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Episode 313 – Madeline Hammer, Executive Director Strategic Alliances – RE/MAX LLC
Episode 31315th March 2022 • The Real Estate Sessions • Bill Risser
00:00:00 00:26:19

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RE/MAX LLC is one of the top real estate firms in the United States, with thousands of franchises. With many partners across the country, RE/MAX has a diverse, talented group of people at the helm. Bill Risser interviews its Executive Director of Strategic Alliances, Madeline Hammer, about all things real estate. Madeline talks about her journey from writing to sales and real estate to venturing into data. Tune in for more real estate insights in this conversation.


Madeline Hammer, Executive Director Strategic Alliances - RE/MAX LLC

I am interviewing someone from Inman Connect Las Vegas, November 2021. I’m going to be talking to Madeline Hammer. She is Executive Director of Strategic Alliances with RE/MAX. She has a varied background including sales and then pivoting into real estate by way of Trulia and then into Zillow Group. I’m excited to get her story so let’s get this started. -- Madeline, welcome to the show. Thank you, Bill. I’m excited to be here. I always start the show the same way. Some people like it but others go, “Change it up a little bit,” and I’m like, “No because I want to find out about you. I want to find out where you come from.” You live in Denver with RE/MAX and it makes perfect sense to be in Denver. Are you a native Coloradan? Is that where you grew up? No, I am a Midwestern girl. I grew up in Northern Illinois in Rockford, Illinois. I went to college in Iowa. You are in Denver, Colorado for a reason. How long have you been there? I moved in 2004. Tell me what I need to know about Denver that I don’t know already. Denver has 300 days of sunshine a year. It’s an amazing four-season city with sunshine all the time. As a Midwestern person, I always have multiple snow shovels and in Colorado, I use them literally once a year. There is always like one big snowstorm that comes through and dumps but for the most part, all sunshine, cold but sunny. We can get cold weather for sure. Have you adopted the Broncos and the Rockies? No. I am still a Minnesota Vikings fan. [caption id="attachment_4201" align="aligncenter" width="600"]TRES 313 | RE/MAX LLC RE/MAX LLC: It is important to buy and have enough insurance without overbuying it and understand how the policies work.[/caption]   The Vikings are moving along. They are doing okay. They have had some runs, though. They have had some awesome runs. Let’s talk about growing up in the Midwest a little bit because you said you went to Iowa. I have driven across from Chicago to Dyersville, Iowa because that is where the Field of Dreams is. I have been there and that drive there is a lot of corn. When you grew up, you were in Rockford, probably a couple of hundred thousand people in Rockford. It is a nice big town. About 250,000 people. Tell me about growing up there a little bit. I grew up in an area that was called Churchill’s Grove. It was where there was a civil war camp. The names of the streets around me were civil war generals. I grew up on Camp Avenue. It was a historical area. Rockford City is divided by a very wide river and we lived on the West side of town. There was always a thing about the East versus West side of town. Even the high school have different names East and West. It was a good place to grow up. A lot of family in Chicago and so I went back and forth into Chicago quite a bit to see cousins. You went to Iowa. You are a Hawkeye. Hayden Fry, am I right? He was the football coach. He was there for a long time so you still follow them. That is your Big Ten team. That would be my Big Ten team. I will get all sports for a second but this year, Iowa and Iowa State played each other and both were ranked in the top ten. It’s cool to have both schools because they are in different conferences but I’m sure there is a massive rivalry in the state, Cyclones and the Hawkeyes. [bctt tweet="Denver has 300 days of sunshine a year. It’s an amazing four-season city with sunshine all the time. " username="billrisser"] You know your Iowa teams. I'm going to namedrop Sean Carpenter, who is a good friend of mine and a college football freak and I have to keep up with him. I do my best. Let’s tell me the path you were following as you went to Iowa. What were you going to be? What was your focus? What was your field to study? I wanted to go into Public Relations. Initially, when I went to college, I thought I was going to be a writer and a journalist and maybe a teacher. My dad was a college teacher. I then realized that I wanted to go more towards business. I thought I was going to go into Public Relations. I did Communication Studies and I did Journalism. I was in the Public Relations Student Society of America. When I graduated, I quickly found out there were three jobs in Public Relations in the town of Rockford so I wound up in sales. Your first job is in sales. Where you are now in your career, when you look back, all that stuff you have picked up at Iowa was important and then you start doing sales on top of that. Where were you working? John Deere Healthcare. The tractor people had a healthcare division? They did. They started one of the first HMOs and this was in the early ’90s. My first job was selling group health insurance to businesses. I was only in the business for about three years but I have always appreciated spending a good amount of time on insurance because it is so important to buy it and to have enough insurance, not to overbuy it, to understand how the policies work. You have insider information is what you are saying. Enough