Service With a Smile

By Paul Bergeron |

July 15, 2022 |

Updated July 15, 2022

12 minutes

Many long-time apartment management professionals are taking the leap to working for supplier partners.

It can be understandable why some in apartment management – including those whose careers span 20+years – seek new careers on the service provider side of the industry.

Loyal and passionate as devoted property management staff members are, new challenges that remain in an industry they’ve come to love – it’s a calling, right? – has a certain attraction.

These deeply experienced, hard-working and respected individuals could make the move for more money. Others are seeking a different kind of work-life balance. Another group comprises professionals who are simply excited for something different.

In speaking with professionals who’ve made the switch, the primary questions is: What made you decide to make the change? What are the upsides, and downsides? They shared how a life in sales has surprised them, what made it most challenging and offered advice to anyone who is considering dusting off their résumés in hopes for a new adventure.

It’s a grind, they admitted. “Don’t do it if you want something ‘less stressful,’” said one. “It’s not all ‘wining and dining,’ explained another. 

This group comes from careers built on tight relationships, even among their competitors – apartment management is a people-centric industry after all. They admitted that sometimes those relationships changed, or at least shifted after crossing over to sales.

“Get used to not having your calls returned and be honest with yourself about your networking skills,” several advised.

However, none queried for this article say they regret it. 

“There are endless opportunities. Everything you want in your life is attainable,” another said.

Why Did You Make the Switch?

“I wanted to do something different with 28 years of experience and knowledge,” says Virginia Love, formerly of Waterton and now at Entrata. “I loved my previous company and the amazing people I worked with, but at times it got to the point where I felt like I was going through the motions.”

Sydney Webber went from a Leasing and Marketing Director to working as a Customer Marketing Manager for Knock and is host of the “Renter Obsessed” podcast.

“You want me to be honest, I’ll be honest: I get bored easily,” Webber says. “I need to be creative and experiment with new strategies and switching to the other side of the industry has been extremely challenging and I love it! 

“Plus, working for a national company gives me access to all of the smartest people in multifamily all over the country. I’ve learned more in the last year than I had in the previous few combined.”

Lori Trainer, a Pinnacle employee for about 25 years is now at Rent. At Apartmentalize in Chicago last year – one of the first events she attended during the pandemic – she says five companies approached her and offered her jobs. Two were suppliers.

Trainer says what startled her was that she hadn’t even made it known that she was looking for a new position. “Company culture is a primary reason why I would ever want to switch companies,” she says. “A few weeks later, I made the move.”

Having a background in property management is tremendously valuable in the eyes of supplier companies, Trainer says. “When you can speak to customers, and right away they can tell that, ‘You’ve been there' and you’ve ‘walked in their shoes’ and ‘you’re not just feeding them a sales line,’ it’s a great attribute.

“I’ve had a reputation for being a loyal employee. I’ve worked at just two companies in the past 30 years, so making a change wasn’t an easy decision. Employment and career-change opportunities have never been more active in this industry. I think a lot of companies had been dormant about that and wanted to ramp up all at once.”

They still are. Ask any apartment company on either side and they’ll tell you that hiring and retaining employees is the number one challenge.

“Employees have the upper hand right now and companies know this,” Trainer says. “They are treating their own and potential staff with more respect.” 

Amanda Maclin spent time many years ago in marketing positions at Greystone and Flaherty & Collins and now is Vice President of Strategic Growth at Landing. 

“The service-provider side offers more opportunities for advancement and higher pay opportunities,” Maclin says. “When you work for a base pay plus commissions, the possibilities can be endless. I have earned commissions that were higher than my annual salary when I worked in operations.

“So, when you are working toward a life goal (such as putting children through college) debt-free, it is an easy decision to make. However, you may have a great month - or a horrible month; no payday brings in the same cash.”

What’s Most Surprising About Being in ‘Sales’?

Maclin says that many believe that working on the supplier side is “glamorous.”

