Things Sales People Teach

Last week, I went to a Real Estate seminar hosted by a local bank.  They advertised it as a “How to do business in a tough market” sort of thing, with information about market trends and projections.  I’m a numbers gal, so a presentation full of shiny charts and national vs local numbers sounded like a great way to get back to work after slacking during the wedding.

Unfortunately, most of the time was devoted to Nationally!  Acclaimed! Trainer! With Impressive Credentials!

There are few things in the world I like less than sales trainers.  I always hate their priorities and find them to be abrasive and insincere.  Some day I’ll meet one who’s down with the Anaea school of whatev’s salesmenship, but I’m not holding my breath.

Since I wound up trapped in the middle of the middle row with people to either side, I couldn’t flee.  Instead, I took notes on the helpful lessons.  And now I share them with you.  Also, a bit of commentary.

Sure, unemployment is 8%, but that’s not a reason to feel all doom and gloom about your business because that means 92% of people are employed.  I agree with the sentiment, though I’d quibble with in on a straight-up factual basis.  There’s a huge difference between “Employed enough to count for national statistics,” and “Employed enough to think about buying property.”  To get a sense of how bad 8% unemployment is for a Realtor, you want to at least combine it with the Consumer Confidence numbers.

Besides, that 8% is unemployed because they don’t want to work anyway.  Er, buh what?  This is something I hear a lot, but I think the people saying it must not understand where the unemployment numbers come from.  You have to be actively applying to jobs to hit the unemployment rolls.  The people who are just sitting at home have fallen out of the accounting.

Going to conventions and taking training classes is how you learn to make money.  It’s also how the WRA, NAR, and Nationally Acclaimed Speakers make most of their money.  Let’s all ponder the sincerity of this advice for a moment.

Canada is a blighted socialist failure.  The guy claims to be from Canada and I have no reason to disbelieve him.  I do wonder why there aren’t droves of Canadians emigrating, if that’s true.

Antitrust laws are a punchline.  No really.  Just because there’s a law saying we’re not allowed to all get together and agree that, say, 6% is a standard commission doesn’t mean we shouldn’t all nod and agree that 6% is standard and make jokes about the meddling feds coming for us in the night.  (I work at 7%, btw, so I’m sorta down with not establishing standards)

Training seminars are targeted to people in their late ’40’s.  There’s no other way to explain the rampant insults for young people who apparently are too lazy to work and have no ambition, or the assumption that everybody in the room has traumatic memories of working in Real Estate during the late ’70’s.

Don’t be a dick.  This was phrased more as highlighting the opportunity cost of throwing a trantrum when the dry cleaner screws up instead of shrugging it off and pumping them for business.  I have no quibble here.

Go to church to make money.  This was the first of many, many references to higher powers, putting your trust therein, and how being on their good side works out for you.  This, er, did not go over well with me.  I doubt any of the people nodding along split their commission with the big invisible man, either.

The current generation would be better off if only they had their grandparents’ values.  Yeah, because having my whole ambition involve getting married and having kids would make me so much more productive in the workplace, or switching sides of the family, willful ignorance and anti-intellectualism mixed with casual racism would work out really well for me as a Realtor in the Madison market.  Let’s get on that right away!

Believing you can achieve is all you need to find success.  This is the saccharine bullshit that chokes me every time I run into it.  I guarantee you that if I spend the rest of the week reading travel guides and believing I can succeed, I’m not making any money this week.  And then my mortgage starts to get scary.

The US is the greatest nation in the world.  Do you know why?  Because the US military goes to other countries and liberates them!  I? Wuh? How is this relevant?  And why do you think I need a Canadian telling me this?

Single parents are a punchline, but we’re not going to go there because that would be politically incorrect.  Except that you went there.  Also, don’t they buy houses what with the, you know, having kids they need to store somewhere?

Women are far more intelligent than men.  Especially if it sets up the punchline of a cheap joke.  I’m not one for generalizations, but I can think of at least one woman smarter than this guy.

Beating children is funny, but then Oprah ruined it.  Oprah came up as a punchline in a lot of ways, actually.  I guess he’s too old and Canadian to have gotten the notice that she retired?

