SAN FRANCISCO — Brokerages should have a systematic method for identifying and winning over agents they’d like to recruit — but it had better not appear that way to the prospects they’re targeting.

A panel of brokers and consultants, speaking Wednesday during the Real Estate Connect conference, offered their insights into the tricky business of recruiting agents away from competitors, and retaining top agents in the long run.

While it might sound counterintuitive, the way to meet both goals isn’t to offer the best commission split. Instead, agents are attracted to companies that demonstrate leadership, values and a company culture that will help them close more deals.

It’s not only easier to recruit one good agent than to increase the productivity of existing agents, but brokerages must constantly be on the lookout for new talent due to agent attrition, said Bill Lublin, CEO of Philadelphia-based Century 21 Advantage Gold. 

Lublin’s brokerage employs a full-time recruiter at its central office to assist managers in satellite offices.

"It’s a revolving door," he said. "People’s lives change. Even if you are the greatest retaining office in the world, people retire, children move. "     

"You’re not in the real estate business — you’re in the human relations and human behavior business," said Jon Cheplak, CEO and founder of the consulting firm The Real Recruiter.

Cheplak advises brokers to "stop talking about the competition" in their pitches, and start talking to the agent they are trying to recruit "as if they’re already your agent."

Agents don’t join a company based on its business model or the commission splits or technology tools it offers, Cheplak maintains. They join for one reason: the company’s leadership.

"Your responsibility in recruiting is to demonstrate an experience," he said — the experience agents can expect to have if they join the company. "Stop verbalizing it. Show them as close as (you can) what it’s going to be like when they join your company before they join your company."

"Stop selling; sending stupid stuff agents don’t want; or attracting people with money; or saying we’re less expensive," said Denise Lones, president of The Lones Group, a consulting firm.

Although it’s important to be systematic about recruiting, Lones advised not to make it obvious to agents that they’re on your recruiting list.

"If you send out 100 postcards to people on your list, everybody is going to laugh," Lones said.

Lublin said the company uses social media to monitor agents at other companies and identify prospects.

"When (agents are) upset with their existing manager, you can see that on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn — everywhere they are, they are talking, " he said. "You can reach out — not to recruit them, but to ask if there’s anything you can do to help."

Cheplak said that agents must be courted over an extended period. Brokerages need to use the same kind of automated process for "incubating" agents as they employ for client leads.

"Brokers quit too early," Cheplak said. "You present a value proposition and continue to incubate the lead."

Among the more than 1,000 clients he’s provided consulting for, it takes 14 contacts on average before an agent makes a move, he said.

Kris Berg, who started a brokerage with her husband in San Diego three years ago, said the firm has grown to 10 agents without making a concerted recruiting effort. Berg said she has the opposite problem — agents come to her, and she’s not interested in having most of them join San Diego Castles Realty.

The challenge, she said, is finding people who live up to her standards of consistency, excellence and ethical behavior.

"It’s hard to find people who subscribe to our model, our culture — not those who want to be ‘,’ but ‘’ "

"My recruiting strategy to date is: People will call me and say, ‘We’re thinking about joining your company,’ and we’ll say, ‘Have you thought about joining Coldwell Banker?’ "

Lublin said one reason Century 21 Advantage Gold has had success in recruiting experienced agents this year is because the company is debt-free. Some high-producing agents are leaving companies that "overpromised" on commissions, he said.

"Those of us who made fewer promises in terms of money" are in better financial shape, he said. "Agents think that a higher percentage (split on commissions) makes them more money, but the support of a good company can make a difference (in the number of sales). That’s the value proposition we sell. The team has to win."

Panel moderator Wendy Forsythe, senior vice president of network services for franchisor Better Homes and Gardens Real Estate LLC, said she wondered if manager pay needs to be tied to recruiting in order to motivate managers.

Surveys show manager compensation is tied more to a base salary than to outcomes like gross commission income and recruiting than it once was, she said.

"In doing that, we kind of let them off the hook, so they could become babysitters in the office," Forsythe said.

Lublin said that if managers’ pay is tied to the overall success of the company, they will also have an incentive to recruit. But "if you give them expectations for recruiting, you should give them some tools."

The ultimate stick for managers who are given tools and don’t recruit is that they will be fired, Lublin said.

Cheplak said fear is also a motivating factor for agents.

"The No. 1 way to motivate (agents) is to continue to bring in their replacement," he said. "That will inspire them." The goal is not to create stress that results in excessive agent "churn," but tension that boosts creativity and productivity.

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