About Client-Oriented Real Estate

The World’s Best Real Estate Agent is not a person. It’s a goal, an aspiration.  It’s the program we’ve started at Better Homes and Gardens Rand Realty to identify the very best practices in the real estate industry, and to create the systems, training, and tools to help our agents incorporate those best practices into everything that we do.

The philosophy is simple: it’s all about the client, and what the client needs from us. Identify the client’s needs, figure out the best way to service those needs, and then do the best job we can to perform that service and develop our relationship.

Below is a basic sketch of the philosophy, written a few years ago.  The concept has evolved since then, so we will probably revise this soon to reflect some of our new ideas.

 

An Overview of Client-Oriented Real Estate (C.O.R.E)

 

It starts with the client.  If you want to be successful in real estate sales, your starting point is your client, and what your client needs.

 

I have worked with a lot of real estate agents over the past fifteen years, and what’s always surprising is that you can never predict who is going to be successful.  The agent in the introductory training class who asks great questions, who looks the part of a successful professional, who seems eager and industrious, flames out and leaves the business in six months.  You go to an awards ceremony, and you watch a parade of highly successful agents walk on stage, and you realize that at first glance they have very little in common: they don’t look the same, they don’t talk the same, they don’t build their businesses in the same way.

 

What they have in common is simple: they’re really good at their jobs.  Simply put, they are extremely competent.  They know their stuff. They work hard.  Most importantly, their clients love them.  And that’s the common denominator.  Really great agents, the ones who are most successful, are simply capable.  They’re skilled at what they do, they know the business, and they thereby provide a great experience for their clients. Because that’s their orientation — the client.

 

Unfortunately, traditional real estate sales education is not oriented to the client, but to the “prospect,” and how to turn that prospect into a client.  But that training gives virtually no attention to what you do for that prospect after she becomes a client. Instead, traditional training is about the art of the sale, teaching agents techniques and tricks to make appointments through an exhausting and ultimately unsustainable campaign of calling prospects you don’t know and manipulating them into setting appointments.  Maybe there was a time when those methods worked, but in the modern information age people are just too savvy and skeptical to fall for a superficial sales pitch that derives from sales systems created in the 1920s to sell vacuum cleaners door-to-door. Moreover, even if those techniques did work, my experience is that agents just don’t like doing those types of things, and quickly stop doing them.

 

More importantly, superficial sales slickness is an unsustainable way to build your business when the clients you trick into working with you have a bad service experience. If you spend all your time oriented toward trying to generate new prospects, that’s time that you’re not spending taking care of the clients you already have. Maybe you’ll be successful in manipulating a prospect into becoming a client, but if you don’t provide great service to that client, two things will happen.  First, you’re less likely to actually help that client through a transaction, since finding someone a home or properly marketing a home is a difficult job requiring great service skill.  And second, even if that client does close, she’s very likely to have a poor experience with you that she won’t want to repeat, and won’t want anyone she knows to have that same poor experience. So not only are you less likely to actually close a deal, but even if you do you’re limited to that one deal – not only will that client not work with you again, but she won’t refer you and might even become a source of bad word of mouth about you.

 

Indeed, we’re now moving into an era when agents who spend all their time prospecting, rather than servicing their clients’ needs, are going to find themselves with increasingly meager prospects.  Traditionally, clients did not choose their agents, the agents chose them. Clients walked into an open house, or called on a real estate ad, or more recently called on an internet property profile, and got the agent who happened to be there.  Relatively few clients actually chose their agent by working with an agent they used previously, obtaining a referral from a trusted source, or doing comparison shopping.

 

But clients are becoming empowered in the modern information age, and they are going to be increasingly able to choose their agent based on the service experience other clients have had with that agent.  They’re going to “google” the agent they met at the open house, to see what other clients had to say about her on agent rating sites.  They’re going to be able to evaluate the performance of that agent, through criteria like ratio of listings taken to listings sold or how much the agent’s sellers have to discount their price to get a listing sold. They’re not simply going to take the agent who happens to be in the room, they’re going to aggressively search for the right agent.  And the standards they are going to use are simple: how well does that agent do her job at servicing her clients?