If you exercise blind faith that repeating sales activities will work, the higher power will reward you with success.  Or you could, I don’t know, look at cost-benefit analyses and ROIs, develop a good business plan, then stick to it?  One of those is more likely to get backed by a bank…

Old unmarried women got that way because no man wanted them.  You’ll all be happy to note that not only did I not kill this guy, I waited until after he’d left the country to express my contempt for him.

Previous generations weren’t as smart as us, or as educated.  But they had better values, recall.

Affirmations.  Use them and you will find success.  “I am a pissed off Realtor.  I will write vitriolic blogs about this later.  That will keep me from getting charged with assault.”  Like that?

The Creator didn’t guarantee success, just offered us clean air, water, and fresh fruit so we could go find success ourselves.  Yeah, about that, who are we talking about, and how much of the above do we have?

There you have it, everything I learned over the course of two excruciating hours.  Now you know it, too.

Things wot I have been up to

First off, everybody in Madison should check out this auction for the Dane County Rape Crisis Center.  Among the really nifty items there is a crit from one of my critique groups.  You know you want to donate money to charity in order to have my tell you how you suck.  Trust me.  I only made somebody cry that once, but for charity, I’ll do it again 😉

I voted for Art.  You’re voting for Art, right?  Not to be repetitive or anything, but Art for Gov.

I finished Udacity’s CS101 course and achieved a Certificate of Accomplishment with High Distinction.  I’m pretty fricken’ proud of that, given that my two week out-of-town-stravaganza coincided with the last two weeks of material for the class.  My current plan is to do one class at a time from them until I feel like I know everything I want to, or I admit that I’m way too busy to recreationally pick up an unaccredited degree just because it’s awesome.  I’m in 212 now.

I sold a story to Penumbra.  More details once signed contracts happen.

Speaking of signed contracts, Realtor me snagged one of those Friday night.  I’ve had a few in the pipeworks for a while now, but this was the first one to finally get ink on paper.  Yay!!

Helped Idi cope with the trauma of having 2/3 of her parents in Ireland.  She’s the loneliest! 

Sure, it looks like I’ve bothered her while she’s napping in the fabulous nest of squishy things that is Sylvie’s bed/laundry-and-yarn storage device.  In reality, she’s in desperate need of solace.

Also, replaced the light bulbs over the steps.  I think they’ve been out for about two years.  Apparently, you can actually see the steps when there are working bulbs in the lights.  Weird.

Really, though, this post was an excuse to shill the RCC auction.  Everything else here is just to make me look cool for people who want to know whether a crit from me is worthwhile.  The answer is that, yes, yes it is.

Open House

What with the trying to make a living selling houses, I spend a portion of most Sundays hosting an open house.  A not so secret industry secret – Realtors don’t host open houses to sell the house, they do it to find buyers.  A house might sell from being open, maybe, but everybody who comes in is at least interested in talking about house buying, even if they’re just kicking tires.

Anyway, I really enjoy hosting open houses.  I start the morning off making cookie dough, pack up my “Realtor Bag” full of information packets, business cards, and other handy things, go buy some balloons, then run off to spend a few hours hanging out in somebody else’s super clean, well-staged house.  If lots of people come, great!  I get to meet buyers, talk about pretty houses, and otherwise add dollar signs to my future.  If nobody comes, great!  I get a few quiet hours to read or get some writing done, with fresh cookies.  There is no losing.  (Most of what I’m loving about the Real Estate career is how often that’s true.)

Yesterday’s open house got…creative.  In a the universe enjoys messing with things I like sort of way.

To keep Realtors from having to break into the houses they show, any buyers from having to hide keys in unsecure locations, most areas use a lockbox system where the key gets put in a weighted safe that sits on the front porch.  Realtors lease an infra-red key device which will unlock the safe with a Realtor-sepcific PIN.  The device has an exceptionally good battery life, and it’s one of the things I keep in my Realtor bag so I don’t forget it.

That exceptionally good battery life?  Does not last two weeks even if you didn’t use it at all in the intervening time.  I discovered this when, eight minutes before my open house is supposed to start and after I’ve put up the balloons and put out the signs, my key will not turn on, not even to yell at me for a low battery.  Woops.