to make my own personal decisions. I am looking at your career path because I’m able to follow things online and figure stuff out. For me, the way I put it is heavy sales background with a cool pivot into strategic partnerships. Is that the arc for you? I spent a lot of time in sales and sales leadership in telecommunications. When I got a package from Qwest, I took the money and the pension that I had saved and I put it all towards an MBA. I knew I needed to leave telecommunications. I wanted to go more towards a growth industry. You did pick one. Let’s talk about that. You spent over seven years and I call it the Trulia-Zillow universe because of that. You were there when Trulia was acquired or partnered. I was there a couple of years beforehand so I was there for the IPO and I was there for the merger with Zillow. I was there for the first three years as Trulia and Zillow were together and came to the industry as a group. [caption id="attachment_4202" align="aligncenter" width="600"]TRES 313 | RE/MAX LLC RE/MAX LLC: We vet our vendors and partners carefully. In particular, with the Canada expansion too, we look for vendors who can serve both the US and Canada.[/caption]   I’m thinking about some of the things that happened because there was this Trulia was getting reviews and Zillow was getting reviews on their own before they partnered up. I’m in the review space now myself. Was that an issue at that time? How were they going to handle that? Ultimately, they went to both places. Is it with the reviews that were collected and how we merged the data? I don’t remember there being an issue with it. Being in strategic partnerships and broker relations, gathering reviews and sharing the importance of them was something that I was always speaking about in broker events, industry events and agent events encouraging them to gather them. We had been collecting them at Trulia for two years before we started publishing them to agent profiles so we had quite a library. When the merger happened with Zillow and then we combined the reviews, it became a real powerhouse for agents. When you think about it now, Zillow Group is still the leader in the number of reviews in that thing. is doing very well as well. We are doing our best to try to catch them both. We will see how that plays. I have to ask you this question because I’m not sure of the timing of when you were at Zillow but was Jay Thompson there when you were at Zillow? Yes, he was. Did you ever have to interact with him? I know he had to talk to different people in this space based on what was happening in social because that was his job, industry outreach. He was the ombudsman for Zillow Trulia online. It was very interesting. Do you have any stories about Jay? We love telling stories about Jay Thompson. He took the bullets for so much online and I was always so impressed with how he handled fired-up people and how he diffused things and talk with them about things in a gentle, articulate way. I was taking some of those same bullets on the broker side and at events. I tried to learn from what he was saying and doing online. I don’t have any good Jay story. I’ve got plenty. I’ll save them for another time. The way Jay was, he could be gentle but there were also times where Jake could be, not snarky but he could read the room well and know that he could be a little bit more direct. It was very interesting and I always wondered and I’ve never discussed this with Jay. I wonder if he ever had to report back to somebody that wanted to know, “Why did you go that route?” I have a feeling Jay knew what he was doing and did a wonderful job in that role. I didn’t interact with him that much but I would have to guess that there were conversations inside the tower, as we used to call it, about how to handle things and from a PR perspective, directionally and I’m sure there was a lot of coaching. I would believe that. You are now Executive Director of Strategic Alliances for RE/MAX, LLC. I love that title. I know what that means because of what I’m doing now with RateMyAgent which is much different than what I was doing at Fidelity. I’m guessing you spend a lot of time on phone calls and in the last few years, you have spent a ton of time on Zoom. I’m so grateful that we’re able to go back to the office now. I don’t know about you but there’s some pleasure when you’re trying to connect with somebody to say, “Do you mind if we talk on the phone?” I hate talking on the phone. We are going to love talking on the phone for the next couple of years because we can get together in person if we need to. Also, shutting your camera off. When you get to Friday afternoon and I want to shut the camera off and not worry about what’s behind me and focus on the meeting because it’s intense to look at the camera and engage with somebody through the camera while you’re looking at content that they’re giving you then you’re taking notes over here, drinking coffee and the dog runs through. It’s also intense. I want to ask you about what your role is and what it entails. I keep thinking back. PR was a focus here. You go into sales and do well there and then you end up in the Zillow Group, which is amazing. You bring a ton. I can see where Nick and Adam we’re looking, “Look at this background. Madeline fits here.” Can you describe the role for us? [bctt tweet="Marketing to your sphere and authentically staying in touch is very important in business. " username="billrisser"] I have the lucky role of looking at technology partners and any type of vendor that is serving the real estate industry and what we have within the approved supplier program as well and bringing in new services. It’s leading our approved supplier program. I also work cross-functionally with