It’s time for Gutsy Leadership – Marilyn Wilson’s observations of the CMLS conference

by Marilyn Wilson on October 13, 2011

CMLSThe CMLS Conference in Tucson was absolutely the BEST EVER in my view!  First, there were over 550 attendees – the largest in conference history. The conference continues to grow in popularity year after year due to the relevant and timely content delivered coupled with well-organized and FUN events. This year was no different.  The CMLS Board led by Merri Jo Cowen and the fabulous hosts at the Tucson Association of REALTORS® led by Phil Tedesco and Wes Wiggins, formerly of Tucson created a very memorable event.   Jim Harrison, CEO of MLSListings was also elected as the latest board member of CMLS too.  He will be a great addition to the group, I’m sure.

The event was kicked off with keynote speaker Brian Taylor, who set the tone of the conference to be focused on evolution, change and transitions.  He used several exercises to graphically depict the ways organizations fall into bad habits and use the wrong motivators to influence change ineffectively.  He set the tone for every presenter to speak frankly and talk about the “real” issues holding back the MLS industry.   In my view the single largest hurdle to growth and evolution of the MLS industry is our own hesitation to take bold and sometimes even unpopular moves to keep the industry ahead of the endless number of competitors coming after us.

Governance

I was proud to be a part of the first panel moderated by Brian Boero from 1000 Watt Consulting talking about new ways to think about governance.   In my view one of the fastest ways for MLSs to become more nimble and agile in their decision-making would be to adjust the ways they are managed.  Here’s some heresy to think about. What if MLSs were run by a “paid” board of directors hired for their diverse expertise in technology, customer service, marketing and finance?  What if MLSs acted more like technology companies and less like associations, making decisions quickly and constantly evolving?  What if MLS executives were rewarded for their ability to read trends and position their organizations as leaders in the local market?

My partner on this panel, Thomas Brown Esq. was, in my view the most thought provoking speaker during the entire conference.   He implored the industry to think about diversifying its board of directors and ownership structure to avoid what he believes to be the inevitable anti-trust lawsuits we are setting ourselves up for. He used great examples from the credit card, music and stock exchange industries as graphic examples of the potential future of the MLS industry.

Non-Dues Revenue

My partner Victor Lund moderated a great panel on innovative ways for MLSs to create non-dues revenue.  Jim Harrison and Robert Drummer talked about their company’s new ad network.   Victor Lund briefly discussed RETechnology’s new Success Store that enables MLSs to quickly and easily create their own online store.  CoreLogic talked about their InfoNet product and Kevin Greene from RED talked about a variety of products offered by their company.  The good news is there are a lot more opportunities for MLSs to create passive income.  We have seen a few other exciting ideas that are going to help MLSs diversify their revenue base.

Agent Ratings

I moderated a panel of smart people who are all very passionate about the concept of Agent Ratings.   We have talked about this topic for SEVERAL CMLS conferences now….I have to say that I am disappointed by the lack of adoption of this concept among MLSs.  I’m not sure why we’re so afraid of this topic even though everyone in the audience readily admits they rely on ratings to make purchase decisions for everything from restaurants to dentists to books. Sara Bonert from Zillow was on the panel and proudly stated that they now have 70,000 ratings on their site. I’m not sure MLSs don’t believe they could create a valuable tool that can improve agent service levels and help promote agents to consumers at the same time.  Why is this so hard?   This is an example, where we need some gutsy leaders, other than Bob Hale and Eric Charbonneau in Montreal to step up and make this happen!

Eric talked about how the concept was sold to his board as a risk management tool.  Sounds like a viable plan to me! Who’s going to be next?

MLS Branding

Poor Rita Johnson from Pranix fell ill at the conference so I was her last minute stand-in on the panel about MLS Branding. I hope you’re feeling better Rita!  Ray Larcher of Triangle MLS, representing the MLS Domains Association summarized some very encouraging consumer research that clearly demonstrated that consumers recognize the value of the MLS. They believe the MLS delivers the most up to date, comprehensive and secure listing information available anywhere.  Tracy Weir from Inman News facilitated a spirited discussion about how to leverage the MLS “Good Housekeeping seal”.   Some believe the MLS brand should be attached any site that follows best practices in data control and quality. Others believe the MLS brand should only be attached to MLS websites.   This topic is the centerpoint of the upcoming CMLS Workshop on November 9th at the NAR Conference in Anaheim. Registration is now open for the event. Each CMLS member can register one attendee free and a second for $59.  Hurry because attendance will be limited to 150.   Register here.

The CMLS conference stimulated lots of thoughts and perspectives from the WAV Group. Stay tuned for lots more blog posts spurred by the lively discussions at CMLS!

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