Fifteen minutes later I’m back at the house, eight minutes late for my own open, but armed with my key charger and fairly certain that nobody showed up and went away in the first ten minutes of the open.  If anybody did, it was the first time ever.  Besides, none of the usual advertising went out because it was labor day – I did the open because, hey, two hours to read on somebody else’s couch, and they had gorgeous built-in bookshelves.

The open was at a townhouse development, relatively recently built, so there were power outlets on the front porch.  These were outdoor power outlets, though, and the charger for the key is one of those broad headed ones that turn sideways to block just the one outlet.  It did not fit in the outlet without getting held in place.  So I spent the first half hour of my open house sitting on the porch, holding the charger in the socket with one hand, and reading the new chapters of HPatMOR on my phone.

Do me a favor and picture this.  I’m sitting on the ground in my fancy clothes, (high heels, too), a giant bag overflowing with promotional material and a hardcover copy of Behemoth, next to me, a tray of curried peanutbutter cookie dough next to it, and my arm torqued at unnatural angles to press a power cord into a wall socket.  Now I ask you, would you buy a house from me?

Nobody came to the open house, even after my key charged enough to open the lockbox and let me in.  The oven scorched the cookies.  I did not finish off Behemoth, or get any writing done.  But you know what?  The bookshelves were lovely, the furniture was comfy, and I didn’t have to explain to anybody that sure, they’d come all that way to see the house, but could they just wait ten minutes while I charge my turn-of-the-century technology?

Take that, universe.  I win.

Soft Selling

I’m on the record as hating, loathing, and despising desperate, clingy, and high pressure salesmen.  I love watching a good salesman at work, but the ones with an eau de used car make my skin crawl and insult my sense of professional standards.  This isn’t so much because the desperate hard sell doesn’t work – plenty of sales people have had successful careers based entirely on the strong-arm pitch, but because it lacks anything by way of subtlety or panache.  A truly great sales person is a problem solver; they find a problem the customer has, then solve it with something in their inventory.  If no such problem exists, they let the customer go on their way, but are friendly and informative in case a useful problem develops later.

Accomplishing that requires a great deal of manipulative skill.  Customers are, like all people, idiots of the first order.  Sometimes they think they know what they want, rarely that actually do, but usually they have a vague sense of need or want which they articulate using whatever salient thing has been advertised at them recently, then flail.  A sales person has to cut through the wrong ideas and the bad information, plant the correct information, and then convince the customer to do the thing they should have been doing all along.

The sales process is one where you have to wheedle information out of the customer while entertaining them enough that they don’t realize it.  It’s like planting exposition in your novel, except in reverse.  The questions are the same: Who are you?  What are your goals?  What are your obstacles?  And like a master expositor, a good salesman takes you through the process while you’re too absorbed to notice, and then presents to you a surprising but inevitable conclusion.  “You, ma’am, want the red-leather sectional with accent ottoman and a cushion upgrade.”  And they’re right, it’s just the perfect thing.

Sales is really just improvisational story telling.  Some customers are not your audience.  Some goods are not your genre.  The structure and the skills are all the same.

Which leads me to my absolute favorite thing to do, as a sales person: the half-nelson soft sale.  It’s a parody of the desperate, high-pressure sales person, the equivalent of foreshadowing doom by talking about bunnies, and the hardest part for me is to not cackle when I’m doing it.

It’s particularly useful in situations where the customer either wasn’t sure they were interested in buy X, or where you upsold them outside of their planned comfort zone.  They want X, it is the perfect thing for their needs, but they’re not sure they ought to, or that they can, or that waiting wouldn’t be better.  The is the moment skeevy sales people add pressure, start talking about falling inventory and concluding sales.  That’s cheap and tacky.  I do the opposite.  “We have a few of those left in stock.  But don’t worry, if we sell out, you’ll only have to wait six weeks for the next shipment.  That’s not a big deal.”  “If you’re not ready to make an offer, let’s wait.  If it gets sold in the meantime, we know what perfect looks like.  We should be able to find something close.”  You don’t hit them with the downside of failing to act, you just open the door and direct their attention to it by telling them not to worry.  Then you shut up and let their brains start spinning the scenarios.  If you’re good, you’ve told them stories about delayed shipments and settling for mediocrity already.  Not pointed stories, just chatter, filling the time.  It’s a story worth telling because it almost never happens, it probably won’t happen to you.