our product and our marketing teams as there are products that we know we’re not going to build and we don’t want to have a custom product for RE/MAX then helping bring vendors into the room. Helping organize those conversations where everybody is sitting at the table and we’re looking at vendors and what do we need for our membership to help them grow their business and bring in vendors in that way as well. In history, there also have been acquisitions when things are a perfect fit. That is always an opportunity. We are very excited about the first data, the future of AI data and how it can help inform not only the calls but the timing of the calls, emails and the marketing approaches for agents. It helps break through the digital noise. I think so. I would imagine you are very organized. I try to be. I would think there would be a checklist like, “These are the things that we look for that can help our agents,” because it’s about your franchisees and the agent. That’s what you’re worried about. I would think you would go, “This one, it hit 12 of the 15 and this one only hit 2 of the 15.” Is there something that simple? It depends on the product. We vet our vendors and our partners carefully. In particular, with the Canada expansion too, we look for vendors who can serve both the US and Canada. If you are going to be in the US only, in all 50 states, stability of the company, backing of the company, we look at our RE/MAX agents and brokers already using the product. Also, it’s important to know, “What is the problem we’re looking to solve here? How is it helping an agent’s business? Are they solving it already or is it something that needs to be integrated and brought along to help solve the problem?” Starting there first, “What are we trying to do and accomplish? How’s it going to help that agent with their business?” You mentioned digital noise and there are so many products and shiny objects floating around that I would think one of your primary concerns is not overloading and saying, “The word strategic is there for a reason. We want to make sure that we’re bringing the value.” That makes sense. I don’t want our marketplace, which is what we call the landing page, where our vendors are able to display what they have or link out to their sites, to be the NAR Conference floor. For those who have not been there, it is staggering to walk in the first time to see the expo hall. I have been looking at products in this industry and a student of the industry since 2011. After two rows, I’m like, “What do they do? How is that different from that?” I completely understand how agents first can buy something and forget that they buy it and it auto bills on their credit card and then not remember what they should be using the product for. We have a lot of agents reading this but there are also a lot of startups, tech people, tech leaders and things. To have an Alliance with a massive operation like RE/MAX and it is a big part of your world as well, talk about the marketing side of things. It feels there are two sides to that marketing. There’s what your partner is going to be doing but also what RE/MAX does because your marketing is more internal to the agents. How do those two play together? In the direction we are going in, there are three big places where our vendors can mark it out to our membership. There is the direct push outreach where it can be an email or a call but direct outreach to the membership. There is a marketplace where our membership can come and look at our products. We work hard to pull people to that and then the third place is through our education channels, which is RE/MAX University. [caption id="attachment_4203" align="aligncenter" width="600"]TRES 313 | RE/MAX LLC RE/MAX LLC: Seasonality has fallen out of real estate sales. It is no longer the summer move. People move when they have an opportunity to get the house that they want.[/caption]   We are launching a new platform there. It is a very modern platform that allows our brokers to post and engage on the platform and push classes out to their membership. My vision is to have a place within our RU where we are also educating on our vendors, partners and the solutions that they are bringing to membership. As a partner now, we have to be very conscious of what your department requires and requests of us in the cadence and the delivery of things. It is always approved, double-checked and that is critical because you can’t have a rogue partner dropping an email a day. That’s not going to work. It doesn’t work for their message and membership and they will get blocked. When our vendors are reaching out to our membership to have a tight message something current, maybe educational in there first, other resources for them and have a content strategy. I will use the world verticals. Are there certain verticals now that are pretty important that you’re paying attention to? There are two main areas that I’m focusing on now. One of them is on the marketing to the sphere. There are so many opportunities that agents have to relay long-term markets out to their sphere and stay connected. We know that there is a change in the market that is coming. Everybody is talking about it. We also know that seasonality has fallen out of real estate sales. It is no longer the summer move. People move when they have an opportunity to get the house that they want. Marketing to your sphere and staying in touch in an authentic way is very important. That is one set of products that I’m looking at, how they interact with our membership. Are they in our own tech products? Are they integrated with other partners in our ecosystem? That is one area and then the second is our broker services and modernizing their backend, reporting and their...