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Soul Searching (R-E-S-P-E-C-T)

When did people stop being genuine? In our uber-competitive world, it seems every gesture is intended or at least construed as self-serving. Professionally, we have all become salesmen; we sell our products, our services, and ourselves. We have become increasingly skeptical and cynical, our actions are premeditated and our lives are scripted. We have a script for our acquaintances, for the telemarketers, and for our customers and clients. “I’m fine, how are you?” (I’ve had a sucky day to end all sucky days); “Thank you, but we are happy with our long-distance service” (I have no idea who my long-distance service provider is, but I am currently watching Forest Gump for the eighth time); and, “It is important to list with an agent who cares about your family and your equity, wouldn’t you agree?” (I have said this so many times that it has lost all meaning and sincerity).

New agents and even the multitudes wanting to take their business to the “next level” are constantly being coached to learn and rehearse The Script until the objections can be overcome in their sleep. Knowing what you might say in a given circumstance is one thing, but spewing forth a rehearsed scene with the passion of a high school science teacher is another.

In all things marketing, I continue to believe that we should think like the consumers we in fact are. How would this ad impress you? Would that brochure inspire you to purchase the home or consider employing this agent in the future? Is the quality, content and overall flavor of the piece consistent with the image you really want to convey?

Our words are no less important. How do you react to a too-practiced sales pitch? Do you enjoy being pitched at all?

The reality is that we are all ego-driven, and being primarily motivated by self-satisfaction and personal fulfillment is not a character flaw, it is the human condition. Even the kindest, most generous among us practice magnanimity as much for the way it makes us feel good about ourselves as how it might serve another. The bottom line is that we appreciate feeling respected. When we encounter those who patronize or otherwise fail to show us respect, we instinctively dislike or distrust our perpetrator. We feel bad about ourselves, and we transfer this emotion.

What this has to do with real estate is this – Your potential clients do not want to feel preached to, lectured to, or minimized, and they don’t want to feel like members of the audience of a show that has run too long. If you ever saw the movie Ground Hog Day, you will remember Bill Murray reliving the same day over and over again. With each dawn, and knowing exactly what was coming, his days were lived increasingly by rote, and with each successful hit of the rewind button, a little more passion and sincerity was lost.

Knowing what to expect in our industry, the potential questions, concerns and objections, is a good thing – It’s called experience. Losing the desire to truly connect with your clients, to listen, and to converse versus talk is another – It is called disrespect.

I received a call last week. It came from the loan officer for the buyer of one of our listings, made under the auspices of confirming the appraiser’s point of contact. Keep in mind that escrow had already opened and service providers had been selected.

Lender Person: I see you will be using (name of Title Company). That’s great. How would you feel if I told you that you could save your client 10% on their Title policy?
Me: What’s your point?
Lender Person: I’m sure you have a Title Rep you like to use, but I know a fabulous rep (gives name) who would give you a 10% discount. Wouldn’t you like that?
Me: Thank you, but I have an established relationship with a Title Rep who provides excellent services and competitive fees.
Lender Person: So, you don’t want to save your clients 10%?
Me: We’re set, but thank y-
Lender Person: So, I assume your Rep will offer you the same 10% discount?

Eeew. Can you say “RESPA”? I immediately felt the urge to shower.

I hate being patronized, I loathe being belittled, and I despise being “sold”. I suspect I am not alone. If I am ever guilty of intentionally treating another, personally or in business, in this single-purpose, transparently self-serving and disrespectful manner, demand my resignation. If we can’t say it with soul, we have nothing to say.

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  • 11 comments

    11 Comments so far

    1. Steven Groves May 30th, 2007 8:13 am

      Kris, what a great post about being authentic.
      Authenticity is a character trait and one that a client / customer is on the search for — particularly in this age of Web2.0 and social media. Authenticity generates social capital that others will respect. Experience shows that the more successful professionals are the more authentic and the more believable in the profession.
      Having a rote answer to a clients concern does not endear them to you or make the faithful. Being truly concerned about them, in the moment with them, is more likely to — it is what customer service is about.

    2. Reuben Moore May 30th, 2007 8:39 am

      I am not sure which is worse: The old-fashioned, overly-scripted, heavy-handed approach which you describe (pushed by so many real estate trainers and “coaches”) or the Glenn Kelman, “I’m such a nice guy and I want to help you avoid getting ripped off” subterfuge. Many people who recognize the former find Kelman genuine.

    3. Todd Tarson May 30th, 2007 9:12 am

      I’ve been in sales for most of my decent income producing life. I’ve always hated scripts. Oh I had to learn them when I was pushing copiers and faxes back in the day, but rarely did I use them.

      I’ve always wanted to be genuine and provide the kind of service that I’d want if I was on the other side of the desk.

      The Internet (especially blogging) has given me the real opportunity to do just that. Now it hasn’t taken off like gang-busters just yet, but I truly believe that it will for me.

      With you sharing your story here today helps in some small way my efforts to provide a better and more genuine service. It just does. I hope all can see the power in that.

    4. Jefferson Otwell May 30th, 2007 11:42 am

      Working as I do on the mortgage side of the business, pretty much all the advice I received when I started encouraged me to sell Sell SELL!