90% of the time, once you’ve properly executed the half-nelson soft sell, the customer closes the deal for you.  They’ll stare down the protesting spouse, glare at the astonished best friend, and do exactly what you just assured them wasn’t necessary.

The first time I did this as the furniture store, my manager thought I was crazy.  I let the customer walk away with a “I’ll get back to you,” and an assurance that they should take their time, there’s no rush.  Go ahead, put that book down, you’ll be able to sleep without reading one more chapter.  They didn’t make it out of the store before they broke, came running back, and demanded to buy everything I’d pitched to them.

I giggled for half an hour once they were gone.  My manager decided that I was definitely insane, but I knew what I was doing.

My business plan for the Real Estate stuff is based on a long game of this strategy.  My broker thinks I’m insane, but he’s seen my sales resume, and I told him up front I wasn’t interested in doing any of the tacky bullshit touted to Realtors as the hot best way to build business.  I’m hanging out with people, looking at pretty houses, and being very, very reassuring.  It’s lots of fun.

Free Lunch Tuesdays

I refer to Tuesday as my free lunch day because, while it’s true that I get free lunch, it’s much more pleasant than the more accurate, “Get up early to listen to people lie with statistics,” days.  In other words, it’s the day of my broker’s Sales meeting, followed by a property tour where desperate Realtors use food to bribe people into looking at their listings.  Given the economy, and the market, most people are desperate.  And there are few things that crawl under my skin like desperate sales people.  We hates them, precious, yes we do.

The good news is that overall, showings and transaction rates across the state are up.  The bad news is that Dane county (that’d be the Madison area for the non-locals) is down.  This is weird because Dane county has been the bastion of stability throughout everything.  It took a hit, but not nearly so bad, and the market here bottomed out and started recovering first.  Now the rest of the state seems to be recovering while Dane county is sliding toward a double-dip.  “Why do you think that is?” asked my broker, who last week was talking about how great this summer is going to be.

People hemmed and hawed and talked about foreclosures in the rest of the state going back on the market – which is bunk because if that were true the inventory levels and market saturation numbers would reflect it – and other equally fuzzy explanations.  I honestly do not know whether these people are that short sighted and delusional or what, but I snapped and said the obvious.  “Scott Walker.”

What’s special about Dane county, the reason that its trends are overwhelmingly stable compared to the rest of the state?  Public sector employees.  The Dane county work force is disproportionately public sector when compared to the rest of the state.  It’s a side-effect of hosting the state capitol and its flagship university campus.  The people in this market are terrified.  Also, I called this happening back in February.  Roughly 100 out of 14,000 Realtors believed me.  Maybe I should change my pen name to Cassandra Lay.

Other things that annoyed me: When talking about how properties in the $650,000+ range are moving pretty well while the middle of the market is stagnant, somebody treated us to a rant about how the rich people are smart enough to buy low and sell high, but the masses are too stupid to see the wisdom there and do the opposite.  Or, you know, they’re selling now because they have to since they’ve lost their jobs, or taken massive pay cuts, or are leaving the state.  We’re not talking about finicky stock investors here, we’re talking about people coping with the most brutal recession since the depression.  I think they bloody well know it would have been better to sell three years ago, except they didn’t need to then.

The thing is, this doesn’t just rub me on the general “stupid people being stupid” way, but it also gets my “incompetent, desperate sales people,” peeve.  How can you expect to do right by your clients or be effective in this market when you are busy twisting numbers into the picture you want to see and deluding yourself about your customer base?  This is just as bad as the furniture sales people who wouldn’t talk to twenty-somethings wearing jeans and T-shirts, when in Madison, they’re likely to be the ones with too much money.  And yeah, that meant there was less competition for a valuable market, but come on, there’s no fun in winning because your competition is too incompetent to compete.  At least learn to read a bar graph, please.

So yes.  Tuesday is my free lunch day.  Otherwise, it’d have to be my, “I really hate other Realtors,” day.