 

So if this modern age is going to value and reward great service, then we need to change our education systems to teach agents how to give that great service. Client-Oriented Real Estate, or C.O.R.E., is a rejection of the traditional way of developing your business by starting with manipulative sales techniques or mindless, life-sucking prospecting.  Instead, recognizing how the world has changed, CORE teaches you to start with what always should have been the foundation for the real estate business: learning how to be great at your job of helping people buy and sell real estate, and thereby provide a great service experience to a client.  That’s our starting point.

 

It’s not, though, the ending point. Being client-oriented does not mean being a pushover for every demanding or obnoxious client.  It does not mean that you have to be a saint taking an oath of poverty, working selflessly to help your clients without regard to your own personal and professional success.  We believe that being client-oriented is actually the path toward professional success, that it’s a superior way to not just deliver service but also to generate business through new potential clients and to win those clients over when you meet with them.

 

You can be client-oriented not just in the way that deliver a great service experience to your clients, but also in the way you develop new clients and convince them to work with you. We’re not going to talk about “prospecting,” and we’re not going to talk about how to do “presentations.”  Instead, we’re taking those traditional methodologies and re-orienting them to focus on the client first.  So rather than “prospecting,” we have a client-oriented system of business development called “Service Oriented Lead Development,” or “S.O.L.D.”  And rather than the classic listing or buyer “presentation,” we’re going to teach you about client-oriented “consulting,” which requires listening to the client’s needs rather than talking about yourself.  The C.O.R.E. system has the same goal as traditional sales methods – to help you build a great real estate business – but provides a different, better, and more fulfilling way to get there.

 

 

The common theme through all three parts of the system is the essential client-centered foundation of putting the client’s needs first.  Whether we’re talking about Service, Development, or Counseling, we’re going to always come back to this central methodology:

 

First, identify the client’s needs.  What does this particular client need?  This need identification is the starting point of the method, and applies to anyone you ever come in contact with. Realize that everyone is different, and we all have different needs.  Moreover, everyone needs a real estate agent, even when they’re not buying or selling a home, and even if they themselves don’t realize it yet.  If they are buying or selling, then they have very specific and immediate needs.  But even someone who is not actively in the market needs real estate advice and information, anything from an update on the market to advice about the impact of home renovations on a home’s value.  Everyone needs a real estate agent, and the agent who actively tries to continually identify the needs of clients and potential clients will ultimately be very successful.

 

Second, determine how to service that need. Once you’ve identified your client’s (or potential client’s) needs, you then have to figure out how to service that need. How can you fill that need?  What resources and tools do you have, and how will you use them to satisfy the client.  Whether it’s someone who is actively buying or selling, or someone you meet at a party, you need to have a host of tools that you know how to use to fulfill that client’s needs.

 

Third, execute.  Finally, once you’ve identified the need, and determined how to service it, you then have to execute.  Lean how to efficiently and effectively use the tools you have to service those needs, and then do a great job taking care of what the client wants.  While you do that, you’ll build that relationship with the client.  The client who is listed with you or buying with you will increasingly trust you as you continually take care of her needs.  The client who bought with you last year will come to rely on your for advice and information, and likely will drop your name every chance she gets. And the potential client you barely know will develop an appreciation for your professionalism, and will be more likely to turn to you for his real estate transactional needs.

 

Let’s go through each of the three main parts of the C.O.R.E. system to show how they all fit together.

 

Service

Great service is crucial to the C.O.R.E. system, and to an agent’s long-term business development. First, great service is key to actually generating income, since you only make money if your service helps your clients fulfill their primary need of buying or selling a home: without strong transactional skills and real estate knowledge, your listings won’t sell, your buyers won’t buy, your deals won’t close.

 

Second, without great service, you’ll always be living hand-to-mouth waiting for the next lead that your broker hands to you or that you generate through hardcore prospecting, since you won’t be getting repeat or referral business.  The only way you’ll get new business is through people who don’t know any better at a time when more and more people do know better.  Great transactional service brings you more clients, through repeat business, referrals, testimonials, reputation, and online word-of-mouth.  And great non-transactional service is crucial to Service-Oriented Lead Development, since your services to your sphere of support, expired listings, and other potential clients is crucial to winning them over to working with you on their eventual transactions.

 

Third, if you give consistently great service, you’re going to find yourself more confident in everything you do.  You’ll be eager to generate new clients, because you’ll be confident that you actually do offer them something better than the average agent.  And you’ll be fearless in meeting with clients in your consultations, because you know you’ll be able to show them the testimonials you’ve gotten from past clients and be able to point them to online resources where they can see just how happy your clients have been.  Nothing gives you more confidence than knowing deep down inside that you’re really good at your job.