      I agree that blogging — that regular publishing of your own voice — helps separate the wheat from the chaff. One cannot hide one’s motivation forever when constantly putting oneself out there in public.

      I am not sure whether I will ever get rich trying to treat others the way I like to be treated, but I do sleep well at night.

    5. Brian Brady May 30th, 2007 3:13 pm

      Which begs the question…who is the title rep, Kris? (just kidding)

      My guess is that the lender has established a “virtual escrow” setup in his/her office. Many lenders are trying it now and our personal experience has been less than great.

      FWIW…the escrow fee is actually jacked up about $200 which would most likely offset the “savings” you have denied your client.

      This game is such a hustle sometimes.

    6. Tim May 30th, 2007 7:23 pm

      Good commentary Kris.

      Authenticity and character is what many buyers and sellers wish for. Unfortunately just about every corner of the transaction there is self serving going on as you mention. It is part of the fabric of real estate in one sense.

      I observe a lot in this business coming from escrow. Just about all of the very upper tier pro’s that we work with RARELY EVER use closing techniques. In my opinion they are way over rated and are typically utilized due to a lack of understanding the core needs of customers and therefore closing techniques are usued to fall back on with canned statements that end up making the agent or LO look foolish in the end. The question to ask top agents: how many times do their customers end up saying “let’s write it up?” Probably a high percentage. This shows that the customers are receiving top tier service and having their needs met.

      One of my friends over at Microsoft lent me a book called, “Spin Selling” by Neil Rackam. A phenominal study of a few big corporations that hired the author’s firm to find out why some sales folks did better than others and what worked and what didn’t. The corporations didn’t want to hear what the research found. Essentially, the thesis is that the higher the stake the sale, such as a home, the lower the likelyhood closing techniques actually work. Good for over the counter sales: camera’s, batteries, hi-fi’s etc…but lousy for big ticket items (housing, luxury cars, aircraft and boats, major business deals or purchases).

    7. Kris Berg May 30th, 2007 9:02 pm

      All – Funny that the comments spoke to blogging as the antithesis of real estate business as usual. (TCB – As in “Taking Care of Business”; that really is what Aretha said). I couldn’t agree more. Blogging has had many rewards for me, but one was the new perspective it has given me. The way we really think, and the way we really want to and should be expressing ourselves, genuinely and honestly, is embodied in blogging but, alas, not always in real life.

      Ironically, I just returned from a listing appointment that went very, very well because… We exchanged ideas, we shared, and we listened. I have canned material, but I am learning to present the material in an unrehearsed, sincere manner, respectful of both the seller’s needs and intelligence. Of course, people are people, and not every situation is Shangr-La, but this way is better – for me as a person and for all of us as an industry.

      Brian – I’m not namin’ names, but I was curious about the MO and am saddened to learn that it is not unprecedented. I’m sticking by my guy, not because I make a nickel off of him (I don’t) and not because he is the cheapest in town (he isn’t), but because he has delivered amazing service to me for a decade and bailed many of my clients out of sticky Title messes, secured a blanket FHA approval for a complex in one week to allow a loan to fund on time, personally walked docs through the County Recorder’s office late on a Friday to ensure a timely close (more than once), released the funds when the funds were still in magic-wire land (more than once), and slapped an endorsement on an easement where one was not justified (only once, thank goodness). Paying for service. Imagine that.

    8. Arlingtgon Virginia Condos -- Jay May 31st, 2007 6:14 am

      Excellent post. I asked a client of mine who closed last month how he found me and why he used me. His answers:
      1) YouTube
      2) You’re “real”

      Yes authenticity counts a lot–especially to younger 30- buyers who don’t give a crap about suits, scripts, etc. They want consultants who are “real” i.e. brutally honest and transparent.

    9. Jim Frey June 2nd, 2007 7:00 am

      Kris: R-E-S-P-E-C-T!
      Brings to mind the time I was representing a buyer – while I was presenting the offer, the listing agent read the Sales Agreement & asked me if the “buyer” would qualify for a HIGHER loan amount….(guess what I said!) The listing agent didn’t think the “sellers” would accept the offer…..lo & behold – THEY DID…..

    10. Chris June 2nd, 2007 6:21 pm

      My belief is that you cannot force anyone to do anything that they won’t want to do. Maybe you can use some “closing techniques” to nudge someone into a $200 camera that they may not want that much, but not a $400k house. You certainly need to know how to address your clients questions and concerns in a professional manner, but scripts ehh I never liked them.

      I was doing a rental this week, and it looks like this rental will turn into a bidding war. I was talking with my client at length about it and I was actually trying to get them to look at other places and pass on this one! I was trying to talk my client out of the deal, and they were trying to talk me into it LOL. In the end the client looked at the property again and came to that conclusion. If the house isn’t going to work for them, its not going to work for them. You can close them all you want, but if the basement is to small for their needs its to small. Closing lines won’t fix that.

    11. Jeff Brown June 2nd, 2007 6:44 pm

      The New Conceptual Selling – find it at Amazon.com.

      You can thank me later. :)