Let's reinvent the search for office space

I've been thinking a lot about how folks search for office space, lately. In general terms, once the need is identified, the steps in order to lease new office space are to -

  1. Define the targeted area and create a list of suitable availabilities
  2. Decision-makers give a thumbs up or down for each property on this list
  3. Contact the owner or owner rep to schedule a property tour and/or request a proposal
  4. Tour spaces and review proposals
  5. Eliminate properties as tenant preferences and market conditions are further defined
  6. The remaining landlord proposals are then countered by the tenant
  7. The landlord issues their response to the tenant's counter; spaces are re-toured; preliminary space planning begins
  8. Space plans are reviewed and tweaked; counter proposals are countered or one is selected and agreed upon
  9. A draft of the lease is circulated and space planning is finalized
  10. Sign a lease

While not every step happens in this order, you get the picture.

So, let's step back and look at the highest level. With every step, identification, selection and elimination, the tenant is using their own preconceived notions to do so. These preconceptions could be about location or price, or something else entirely.

My question is, Is this optimal? Or do these  preconceptions limit the outcome of the office space search exercise.

Before I outline what I am thinking, an example may help provide more framework.

We are currently redesigning our business cards (we are using 99designs, if you haven't heard of 99designs, you ought to check them out if branding is important to your business in any way).

I didn't go out and ask specific designers to submit their design or quote me pricing. Instead, I simply posted the new requirement along with a link to our website and the information I wanted to have included in the design. That's it.

Less than 24 hours later, I got more than 50 designs. Some of these designs were crap, but couple designs blew my mind.

In my experience, the more constrains you provide someone the more limited the outcome will be. In this graphic design example, the only real limitation I placed on the design was by including an existing logo and specifying that the design somewhat match our existing website. Limiting the number of constraints help me to eliminate the possibility of influencing the range of possibilities because of some unconfirmed, preconceived notion I had in my own mind.

At this point, you're probably asking yourself, "What the hell does graphic design have to do with reinventing the office space search?!?"

Hear me out.... Here's how:

Instead of the tenant or the tenant's rep creating the initial list of possibilities, why not bid the space requirement out for landlord submissions. Create more of an auction process, wherein landlords are more inclined to put their best foot forward right out of the gate.

Doing this, the tenant's preconceptions don't influence the list of possibilities, either. The fewer constraints within the bid request, the more proposals the tenant will receive.

Here is how I would envision a process like this to work:

1. A tenant posts their need requirement in a tenant "marketplace". The specifications could be as broad as just their space requirement, or further limited by building class, maximum cost per month, zip code or even street names.

2. In order to submit a bid, the tenant could require the landlord provide certain information on the front end; not just the economic terms, but things as simple as interior photos, floor plans and any other information which will help the tenant make its selection. If the proposal is incomplete, it doesn't get submitted (for quality control and screening purposes).

3. As proposals are submitted, the tenant can then filter out various ones by location or cost. (Inevitably, some submissions are going to complete garbage, but similar to the designs I didn't care for, it was very easy to filter them out or click "eliminate" and never see them again.)

4. Once the properties are filtered a little further, the tenant can then create an internal "poll" to further narrow the possibilities. (I stole this idea straight from 99design's design selection process. After I eliminated the ones which simply didn't fit our brand, I could click one button "Create Poll" and a URL was generated which I could share privately with anyone else. This URL then allows any number of individuals to personally rank each design. This really expedited the selection process.)

5. Once this list is finalized, then the space tours and space planning can begin and steps 5-9 of the original process above can commence (basically the negotiation phase).

What would be the benefits of a selection process like this one:

1. The possibility of WOW! Placing fewer front end constraints increases the likelihood of one or two possibilities actually being better than anyone imagined. This could be in the form of location or economic terms.

2. Heightens the sense of competition. This type of bid submission process has the potential to create an increased level of landlord competition. It is kinda like asking someone to the prom, verses being asked to the prom. In this instance, the landlord is asking for the date, rather than the tenant making the request of the landlord.

3. Increases efficiency  In a general sense, the entire front-end selection process is managed more efficiency through the use of technology, rather than the tenant's broker PDF'ing a listing availability sheet from Loopnet or CoStar and the tenant going through the list manually saying, "Yes. Yes. No. Seriously?! No. Yes. Yes." Being able to easily filter the possibilities and then poll decision makers would be a welcomed improvement over the current PDF approach.

Thoughts?? Feel free to call me crazy in the comments section. Two things I know: 1) it won't be the first time 2) it won't be the last....

Even better, I would love to hear from anyone who may have already attempted a similar approach.