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Time to sell

"Things are getting tighter on sales in our patch. I listen to my team dealing with customer enquiries and it has dawned on me that there is very little ‘selling’ going on. Help! "

Julian O'Dell

Julian O'Dell image

JULIAN SAYS: Firstly, the fact that you have identified this issue puts you leaps and bounds ahead of your competitors who are yet to wake up to the reality that change is essential. The market, for all sorts of reasons, demands salespeople rather than polite dispensers of information.

There is an old adage: “It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent. It is the one that is most adaptable to change” – spot on as far as estate agency is concerned.

Agent Sell t-shirt imageConsider the ‘strongest’ agents – perhaps those with many offices – seemingly it isn’t all wine and roses in their world. What about the ‘most intelligent’ agents? I’ve met many with plenty of qualifications but with limited scent for a sale. My money, in terms of long term survivors and thrivers, is always on those agents that adapt to changing market conditions and change is rife right now.

The concept of understanding a customer’s motivation isn’t new, but it’s clearly new to some.

However, sometimes it is as valid to look behind you for suitable changes as it is to constantly seek new solutions. What made agents successful in the past should not be forgotten. Maybe ‘old-fashioned customer service’ ought to be regarded as the ‘new way to stand out from the crowd’.


Technology does not replace a highly trained sales force, although for some agents it seems to have done… “I’ll register you on our database”, “we’ll match you against our available stock”, “Keep an eye on our website”, “I’ll ping you an email and you can see if there’s anything suitable” are common approaches I hear when we tune in to incoming Rightmove calls to estate agents. That’s a million miles away from how a skilled salesperson should behave.

Selling is not a dirty word. Neither should it be seen as a pushy approach. It is best defined as ‘helping someone decide to buy’.

Agents must recognise the emotions that homemovers are going through – happiness, excitement, apprehension, stress, sadness, may feature depending upon circumstances and experience. It is imperative to identify and then show empathy towards these emotions to see the world from your customers’ viewpoint thereby accelerating a relationship of trust upon which all successful estate agency interactions are built.

The typical approach of most agents when taking an incoming call from a customer isn’t empathic. “Are you registered with us already?” hardly makes the caller feel important and there may be a good many who don’t understand what “registered” means). What happened to “Thank you for calling our agency. My name’s Stacy, I’ll be happy to help you,” to start the conversation?


Questioning and understanding an applicant’s true motivation (reason and timescale) is key, yet most agents fail to do so – maybe because their tools of the trade are unsuitable. Applicant registration screens/forms (or Heaven forbid, blank sheets of paper) do not prompt the right questions – or on the occasions that they do, the question is inappropriately positioned e.g. bottom right of the screen/form when it should be top left!

Motivation tells you whether you should invest your precious time with a customer and if so, how much? It helps you prioritise who should be your VIP customers. Applicants only go down one of two routes: they either make you money or cost you money – the more accurately you make a judgement on which route they are likely to go down, the more productive you’ll be.

When the market tightens, establishing who is a ‘must move’ rather than a ‘might move’ applicant leads to salespeople investing their time correctly and naturally more sales are the inevitable outcome.

So, knowing motivation is an essential ingredient in the building of trust, in assessing appropriate service levels for each applicant and in differentiating your agency from others who fail to find out this element.

The other point for concern is that many agents know these principles but fail to make them part of their culture. Those that do apply them constantly report that they have resulted in an improvement in performance and time management. Those that don’t (because they are not reminded by their superiors to so; the tools they are provided with are inappropriate or whether they simply can’t be bothered, who knows?) are guessing who to invest their time in.

The concept of genuinely understanding a customer’s motivation isn’t new, but it is clearly new to some. Agents who have joined a technology-dominated industry within the last ten years will benefit from certain timeless techniques.

As Dennis Waitley said, “Winners learn from the past and enjoy working in the present toward the future.”

Julian O’Dell is founder of TM Training & Development.

November 17, 2017