 

So it’s clear that great service is not just the cornerstone of the C.O.R.E. system, but also the foundation of a successful real estate career. Sadly, though, we don’t see a lot of great service in the real estate industry. I have never met an agent who said they give bad service, or they’re not good at their job, but when I ask groups of agents about whether they themselves would work with over 50% of the agents in the industry, no one raises their hands.  Even the agents in the industry would not work with most of the agents in the industry.  That’s appalling.

 

Sadly, most agents want to give great service – no one likes to think that they’re not good at their job.  But they don’t know how.  Most educational systems focus on sales, not service, so the industry does not provide real training for it.  Even the training on service (like all those indecipherable NAR designations) tends to emphasize behavior that adheres to an extreme level of ethical compliance, but not actual client service.

 

If you want to give great service, then you need to have a plan, a blueprint of what constitutes great service that you can follow every single time you work with a client.  The key to great service is automatic consistency, the ability to identify the best practices for a given situation, and then deliver those best practices every single time.

 

The problem most agents have in service is that they wing it, or play it by ear.  They want to give great service, but they do it on the fly, making it up as they go along.  They are very unlikely to actually create a rigorous plan on exactly what they’ll do to take care of their clients. Most have a general philosophy, say, of returning calls promptly, or taking good pictures of listings, but few agents actually create and follow a standardize blueprint that sets out the best practices for every function they have to perform when taking care of a client’s needs.

 

The C.O.R.E. system teaches you a method of delivering service that incorporates the best practice of the industry, but which provides a simple and almost automatic way for you to adhere to those best practices in a consistent and efficient way.  We start with the basic three-part C.O.R.E. methodology of (1) identifying the client’s need, (2) determine how to service that need, and (3) execute and build the relationship. If you focus on the client first, you get oriented to think about what their needs are.  That leads to you thinking hard about how to service that need, and then all you need to do is use the tools and resources you have to actually perform that service.

 

The C.O.R.E. service methodology has three principles:

 

First, follow a “Project Plan” for great service.  We identify the best practices in the industry, and provide you with a “Project Plan” for providing the best possible service to your clients.  The blueprint is in the form of a checklist, which gives you an easy way to keep track of the tasks you need to do, and the tasks you’ve already completed.  The animating spirit of the blueprint is to “keep your windows clean” (based on a story involving the book The Disney Way), meaning that you should create a situation in which your clients never experience a situation where they have to call you with a problem, because problems never crop up.

 

Second, look for opportunities to “Bring the WOW!”  The “WOW!” is the experience we all have when someone does something wonderful for us in a service relationship.  It’s not just great service, but it’s the “blown-away” moment when you’re taken aback by a considerate gesture or unanticipated courtesy.  You won’t always have the opportunity to bring a “WOW!” to every client you work with, but you’ll be much more likely to wow them if your focus is intensely on their needs.

 

Third, develop your knowledge about the business. You cannot give great service if you don’t know what you’re doing. That’s not just knowing how to send a fax or read an MLS sheet, but having a depth of expertise in the complex aspects of the real estate business. It’s knowing how to use new technology. It’s knowing the tax implications of home ownership. It’s knowing how to get the taxes right on your new listing.  It’s knowing the school district lines. The foundation of great service is actually knowing your business.

 

When we talk about Service as part of the C.O.R.E. system, though, remember that we’re not just talking about service to transactional clients.  Everyone needs a real estate agent, so you want to provide great service not just to people buying or selling, but also to everyone you come into contact who might have real estate needs.

 

Development: Service-Oriented Lead Development (S.O.L.D.)

Even if you give great service, you still need clients. Traditional real estate sales training focuses entirely on “prospecting,” which at least recognizes that new clients are the lifeblood of a healthy real estate career. But traditional prospecting methodology, with its intense focus on manipulating people into working with you, is not a sustainable business in an era when clients are going to choose their agents based on personal and online reputations. Instead, we need a way to generate business that is consistent with the fundamental client-oriented philosophy of the C.O.R.E. system.

 

We call it service-oriented lead development, or S.O.L.D., the idea that you can generate a steady stream of new clients by simply using that same three-part method of identifying needs, determining how to service them, and then executing while building the relationship.  Where traditional prospecting was all about what your prospect could do for you, service-oriented lead development centers on what you can do for your prospective client.  What are their needs, what can you do to service them, and can you build a relationship with them by servicing them?

