Note: This week, I will be delivering a quick talk at the Connect On the Road Conference in Washington DC on “Stop Thinking Like a Salesperson.” For people at the conference who want to review the points I made, here is a version of that talk that I wrote for the blog a few years ago.
If you are a real estate agent, you’re not a salesperson. Why? Because you don’t sell things. I know this comes as a shock to you, because you’ve always been told that you’re a “salesperson.” You’re probably officially licensed as a “real estate salesperson,” a designation that you likely have to put on all your advertising and business cards. And you’ve probably taken a lot of “sales training” and gotten “sales awards” and describe yourself as being in “sales.”
But you’re not a “salesperson,” at least not how that term is commonly understood. A “salesperson” is someone who has the very specific job of trying to sell something, and who had little or no responsibility for creating or providing the service that is being sold. People who sell cars are salespeople – we don’t expect them to know how to make a car, or repair a car. People who sell pharmaceuticals are salespeople – we don’t expect them to know how to create or administer a drug. That is, most industries have a very sharply delineated role for a salesperson: someone who is responsible for generating sales, but who does not have any obligation to then service the client’s needs once the purchase is made. It’s not that sales aren’t important, it’s that their TOO important: they require highly specialized skills that are generally not consistent with the skills needed to service accounts. Rather, most industries have service professionals who handle client needs once the sale is made.
We see that separation between sales and service throughout all types of business, and even in other aspects of the real estate industry. Mortgage loan officers are really financing “salespeople,” even though they’re not called that. Their job is to market their services to borrowers, but they have little responsibility to service that client’s loan once the application is made. Rather, they hand off that responsibility to service professionals to gather documents, clear commitment issues, and do the underwriting. Or think about all the other players in the real estate industry: title salespeople don’t read title, home warranty salespeople don’t field service calls, insurance salespeople don’t handle claims. Rather, there’s a strict separation between sales and service.
So that’s really the problem with calling real estate agents “salespeople” – it’s not a proper way of describing what you do every day. Indeed, the vast majority of your time isn’t spent selling, it’s spent providing services to your sellers and buyers. You’re not a “salesperson,” you’re more like a counselor or advisor. Indeed, you’re really more of a service professional, like a lawyer or accountant – or, if those white collar roles strike you as too self-aggrandizing, then like an interior designer or a hair stylist. Whether they are blue-collar or white-collar, service professionals provide the same kind of “professional services” that you provide, and they all have one thing in common: they don’t have, nor are they thought of, as salespeople. Instead, they generate business without even having a sales role, just from the quality of the work that they do and the reputation they develop. In other words, they generate business the way real estate agents SHOULD, and the way that really great real estate agents DO.
It’s not just semantics. That fundamental misunderstanding that real estate agents are “salespeople” is at the core of everything that’s wrong with the real estate industry. Instead of taking the higher road of becoming a trusted advisor to clients, we’ve descended to the low road of one of the least respected roles in our society. It’s why real estate agents are held in such low esteem by a general public that is suspicious about salespeople and think that they will say anything to get a commission. It’s why the sales training industry is largely built around teaching people manipulative and dispiriting ways to “prospect,” rather than helping them actually become good at their jobs. It’s why most real estate agents make less money than the receptionists who answer their phones.
So stop thinking like a salesperson. Stop spending all your time in the desperate pursuit of a “good lead.” Stop going to sales seminars to learn tricky new closing techniques that you can use to manipulate people. Stop annoying people by inundating them with transparent sales pitches on your Facebook page and via email. Stop spending all your time chasing new clients, instead of taking great care of the clients you already have.
Reconsider what you really are, and what you offer to your clients. You’re an advisor, assisting your clients who are trying to buy or sell a home. You’re a consultant, counseling your clients to find out their needs, wants, and desires. You’re a problem-solver, helping your clients make hard decisions about one of the most important decisions in their lives. Most importantly, you are a service professional, whose main role is to provide outstanding experiences for your clients.