Real Estate Professionals Must Continue to Build Personal Relationships
Success is neither magical nor mystical. Success is the natural consequence of consistently applying basic fundamentals.” – Jim Rohn
Selling real estate and managing agents is my second career. Yes, I have been in this business for many years, but I started my professional life “many moons ago” as a box salesman. Soon after I graduated from college, I accepted a job with a company in Louisville, Kentucky, selling printed folding cartons and paperboard packaging. It was a great job, especially for someone in their early 20’s who had a wife with a child on the way. In my position as an account executive, I learned not only how to sell, but I gained knowledge and skill in building strong customer relationships. These relationships were at the heart of my business for all the years I was selling cartons.
My boss at the Louisville company was a former all-American college and NFL football player back in the early 1950s. He had significant experience in the industry working for multi-billion dollar corporations. He was a tough and “in your face” sales manager, but I learned so much during those years I worked for him. One of the business concepts he introduced me to was called “belly to belly selling.” When he shared that expression with me, I sat back and laughed. The first thing I thought about was the image of two Japanese sumo wrestlers going at it “belly-to-belly” in the ring. Sumo wrestlers do engage in a close and personal way!
“Belly-to-belly” refers to the importance of a salesperson being in front of their prospects and customers, face-to-face instead of using other methods to connect with them. Technology and voice communication does not replace personal contact. It is challenging to build rapport and relationships if you’re not right in front of them, selling them goods or services you offer.
My boss continued to use “belly-to-belly” every time he thought we were spending too much time in the office and not enough time out in the field with current and potential customers. As I continued to sell, manage others, and grow and manage a successful real estate business, the three words “belly-to-belly” stuck with me. Like my old boss, I still refer to this phrase many times in classes, company meetings, and other gatherings with agents and brokers.
Even with all of the newest online lead generating tools available to buyer agents and iBuyer offers for homeowners, clients are still choosing to work with a real estate professional face-to-face to assist them in selling or purchasing a home. Buyers and sellers are still finding the need for the services of a real estate agent. Let me share some statistics with you from the National Association of REALTORS®.
In the NAR 2018 Profile of Home Buyers and Sellers, 87% of buyers recently purchased their home through a real estate agent or broker. 90% of sellers listed their home in the local Multiple Listing Service (MLS), where a vast majority of users are REALTOR® members. Both of these numbers have remained steady over the past few years and are indicators that consumers genuinely do rely on our expertise to guide them through a real estate transaction.
Now, for some sobering information from the same NAR survey. As it relates to being in front of prospective clients as well as those clients an agent has served in the past, 68% of buyers interviewed only one real estate agent during their home search. 90% of buyers would use their agent again or recommend their agent to others. However, only 12% used an agent that they had worked with in the past to buy or sell a home. That means 88% of past clients used another REALTOR® to assist them in finding a home. The key words in this statistic are “another REALTOR®.”
So, what is causing such a large number of people to use someone else for their real estate services? There is a straightforward answer to this question. The previous agent did not stay in contact with their client and became a “stealth agent.” Have you heard of the term “out of sight, out of mind?” In other words, agents are not keeping connected with past clients or people in their sphere of influence.
Real estate professionals can easily prospect for new business by staying in touch with people they have done business with in the past as well as those they know within their sphere of influence. Past clients and others can be an excellent source of reliable and quality referrals. Regrettably, most agents get too busy helping current clients that they forget about those they have represented in the past. They forget how easy it is to pick up the phone and schedule a lunch or a coffee with someone who is in the position to refer a buyer or seller.
Recently, I spoke to a group of REALTORS® on how they can quickly and inexpensively build their business pipeline. I encouraged them to consider stopping by a past or future client’s home at certain times of the year to drop off an “item of value.” Items of value can include chocolates at Valentine’s Day, flowers at Easter, a box of sparklers for July 4th, pumpkins in the fall, or poinsettias at Christmas. I also discussed other creative ways to be “belly-to-belly” with clients and prospects. At the end of my presentation, I challenged them to step out of their comfort zone and start making time in their daily schedules with their past clients, friends, neighbors and others who could assist them in growing their business.
Personal interaction is something we do every day as we come in contact with those we know well – and, don’t know well. However, we seem to forget that many of the people we come face-to-face with could be prime sources for a referral or, possibly, a future client. Staying in front of prospects is a significant reason so many agents struggle in maintaining business sustainability for long-term financial security. We can have all the technology tools and electronic gadgets in the world to support our businesses but being “belly-to-belly” with people is the best way to prospect for business. It worked for me, and it can work for you.
John Giffen is Director of Broker Operations for Benchmark Realty, LLC in Franklin, Tennessee. He is the author of “Do You Have a Minute? An Award-Winning Real Estate Managing Broker Reveals Keys for Industry Success.”