 

For example, traditional prospecting teaches you to call the neighbors in an area where you’re holding an open house to solicit them into also listing their home: “we know when one home comes on the market in a neighborhood, several others soon follow, so when do you plan on moving?” But that’s a tough call to make, because you know in your heart that you’re probably not being truthful, and the only purpose to your call is to try to solicit a listing.

 

Instead, service-oriented lead development teaches you how to make that same call from a service-orientation: what service can you provide to the people in the neighborhood of your upcoming open house?  Well, what if you were calling them to let them know as a courtesy that the open house was coming up, and to alert them that there might be some unfamiliar drivers in the neighborhood. After all, people with small children might be concerned if random buyers from out of town were driving through the neighborhood with maps in their laps looking for open house signs.  So you call them with the following message: “The Smiths asked me to call the neighborhood as a courtesy to let you know we’re doing an open house this Sunday at 1PM, so there might be some unfamiliar cars driving in the neighborhood.”  Is this the most important service you can provide to the neighbor?  No, of course not.  But is it something that is a legitimate service, to let them know about the open house in a way that does not solicit their business? Yes.

 

That same service-oriented philosophy animates all the business development techniques that we’ll teach as part of the C.O.R.E. system. If you’re contacting an expired listing, instead of simply asking whether they’re looking to hire another real estate agent, ask them if they’re curious as to why their home did not sell, and offer them information about expired listings that might interest them.  Instead of calling a for-sale-by-owner to ask how long they plan on trying to sell the home on their own, offer the need they have for information on how to sell your own home, in the hopes that if they are ultimately unsuccessful (which they are likely to be), they’ll remember the service you provide. And instead of simply calling your past clients to see if they know anyone planning on moving, provide them with information they might need about the market or the community, to build that relationship and keep your name on the tip of their tongues in case they come into contact with someone who needs a great real estate agent.

 

You can implement a service-oriented lead development technique in every part of your prospecting campaign. Whether that prospect is someone in your Top 100, your Sphere of Support, a FSBO or expired, a neighbor for your new listing clients, or someone you meet at a party, they all have needs you can identify, meet, and use to build a relationship that will ultimately lead to a transactional opportunity.

 

We don’t teach that Service is paramount to a successful real estate business because we have no interest in helping you build your business by generating new clients. Without a steady flow of new clients, you won’t have anyone to provide consultations to or provide great service for. Rather, we believe that great service is the key to developing those new clients, because the service-oriented lead development method is actually a superior way of building a relationship with a prospect in the modern skeptical era. The S.O.L.D. system is more effective at actually generating new clients, because it approaches potential clients on a level of respect and not manipulation. Moreover, the S.O.L.D. system gives you a method of building your business you can be proud of, and might actually engage in. We all know you’re not ever going to make cold calls for more than three days, no matter how many sales rallies you go to.

 

The purpose of the C.O.R.E. system is to provide you with all the tools you need to engage in a sustained campaign of service-oriented lead development.  No two agents are the same, you all have different comfort levels with diverse types of business generation techniques, so we need to provide tools for them all.

 

Counseling

Finally, all the work you do to generate potential clients, and all the work you do refining the great service you provide, will all be wasted if you cannot convince those potential clients to work with you when you sit down with them for your initial meeting.  Whether you’re meeting with a potential seller to convince them to list with you, or with a potential buyer to take them out to look at homes, you need to develop the skills to win them over into working with you exclusively.

 

Sadly, most real estate agents and trainers describe these meetings with sellers as “listing presentations,” which is part of the problem. No one likes sitting through a presentation. They’re boring.  They end up being an endless litany of 17-point marketing programs, harangues about why the seller needs to drop his price, and ultimately debates about the value of a sales commission.  And very few agents even do a “presentation” for a buyer, because they are used to simply meeting a buyer at the office for two minutes before running off on a buyer tour of what will ultimately be virtually every house for sale in the county. Or even worse, they’re just meeting the buyer at one of the actual houses, without any meaningful prior discussion at all.

