out starting with the founders who create a vision for their own company based on what they like and enjoy. Inevitably though, as the company grows it becomes a little more serious, especially when you throw investors into the mix. Usually at this stage founders feel like they will lose staff or lose what made them unique and different in the early days, so cling to a culture that actually no longer serves the company. The same can be said for larger corporations who want to become more current and would like to attract younger staff, but just don’t seem to be able to.
  2. So typically this is ignored as it’s not always a pleasant fix. But if you want a healthy workplace where your staff enjoys coming to work, you can’t ignore it.
  3. Naturally when you’re a young startup you hire your friends, maybe family or people you like. Not always people that are best for the job. So when you start making some money and hiring the people that are great for the job, there will be a bit of a culture clash, and you’ll have to relook your culture to some degree. If you’ve never sat down and physically created a culture vision, that would be a good time.
  4. Once you do, the people that are not meant to be there will be weeded out organically.
  5. When PF started leading from the front-lines, being more transparent and creating the weekly targets it created a little bit of healthy competition between the departments. This gentle nudge changed the company culture from one of being reactive and complacent to proactive and stimulating. Departments started sharing information amongst each other if they felt it would in turn help their own dept do better in reaching their goals. And those that no longer matched this culture, resigned. Which is not really a bad thing.

All in all I would say that the one thing that made the biggest difference internally was working with the best people for the job.

The people who you put in charge of helping you through this process will effectively make or break your success.


But Success in Digital transformation is not just about your company and its internal politics. It’s also about listening to and guiding your Customers through this process.

I mentioned early on that we started off by listening and reacting to what we saw come in off the marketing messaging and how that was treated by our internal team.

We kept using our customer data and feedback to innovate, adapt and inform the way our internal ops works, and have even built custom software to help with the volume we now deal with, as well as built additional apps to provide even more insight and convenience to our clients.

As a marketer, I can say that Customer Adoption is not given the time it truly deserves in digital transformation. Many companies feel that a good enough marketing campaign should do the trick, but in reality marketing is not enough.

Yes Marketing tactics can aid adoption and help to inform and change the behaviour of consumers to some degree, but if they don’t feel like the experience is in unison between what they perceive from the marketing to what they experience with your product or service, you will fail.

We refer to this as a collaboration or exchange of information. It can take on many different forms, but the end result is that your customers feel like they are involved to a degree:

  1. Feg a Firm providing customers more participation in business or process – such as self serving kiosks like printing your own flight ticket – and therefore feeling more in control.
  2. Or providing more access & transparency through participation in other processes by means of apps or websites such as being able to conduct your own property valuation online.
  3. The Customer in turn provides information about themselves through this process, that the company can use to improve their business. This feeds back by means of data analysis which in turn leads to the Firm using this information to innovate new ideas and create new products or processes.

So you please customers by answering their demands through preempting their needs by looking at your data. A few companies who are great at this are for example Uber, Waze, Airbnb, FNB, Netflix and Zomato to name a few.

Because we listened and took all of this to heart, PropfertyFox improved lead conversion by more than 480% since starting this process.

So coming back full-circle: There are only 2 pillars to getting digital transformation right. People & Tech.

If you’re not analysing your data and putting the right people in charge you’ll always be second best.

If you don’t know what’s going on with your company or customers, give them direction and share your vision, the execution of your vision will fall short.

I hope that sharing this journey and findings may have triggered something you can take back to your own company in turn.

Need help uncovering if your company is stuck, or someone to audit your marketing strategies? Get in touch.

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