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A Mastermind of Hucksters

High Body Count

1+1=3…A Mastermind Alliance. I first learned of this concept over 20 years ago during one of many telemarketing seminars I attended as a tenderfoot insurance salesman. I can’t recall which one exactly, but I’m certain the motivational speaker cashed my post-dated check—a sign up now and pay later gimmick included in the 2 week Increased Performance Guarantee.  My office buddy and Mastermind phoning partner Sam, however, bounced his post-dated check and eventually got sent to a collection agency before escaping  the business for good without ever making a nickle, or for that matter, an appointment as an insurance man.

This was all back in a time when I truly wanted to believe that ‘No‘ meant ‘K.N.O.W; the ‘Client’ (person on a list) really needed to know more to make the ultimate buying decision; and a shoeshine and a handshake?….well shucks, “I just want to earn your business, Mr Fencestraddler.”  Somehow, even though I tried to fancy myself a believer, all the sales talk never sounded quite right coming out of my own mouth.  And even though I had long since left the business at the time, I publicly applauded the Do Not Call legislation of 2003 and all the crappy jobs and unrealized frustration it eliminated from people’s lives.

My Sales Manager, a guy named Charlie who initially recruited me into the business, called me in for a chat one morning after three months on the job. He had a picture window above his cherry wood credenza that overlooked a dense forest preserve behind the office. His three remaining walls were plastered with ceremonial photographs, sales award plaques, and framed certificates, all about him. He had an electric shoe buffer next to his cherry wood desk and a full length mirror behind his door with a sign above that read: Would You Hire This Person?

A few months earlier he convinced me to give the insurance business a try.  He and one of his trainees sold me a rinky dink burial policy one snowy night–a ritual in itself that lasted three solid hours and culminated with my signature and a check for the first month’s premium just as Letterman was coming on the tube and my dinner withered to ash in the oven. My ‘belief in the product,’  he said, was ‘the first requirement of a successful insurance man.’ Truthfully, I just wanted to go to bed and only wrote a check to get them out of my kitchen. I would soon thereafter coin this marathon closing technique, The David Letterman Close, as I myself went on to ruin scores of peoples’ dinners for several years to follow.

“I planted a tree out there,”  he said, looking me straight in the eye as he thumb pointed the window behind him in a  hitchhiker motion, “for every man who came into this business and quit in his first week. I let loose a squirrel for every recruit who didn’t make it a month…”  Pause. Dead silence. Then a burst of laughter and a white, toothy smile as wide as an Iowa cornfield.

“Congratulations Bruno,“  he said standing and thrusting a bejeweled, manicured mitt in my direction, “I’m making you a Sales Management Trainee.”

Bruno was my anointed bull pen nickname. We all had nicknames in that office. Walkie-Talkie, Malcolm Merryweather, Icabod Crane, Sam the Sham (post memoriam). Thinking back, my would-be mentor was obviously referencing my Italian-American heritage. Likewise, Malcolm Merriweather was a soft spoken Brit and poor, gangly Icabod did resemble a young, ill dressed Abe Lincoln. Today, we could all probably sue him and the company for hurt feelings and lack of sensitivity but this was in a pre-PC (of any kind) era and nobody really gave a damn.  I personally still don’t. We were just trying not to become the next boiler room casualty.  And just to be clear, this was also coming from a future Vice President who once declared to a gender mixed assembly at a national sales meeting,

“If you never took a dump in a ditch, 50 miles from home at the end of the day, then hell’s bells…how can you call yourself a salesman?” 

And after that, I don’t think I ever did….call myself a salesman, that is.

Churn ‘em and Burn ‘em

Somewhere between  1+1=3 and the Law of Diminishing Returns lies the sweetspot of a successful real estate organization. Too small, and you can’t afford the technology. Too big, and you’re leaking revenue like a sieve. One recent study claims that 70% of all potential home owners in the Chicago market incorporated the internet somewhere in their buying process. My guess is that this number is actually higher.

Traffic to our company website has been off the charts these past two months while actual contracts I personally have in Attorney Review waiting to Close have increased only slightly from this same period last winter. I’m falling behind in my response time as I’m still  trying to tweak my follow-up system, show my listings, drive around buyers and occasionally post my thoughts to whoever may be reading my blogs. It is suddenly very obvious that technology is my new business partner and the only way to get to the magical third dimension in the Mastermind equation is to wrap both arms, both legs, and my entire mind around it and make damn sure it doesn’t quit on me like poor, unsuccessful Sam did back in 1986.  Actually, I resented him being called a ‘Sham‘ after he left and mentioned as much to the boss. Everyone was a ‘bum’ who didn’t make it in the insurance business, according to Charlie. 

