Verified reviews in the property sector with Ben Marley, Commercial Director of the ESTAS Group

And how to overcome red tape in contract negotiations

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In this episode, Legislate meets Ben Marley, Commercial Director of the ESTAS Group. ESTAS is the customer review platform exclusively for agents, conveyancers, mortgage brokers and suppliers who deliver great customer service. In this episode, Ben explains how their invite only model means they are only collecting reviews for transactions which have actually happened within the property sector and how to overcome red tape in contract negotiations.

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Moderator: Welcome to the Legislate Podcast, a place to learn about the latest insights and trends in property, technology, business-building and contract drafting. Today, I'm excited to welcome Ben Marley, the commercial director of the Estas Group on the show. Estas is the customer review and awards platform exclusively for agents, conveyances and mortgage brokers. Ben, thank you for taking the time, would you like to please share a bit of background about yourself and Estas?


Ben Marley: Sure, thanks Charles, thanks for having me on. And, yes, really excited to have a conversation with you today about this. So, quick intro from me, as you, kind of, said, I'm Ben Marley, I'm the commercial director for the Estas Group, I have been with the company now for just a little over two years. So I started during the dark days of-, it was a week before lockdown one, so that was an interesting time to start with a new organisation, when we all became prisoners of war in our own home, a time that I'm sure we'd like to very much forget. So, the Estas, yes, we were born out of being an awards platform that is purely based on customer service and it's about the, kind of, the feedback that is collected by the end-, from the agent, on the end of the consumer. And on what they say about them and how they rate the service that they have received from them. Fast-forward to where we've moved to today, we've now evolved that into a review platform which allows agents to be able to collect real live data that can then be displayed in relevant marketing channels such as their website, Google, social media, etc., as well.


Moderator: That's great. So does that mean you're trust pilot for the property market?


Ben Marley: That's a bit of a bad word in my world, Charles. Yes, so we're slightly different to trust pilot because we're not a review website. We both collect reviews, it'd be a bit like Tripadvisor and, I think, are probably the two, both allow people to be able to leave reviews. One is when someone has actually stayed at a hotel, another is that you can leave a review having never had any interaction with the business. Ours, we only operate through an invite-only model, so we are very much only dealing with real transactions that have actually happened within the property sector.


Moderator: Okay, no, that's great. Thank you for clarifying. And, since joining one week before lockdown, what's been your favourite moment so far?


Ben Marley: So, a lot of people know the Estas as being the big awards, it's always viewed as being the Oscars of the property industry. I was very fortunate that I actually used to have a partnership with the Estas in my previous company and had actually attended the last previous four events. Which is very nice to attend with, kind of, no commercial agenda and just have a nice day and celebrate customer successes out there. When you then see the inner workings of that and actually what goes on to put that event on, that was mind-blowing, for me. I was just like, 'I can't believe that this is all the things that we have to go through,' even down to the organisation of trophies. When you're handing out 320 trophies in a day that are all individually personalised, the organisation has to go in there, Charles, it's just mind-blowing in terms of, like, how they will arrive. The fact that they're all wrapped individually four different ways and that they will arrive in a number, so we have to order them all in a number, those numbers then have to be laid out on a table for them to do that. If there's anyone who's got married and has had the arduous task of having to do their seating plan for their wedding that may be anything between 100 to maybe 150 people, imagine doing that for over 1,100 people. That is a task and a half, I can assure you. So it's been really cool to see, like, the other side of it and what goes on behind. And, as I said, it's just, you know, it blew my mind as to what goes into it.


Moderator: Yes, I imagine 1,100 people every year and, yes, I don't know where you'd start to find 300 trophies.


Ben Marley: I know, the bill for that is astronomical, but yes, no. All good fun.


Moderator: Great, and what do you wish you'd known before joining Estas?


Ben Marley: Probably that COVID wasn't going to happen. I think, really, for me, starting a new role and then being a week into it when lockdown hit, I never intended on working from home and, just on a personal note, I never realised actually how much I disliked working from home. And, for a lot of people, they really enjoy it. It's not for me, Charles, I have to say, absolutely, I need to be around people, to be in an office where I can talk to people and have that, sort of, social interaction with that people. Yes, work from home is not a thing I wish to go through again, pretty sure.


Moderator: But you survived.


Ben Marley: We did, we were all doing a homeschooling with our children and trying to juggle both work and parenting and homeschooling and everything else that, kind of, went along with that. It was, yes, tough times, but we're all good now.


Moderator: Great. And now you've been there for just over two years, what is the Estas vision for the next three, five, ten years?


