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As Illinois’ largest family-owned independent real estate services company, Baird & Warner owes much of its long-standing success to a culture that thrives on adaptability and innovation. Founded in 1855, Baird & Warner’s success is rooted in its commitment to “making real estate easier for everyone” — a promise that extends not just outwardly to its clients, but also inwardly to its agents in the form of investments in agent training, coaching, and tools.
With that goal in mind, Baird & Warner conducted a data-centric experiment to compare their previous all-in-one platform with a best-of-breed technology stack. After offering their 2400 agents the choice between the familiar CRM that was part of the all-in-one stack and Cloze, the brokerage tracked both adoption and production between the two groups.
Dean Rouso, senior vice president of strategic innovation at Baird & Warner, highlights the results:
We not only saw a very strong organic adoption of Cloze amongst our agents, but a huge boost—a staggering 36 percent boost—to their production, with 450 agents having higher production in 2023 than the unicorn peak year of 2021.”
Increasing agent profitability through technology
As a former broker and team lead who had previously managed his own agency (acquired by Baird & Warner), Dean has spent the past several years successfully applying his experience to different parts of the business to drive up per-agent productivity at Baird & Warner.
Dean describes his philosophy this way: “The only way a brokerage can be profitable is to increase per agent productivity. Don’t worry about the company being profitable. Worry about per agent productivity first. And as long as you really focus on per agent productivity, everything else will be okay.”
In 2020, Dean was serving a dual role: managing broker of Baird & Warner’s eBusiness team, as well as the vice president of sales development. As Baird & Warner started to experience greater competitive pressures, Dean and the rest of the leadership team recognized an opportunity to strengthen competitive advantage and agent retention through a reevaluation of how they were supporting agents technologically.
Lured by lofty promises of administrative ease, integration benefits, and cost efficiencies without feature compromise, Baird & Warner, like many brokerages, had previously adopted an all-in-one real estate software platform to support its agents. However, an in-depth analysis by T3 Sixty that included extensive agent and manager interviews uncovered 10 essential areas that were failing to satisfy the needs of agents and managers. In reviewing the list, the team quickly realized that their all-in-one platform wouldn’t be able to address the issues identified.
Someone can be the very best at providing a CRM. Somebody can be the best at websites. But to be best at both is like trying to chase two rabbits and catching one. It just isn’t going to work as well.”
Dean realized that to meet the needs of its agents—and to really prioritize their productivity—the company needed to consider a best-in-class tech stack that decoupled the website, property alerts, and the CRM and marketing tools from each other. Such a migration needed to be done in stages, however, and the company started by offering Cloze as an alternative CRM.
The agent’s CRM choice
“There’s a recipe to being successful in our business,” explains Dean. “The recipe used to be checklists that you did manually. As long as you follow the recipe, using some kind of system or process, you’ll be successful. Today, that recipe is a lot of AI. It means being told what you need to do, when you should do it, and reminding you to actually do it. That’s really what a good CRM can do today.”
In fact, during the migration, the brokerage offered its agents a choice: continued access to the same all-in-one platform that ran the website or the ability to adopt Cloze, the best-in-class CRM that was selected to address the specific issues identified in the T3 Sixty analysis.
“We called it ‘Agent Choice’, and we ran it side-by-side,” says Dean. “And we immediately saw adoption of Cloze increase immensely, while the adoption of the all-in-one CRM—which was never very high—slowly, but steadily, decline.”
Even at its height, usage of the all-in-one CRM was no more than 20% of the brokerage’s 2400 agents. According to Dean, even that 20% was somewhat suspect as there was little insight into how agents were actually using it.
“They could log in once a week, and be considered active,” Dean recalls. “If you’re logging in once a week, then you really aren’t using the CRM. You aren’t following the recipe. And when we added Cloze as an alternative, we saw even that minimal usage fall further—down to 10%. In contrast, Cloze went from nothing to into the thirties pretty quickly.”
Two years later, over 60% of all Baird & Warner agents are using Cloze, and 69% of the brokerages top 100 agents are either moderate or heavy users.
Agent production rises with Cloze adoption
As Baird & Warner continued to invest in technology, Dean felt it was important to really measure the results. By giving agents a choice, Dean was able to precisely calculate the impact the widespread use of Cloze had on agent—and therefore company—productivity.
Dean highlights, “No matter what technology you use, the relationship is still what’s really important. In fact, relationships are our secret weapon against all the third-party referral companies. Where AI comes in is by enabling us to make relationship building more methodical and structured. To help us do it more often. One of the reasons we picked Cloze is because it’s closely aligned with the Ninja model. We strongly believe in the Ninja philosophy of focusing on the relationship first, and Cloze is a product tailored for that.”
Within the first year of offering Cloze, Baird & Warner saw 458 agents increase their production volume from the previous year, with an average increase of ~$1.3 million. That increase compounded the following year, with 427 agents increasing their production volume (in some cases again) the following year.
When comparing agents based on their usage of Cloze, Dean and his team found that agents that used Cloze either moderately or heavily had 36% greater production than agents that used the alternative all-in-one system.
In addition to its agent capabilities, Cloze offers Baird & Warner’s leadership team deep insight into how agents are using the platform, which helps Dean and his team identify specific agents or areas of the platform that could use more in-depth training. With the clear statistics in hand of how Cloze can make a huge difference in sales volume, the team has been able to drive adoption and usage even higher.