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The gradual erosion of selling skills

“Dear Julian, my staff members are all hardworking and well-intentioned but I think they need to develop an edge and to become salespeople rather than order takers, especially as the market in our area is very challenging at present. Any advice appreciated.”

Julian O'Dell

Agent on the phone imageJULIAN O’DELL SAYS: It may not make you feel any better but your staff members are not unique. There is plenty of evidence to suggest that they are in a worrying majority. There has been a gradual erosion of selling skills over the past ten years or more and many agents have allowed their websites and the portals to become their sales force and reduced their own roles to that of order takers and polite dispensers of information.

This is a fatal flaw in current business practice as the market demands so much more. It is a ‘make things happen’ rather than a ‘wait for things to happen’ market right now.

Ask the right questions to gather information and ensure that the client feels engaged – and impressed.

Julian O'Dell image

Julian O’Dell

As part of an exercise to assess and improve some of our client firms’ sales performance, we embarked upon a training programme that included factors that were lacking. We carried out extensive preparation for the project which included listening to a number of Rightmove recorded incoming calls and a series of mystery shopper conversations. This revealed common weaknesses – poor quality initial customer handling, failure to assess the quality of the prospects and a resultant lack of selling as calls ended with a lame “we will email suitable properties through to you” type of conclusion.

Make an impression!

We focused on raising standards in handling calls from new customers considering moving, which often kicked off with an opener like, “I’ve seen something on Rightmove – can I arrange a viewing?”

Rather than simply respond to that request and make the viewing, the goals we set our trainees included making an outstanding first impression during that first point of contact (to win the customer over and have them recognise that your agency is superior to others – vital when the caller has a local property to sell); to qualify the caller and accurately assess how much time should be invested in them and ensure that, wherever possible, the caller is proactively offered suitable properties beyond those they had selected, adding clear perceived value to the customer’s experience and potentially protecting and enhancing the reputation of the ‘traditional’ estate agency model.

Thus the key points of best practice that the training project participants now adhere to as part of their standard process include an upbeat professional greeting, a positive self-introduction, thanking the caller for calling at the outset of the call and agreeing a clear agenda for the conversation. Whilst these seem basic essentials that estate agents would carry out, our research shows the opposite – flat tone, no name given, no appreciation shown for the call at any stage and total lack of upfront explanation of how the call will be conducted.

What’s your agenda?

An agenda goes way beyond saying “Let me just take some details from you…” which is an agent’s commonly used opening line. It is much more impressive, professional and friendly to say “I’d like to ask you a few questions to ensure you don’t miss out on any potentially suitable properties. It only takes a few minutes but it will be time well spent if it helps us find your perfect property. Is that OK?”

By explaining the reasons why you are asking questions, you massively increase the chance of them answering those questions honestly.

Asking the right questions – open and TED (Tell me… Explain to me… Describe to me…) – uncovers the critical information from the customer quickly and accurately, ensuring that they feel engaged whilst recognising that your approach is refreshingly different from other agents who only establish very basic facts leaving them unable to match the applicant with appropriate stock.

Summarising everything you have taken on board reinforces the customer’s view that you are interested in them – rather than simply sticking them onto a ‘system’ to automatch them with a far too wide range of properties, many of which will be patently unsuitable.

Be a ‘breath of fresh air!’

One agent we trained in these principles called me a fortnight later to report that a customer that day had interrupted him halfway through the conversation to remark “This is a breath of fresh air”. When the negotiator asked her why, the caller explained “Because no other agent has taken this level of interest in me. Thank you.”

As agents, we often lose sight of the fact that people moving house, especially in confusing market conditions, are doing so to solve a problem, probably relating to space, money, geography, health, relationship or otherwise.

Ask yourself the key question: Are we behaving in a manner that tells the customer that we are the most interested and best equipped agent to solve that problem? If not, don’t be surprised if they fail to do business with you now or in the future.

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April 10, 2019