Ben Marley: Yes, it's really interesting. So, we have regular meetings to keep discussing our company roadmap, really. And for us, we had a plan as to what we wanted to become. Because the Estas, you know, we're a business that's been going for nineteen years, but seventeen of those, we were just awards. Now, in the last two years, we've now evolved that into a review platform. So, for us, now, the opportunity is to keep growing our customer base in terms of the agents, the conveyances, the mortgage brokers and the other technology suppliers who we operate with currently in that market. But also, within that property space is actually many other factors that we could potentially be starting to move into, as well. So, for us, I really feel like, in the property space, the sky is the limit and where we want to be known is we want to be synonymous with, kind of, being both the default review platform and the award that everyone wants to win because it's purely based on the end-to-end service that's delivered by the respective business to the end consumer that everyone's just, like, you have to be on it. I say, that's our main goal that we're still working towards.


Moderator: That's great, good luck on executing that vision. And so, as a commercial director with quite a few years of experience, I imagine you've encountered contracts and various forms of read tape, are you able to, kind of, share a bit of your experience dealing with them and if there are any areas of friction that you had to overcome?


Ben Marley: Yes, absolutely. In a previous life, I used to work for a publishing company that was-, the area that I used to work in was with pharmaceutical companies and other suppliers of those pharmaceutical companies. Where read tape is something that is a daily occurrence that we were inevitably having to go through. So, in terms of my actual personal experience, I've had a lot of it, have I dealt with it personally? No, but what I did experience was that, from a commercial angle, actually, factoring that into things like your forecasting, your pipeline, the fact that, once someone has agreed to move forward with a proposal, now the due diligence that someone's going to go through on our business and, bearing in mind the company I was working for, we weren't small, we were 5,000 employees and we were about $1.8 billion dollars of revenue every year. We were a large operation. Yet the requirements that they had to get us set up as a supplier to them was absolutely astronomical and it was actually the timing on that, you could watch deals roll, not just into following months and quarters but into following fiscal years. And that was a really hard position to find yourself in. You know, for me as an individual but also my teams as well. And, when you're watching people who have been working on deals for the last potentially year or two years and to see those creep over into subsequent financial years as a result of this red tape and contracts taking the length of time that they do was, yes, challenging, to say the least.


Moderator: Okay, and I definitely relate to that, partly why I started Legislate was to reduce how long it takes to get these type of contracts approved and signed. Because, Ben, in two occasions, we ended up losing the deals because they just took too long in legal.


Ben Marley: Absolutely.


Moderator: So yes, hopefully, hopefully businesses that use Legislate won't have to experience this anymore.


Ben Marley: Sure, yes. Do you know what, it does-, because it's not just on a personal level, that can really make or break someone's month, quarter, and the fact that an internal lawyer or whoever that their compliance person is, good compliance officer, etc. they might be sat on a whole stack of stuff. And then they're just getting through work. And the priority at their end is very difficult to try and put any sort of urgency on things when they're like, 'Everything is an equal priority,' to those guys. But when your income is reliant on something potentially being signed off, that's quite a hard thing for someone to swallow, really.


Moderator: Yes, absolutely.


Ben Marley: And I think, you know, what you're seeing about legal just having so much to do and whether there's equal priorities in high priority. If you're a start-up, you'll rarely be priority and, really, what we're trying to do with legal teams when they work with us is to delegate some of that authority to the business users so that legal don't need to get involved or dragged into these low-value contracts. Because, on the one hand, they're low-value for them, but also they don't necessarily enjoy reviewing an NDA or reviewing an employment contract, that's not much fun. So it's a win-win.


Moderator: Great. So I'm conscious, Ben, that I've already taken a lot of your time, so I'm going to ask you the closing question to our guest. So, if you're being sent a contract to sign today, what would impress you?


Ben Marley: I think simplicity. As someone who is not qualified to be able to understand maybe 50% of the text or jargon that is currently being used, a lot of the things in there, I'd say that one of the main reasons why people bypass a lot of the Ts and Cs, when we're all staring at contracts, you invariably scroll to the bottom, just tick the box and say, 'I've read that.' Mainly it's because people don't understand what's actually being said and what the implications are of something. And we've all signed up to things in the past. If contracts could be made far more simpler, i.e., 'These are the things that we spoke about, can you please refer to point dot that would actually make reference to the specific product service, etc., that you're buying.' I think that would go a long way with a lot of people.


Moderator: Yes, no, I totally agree. And simplicity is something that we try to do at Legislate, both in keeping the legal language simple and easy to understand but also presenting different views of the same information. Because some people get overwhelmed when there's a lot of text, some people like there to be explanations accompanying the text and some people like to a view a contract as a set of questions and answers. And so, we offer all of that in one place and that's definitely something landlords, letting agents, we've had feedback saying that, after they started using us, it's the first time they actually understood their contracts. Even though they'd been creating terms of business agreements or tenancy agreements in the past. So yes, thank you very much, Ben, for taking the time.


Ben Marley: No worries, thanks for having me on.


Moderator: And keep in touch.


Ben Marley: Will do, thanks Charles.

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