“It is not. It is a grind,” she says. “Supplier partners are salespeople with a quota. We do not eat if we do not perform. Cold-calling is a big part of the job, especially in your first five years. Get used to it. Being a supplier partner is not just ‘wining-and-dining’ clients. That may be part of the job, but a small amount. Be prepared to work hard and be available all the time.

Maclin says she is consistently surprised at the number of clients who attend events and dinners – but never plan to do business with your company. 

“It is like being led on by someone you are romantically interested in, but they never intend to date you,” she says. “Also, the level of ghosting is eye-opening. I also thought that only happened in dating, but it is running rampant in our industry, and it is disheartening. 

“I would rather be told a firm ‘No,’ than to just be ghosted. I wish professionals were more forthright with their supplier partners. Do not waste other people’s time.”

Trainer says that when she first made the switch, some told her, “Well, now you’ll find out who your friends are.”

But it really hasn’t been that way, she says. “That’s not what this is. If it is, then it probably means that person didn’t do a good job establishing strong relationships with their peers on either side during their careers.”

Trainer admits that she felt certain that her industry friends would do business with her because of those established relationships and friendships.

“Some of my friends were quite candid with me when they told me that they were happy with their current service provider,” Trainer says. “In other words, the relationship and friendship that we had still existed, but I was essentially starting over in relation to providing products and services. That was a wake-up call.”

Darcey Forbes was an executive at Essex Realty Trust among other housing-related positions before moving to the supplier-partner side nearly 10 years ago. She now works in operations for an apartment FinTech company. She says networking now is more than just trying to drum up business.

“Meeting other people who are in multifamily housing sales allows you to grow beyond any formalized sales training you might take,” she says. “There’s story-sharing, recommendations, past experiences, gaining knowledge about operators and other supplier companies, understanding what is impacting the industry and the chance to add new peers and mentors.”

Israel “Izzy” Carunungan spent much of his career at Greystar and Bozzuto. A few months ago, he joined apartment virtual touring company LCP360 as Senior Vice President of Marketing and Client Success.

“Being on the management side, you typically don't see all the back-end support a supplier is allocating to your account, sometimes you’re just exposed to the sales rep,” he says. “But behind that person are many hardworking people who make things happen.”

Steve Wunch, formerly with Landmark Apartment Trust and Equity Residential, is now Vice President of Marketing and Events for Leap Easy.

“The sales cycle is long!” he says. “We estimate approximately eight months of nurture before converting a lead – sometimes even longer – and my product is free!”

Amy Earp was The Donaldson Group and Sawyer Realty Holdings before last year becoming Vice President of Marketing & Business Development at eWrit Filings.

“I was surprised by the work/life balance that I have experienced on the sales side,” Earp says. “I am able to attend field trips with my daughter and to give her 100 percent of my time at the end of each day.

“The ‘sales mom’ is very different than the ‘multifamily mom,’ and that has been shocking to myself and my children.”

What is the Toughest Thing About Being in ‘Sales’?

Love’s property management career was focused mainly on marketing. As she puts it, “Let’s be honest, we are all in sales.” Love also says that switching isn’t for everyone and that, “in our business, you are either being taken out to lunch or taking someone out to lunch. If you enjoy being courted and don’t like to do the courting, being a supplier isn’t for you.”

Earp says dealing with karma can be tough. “Some days, I feel like I am getting ‘paid back’ for all the sales calls and emails I didn’t answer when I was a marketing director – LOL,” she says. “Seriously, it is the perception of salespeople in general. Many people avoid contact in fear of hearing sales pitches. This is why I leave my ‘sales’ hat at home and focus on engaging conversations.”

Charles Stroud, Chief Revenue Officer at Liberty Rent, spent seven years in property management. He says often he observes employees who are new to sales not dealing well with the newfound reality that they have to make many contact attempts to successfully reach prospects.

Forbes says, with sales, “there is a tremendous amount of diversification, and your knowledge of other companies is critical to your success from how to sell your product service to them, how to communicate with them and what matters most to them. You need that so you can craft a prescriptive value proposition.”

Maclin says “no day is the same” in management and in sales, but here’s the difference: “On the operations side, there are generally daily tasks that need to be followed and completed. Reports are due on certain days, evictions are filed on a specific day, and move-ins are scheduled. 