 

The real estate industry is just about the only service industry that follows that horrible methodology.  When you meet with a doctor, does the doctor spend 45 minutes telling you about her credentials, the way a real estate agent delivers a listing “presentation”?  When you meet with a lawyer, does the lawyer meet you at the courthouse five minutes before your trial to find out what you’re looking for, the way most agents treat buyers?  No, of course not! Instead, when a professional sits down with a potential client, the professional listens.  The professional finds out what the client needs.  The professional counsels the client.

 

A few years ago, I met with a financial advisor.  My wife and I sat down with him, preparing to hear him pitch us on why he should manage our money. Instead, he started asking questions. He asked us about how much we knew about financial products and investment philosophies. He asked us what our long-term goals were, where we wanted to be in five years, and ten years, and in 25 years.  He asked about our comfort level with risk in our financial portfolio.  And he listened to our answers.  The meeting went on for two hours, and I don’t think he spoke for more than a minute at a time. Instead, we talked. We opened up to him. We told him about our relatively meager knowledge about investing. We told him about where we wanted to be in our lives.  We told him about what our long-term fears were, and about our goals.  We told him about things that we’d never told anyone else, things that in some cases we’d never even talked about together.

 

And then a funny thing happened.  The more we talked, the more we liked him.  The more we talked, the more we trusted him.  The simple act of opening up to him generated this immense feeling of trust and confidence in him.  It was almost as if we were psychologically compelled to trust him, since we were continually confiding in him things we rarely shared with anyone else.  In other words, what in the world were we doing talking to him like this if we didn’t already trust him?  We had to trust him, since we’d already shared such confidences.

 

It was an immensely powerful meeting, and no part of it was a presentation. After hearing us talk for two hours, he spent about fifteen minutes showing what he could do for us, and we were sold. We didn’t quibble about the terms, we didn’t need to think it over, we didn’t need to meet with anyone else. Essentially, he followed the same three-part methodology that we teach in the C.O.R.E. system: he identified our needs by listening to us, he explained how he was going to satisfy those needs, and then he got started in satisfying those needs.

 

That’s what real estate agents should be doing.  If you want to win your clients over, stop talking and start listening. Let’s stop talking about “presenting” and start talking about “counseling.” And when it comes to the largely non-existent “buyer presentation,” let’s stop treating our buyers like customers, when for years real estate agents have had the opportunity to be an actual “agent” for buyers, providing them with the same attention and service ethic that they are supposed to give to sellers.

 

Client counseling is a much more effective way of converting a potential client into an actual client, because the act of asking questions and listening to a client generates a natural rapport and trust with the client.  A lot of sales training tries to teach you how to fake rapport with a client, by looking for similar interests (“hey, you like sailboats too!”) or mutating into a psychologically coercive clone of the client by talking fast, or slow, or moving your hands, or sitting still.  You don’t need any of that. You simply have to ask good questions, and listen to the answers.  The natural tendency of human beings to feel better about things when they talk about their needs, and to start trusting the people they confide in, will do the rest.

 

Obviously, at some point you’re going to need to talk to them.  We’re not saying that you sit mute as if you’re performing the third degree on your clients, waiting until they talk themselves hoarse so you can hand them a listing agreement.  You need to be able to speak, and speak confidently, about the services you’re going to provide, the marketing you’re going to implement, and the market analysis you’ve conducted. But the meeting should be 75% them talking, and then 25% you explaining what you can do to service their needs.

 

The same goes for the pricing discussion, which is the main part of any meeting with a seller. Traditionally, real estate training told you to emphasize your role as the professional in the relationship, and firmly establish a price for your potential clients. That’s just silly. The last thing you want to do is feed into the skepticism that most sellers have that an agent just wants to set a low price to get a quick deal.  Instead, you use that same counseling methodology when discussing the price.  You show them what’s going on in the market, and ask them what price they think would be competitive with what has sold, and what’s currently unsold.  Don’t tell them the price, ask them what they think the price should be.

 

Moreover, if you actually listen to your clients, you’ll learn what they want from you.  No two clients are exactly the same. Yes, every seller client has a basic need to sell her house, but different clients have different concerns about the process, and different levels of expectation for an agent. The more questions you ask, the more information you gather, and the more information you gather, the more effective you’ll be at tailoring your value pitch to their needs.

 

Conclusion

We are continuing to develop this CORE concept through our work at Better Homes and Gardens Rand Realty, and through collaboration with many industry colleagues. If you would like to talk to us about the concept, just email Joseph Rand. You can find his contact information at www.josephrand.com.