“Not everyone is cut out for sales,” I told him after enduring one particularly long tirade about low producers and agency attrition in general.  After all, I was a Sales Management Trainee and had my own thoughts about dumps and ditches. “Sam just lacked a system, but he wasn’t a bad person.”

“Forget about Sam the Sham. You need to worry about Bruno and Mrs Bruno” he replied, brushing me back like the 9th inning closer he was hired to be. The dude drove a Silver Shadow and had a condo in the Bahamas. What can I say…

I receive a hundred or so new registrants a month from our company site and a half-dozen more from my Chicago weblog link. Clearly, many registrants never return to the site after the first visit and many more return but never acknowledge my follow-up efforts. More than a handful each month of the remainder will initiate communication  and welcome correspondence while one or two of these will ultimately become Clients and either purchase or list with me.  After two solid years of working this system my back flow of names and web address non-responders number in the thousands.

My point is, I never have to make an actual telephone call to the prospect until the interest level is high and the need for my services, requested. I get pinged on my PDA every time someone logs on the site and this occurs a couple dozen times a day, almost everyday.  There is little confusion as to who is and who isn’t a Client anymore. Everything is trackable on the backside and I while I have little or no time for non-responders, I can still send out a blast of new listings on a quarterly basis and keep my name floating around cyberspace for future reference. I’m able to assist one or two lingering buyers a year from this type of drip campaign.

So instead of a boiler room full of telephones, a shoe box stuffed with lead cards, and reams of pre-paid phone lists, I have three super fast computers, an  8GB iPhone, three blogging  platforms and access to company and personal websites that attract several hundred clicks a day in tandem.  Instead of print and stamp advertising,  a garage full of holiday calendars, and a basement full of magnets (although I could always find use for  a couple hundred of those Russell Shaw banana postcards) I have a Google presence that pretty much tells the world who I am, what I look like, and how I can be reached.

On a side note and just out of sheer curiosity,  I Googled good old Charlie the ditch dumper last week to see what was shaking back in the Medieval Age of churning and burning policyholders. Survey said…’Nada.’  ’0′ results…

Unlike the Budd Fox cold calling days of the 1980s, I am no longer a disembodied voice on the phone pestering your secretary or interupting your supper.  I’m asleep every night when Letterman comes on and I don’t have to earn your business or convert your NO to KNOW at your kitchen table. I still have to sell real estate, however and I’m still working on the math of my own Mastermind Alliance, but the future is finally before me and all I have to do is figure out which buttons to push. I still drink a cup of coffee though, for every real estate agent who quits in the first year and say a prayer of thanks everytime a phone rings at suppertime…and it’s not me on the other end.

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  • 6 comments

    6 Comments so far

    1. Brian Brady January 30th, 2008 11:11 pm

      Great trip down the nostalgia lane. We’ve come a long way…

      …Bruno

    2. Sean Purcell January 31st, 2008 7:38 am

      Over the years I think I have known or at least met every one of the people you described (and not because I spent 10 years in Chicago!) You really captured the feeling of “growing up” in the busines and, dare I say it, maturing in the business. Thanks.

    3. Geno Petro January 31st, 2008 8:59 am

      Brian and Sean,

      Yeah, I got a phone call the other evening from a telemarketer and it prompted me to write this. I told him I was on the DNC registry and he said it expired. I told him that I didn’t want to buy anything and he told me it was just a survey. I told him to take me off the list and he told me that since it was just a survey that the DNC rules didn’t apply but mine had expired anyway. I asked what his name was and he said it was Frank but he didn’t sound like a Frank to me. He must not have had a good Sales Manager. As we all know, the first thing a good Sales Manager does is assign good nicknames.

    4. Derek January 31st, 2008 6:53 pm

      Geno: Glad you provided a link explaining 1 + 1 = 3 as I have been wondering how they came up with that one for a while now. The only thing I ever figured out was 1 man plus one woman equals 3 family members!

    5. Geno Petro January 31st, 2008 9:55 pm

      Yes, two individuals working vigorously toward the same goal equaling something greater than the mere sum total of the first two alone sounds pretty much like pregnancy to me. I think…

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