“In sales – it is a change in duties, goals, and direction every day. No day is the same, and you must be able to adapt quickly.”

What Advice Would You Offer to Someone Making the Switch?

“If you’re considering a move, make sure you’ve given your current employer everything you can,” says Jeremy Lawson, a 15-year marketing and reputation management professional at Fogelman Properties before taking a senior account position at Soci.

“Your career is a journey, and you don’t want to rush it and miss out on a great role within your organization,” he says. “Remember why you took the job there in the first place.”

Contrarily, Carunungan says, “Do it and do it sooner than you think you’re ready. As we all know, multifamily is an amazing industry built on people relationships. Being on the supplier side is really working with the same people, only in a different capacity.”

Love says that supplier companies will expect those who are seasoned and well-connected to drive business. 

“That’s completely understandable, and expected,” Love says. “Just be sure to be honest with yourself about your networking abilities.”

Earp cautioned that a switch must be made for the right reasons, and “not simply to fulfill a dream of a ‘less stressful’ life, because often that’s not what you’ll find.”

Trainer says determining what’s personally driving thoughts about making a move needs to be identified.

“Is it work/life balance, compensation, PTO, benefits, being a company that is willing to support their local apartment associations, are they ethical and always try to ‘give back’?” she says.

Maclin advises that in this work-from-anywhere environment in some roles, remote team members must “perform like you still are working in an office. Start at the same time every day, plan your days, block your calendar for specific daily tasks and stay on track. If you try to manage your work duties and your home duties simultaneously – it will not work; I promise you.”

Forbes says she’s often asked for advice by those who are curious about a move.

“Truly understand your motives and what your goals in your career are,” Forbes says. “Evaluate your self-confidence, your self-motivation and what you are passionate about. Someone coming from operations should think of all the things they do and write down what you like best and what you are willing to sacrifice. It’s a challenging leap but it can be done.”

For example, she says for someone who says they love leading a team and developing people has to realize a role that lets them do that may be further down the line than they may like. Typically, she says, the switchover usually involves converting a leader into an independent contributor role and working alone within a team. “Ask yourself: Are you ok with waiting to build your personal success and work towards a future goal of leading a team.”

Forbes says another critical step is talking to familiar and trusted supplier contacts.

“Find out why they love their job, what is challenging, what are the company’s performance expectations and what roles are open on the team even beyond the sales department,” she says. “Maybe a sales job is not what you are best suited for but perhaps onboarding or customer success is more ideal.”

Forbes says that “building trust” and “being genuine” are two powerful traits to carry and she says to not depend on friends or peers to “open their doors to you just because you changed sides,” she says. “People will tend to not make you a priority; and, you have to not take things personally.”

Webber says those who are considering a move should now begin forming “really honest, respectful, and positive relationships with your vendor partners. People will give you opportunities if they know you and like you even if you don’t have the background they were expecting for that role.”

Stroud adds that speaking confidentially with industry friends confidentially about the type of product or service that is of interest is an important first step.

“Some product service companies are in a highly competitive service niche,” Stroud says. “Some who work there will caution you against those certain types of products or service because of the number of competitors in a single market.”

Final Thoughts

Maclin says her career move has changed her life. “This will be the way I end my career in the multifamily housing industry,” she says. “I love this industry, and I have missed the operations side. However, this side of the business allows me to still keep a pulse on the operations side of the industry, only in is different capacity.”

Earp called her move to the vendor side “the most humbling and rewarding experience of my professional career.”

Love says that she’s “never felt more utilized or valued.”

Carunungan says that multifamily housing is a unique industry and the people are what makes it special — “and it doesn’t matter if you’re on that side or this side.

“If everyone realizes that the key to success is by working closely together as partners, then we will advance this industry a lot more quickly.”

Webber says when looking, don’t let job description discourage interest.

“If you see someone doing the job you want, make friends with them and learn from them,” she says. “Everything is attainable.”

Paul Bergeron is a contributor to units Magazine.