I recently attended the Luxury Conclave, an annual conference where the stars of luxury real estate come together to network and share strategies. Anne Murray Randolph, the editor of LORE magazine, and Jennifer Cummings of Keytura Inc. shared their perspectives on what these superstars needed to know to market even more effectively to the ultra-high-end clientele they serve.

I recently attended the Luxury Conclave, an annual conference where the stars of luxury real estate come together to network and share strategies. Anne Murray Randolph, the editor of LORE magazine, and Jennifer Cummings of Keytura Inc. shared their perspectives on what these superstars needed to know to market even more effectively to the ultra-high-end clientele they serve. If you want to stay ahead of the curve in your business, here are some important points you cannot afford to ignore:

1. The most important skill to master for 2007: Listening

Both Randolph and Cummings emphasized the importance of listening. Today’s consumer expects to have a dialogue with the agent rather than being told what to do. Meredith McKenzie of Troop Real Estate in California summed it up this way: “Instead of doing a listing presentation where you talk at the seller, a key strategy for success is to conduct a ‘listening consultation’ where you ask questions and write down what the seller says.”

When you work with a buyer, conduct a thorough interview to determine as much as possible about the buyer’s lifestyle, what their “must-haves” are, as well as the features they are willing to sacrifice.

2. Be an expert, not a potato

One of the most compelling parts of Cummings’ talk was her “potato chip marketing” program. The problem we face as an industry is that consumers view agents the same way they view commodities. We’re like a pile of potatoes — there’s nothing unique that makes us stand out from the other potatoes. In contrast, the opposite of a “potato” is being an “expert.” Today’s buyers and sellers want expert representation coupled with a superb customer experience. Cummings uses the following analogy to describe her approach: “Imagine that you will win $100,000 if you can get 12 squirrels to eat out of your hand in a single day. You will be required to stay within a few feet of a park bench. All you have to attract the squirrels is a bag of potato chips.” Would you be able to do it? The point here is that you have to provide something of value to first attract the squirrel. In this case, it’s a trail of potato chips. Many agents expect people to do business with them without first providing something of value. This is the notion of “give-to-get” marketing. The second point is that you must earn trust. You are not going to attract any squirrels if you jump up and try to catch them as soon as they approach you. Trust comes from concentrating on what matters to the client, delivering what you promise, and putting the client’s interest above your own. The first step in achieving each of these goals, however, is to listen carefully to your clients’ concerns. Ask questions about their interests, how they spend their time when they are at home, the name of their pets, what they like to do for fun, etc. The more you concentrate on the client, the stronger your connection will be.

3. The Learn Button is Missing

Today’s consumers are searching for a wide variety of real estate information online. While we have done a relatively good job of providing content regarding our listings, Randolph argues that we are forcing consumers to go other places to obtain information about how to buy or sell a property. This is another key example of how our industry is not listening carefully enough to what our clients want and need. For example, where are the brokerage Web sites that tell first-time buyers what they need to do to qualify for their first loan? Where do consumers with poor credit go to learn how to clean up their credit so they can purchase a property? How should buyers and sellers choose an agent, mortgage and title company? What inspectors do they need? What disclosures will they receive and what are the pitfalls they must avoid? What is the difference between a foreclosure, bankruptcy and short sale? What is a transaction tracking platform and how does it work? How does data from the MLS differ from data from other Web sources? Randolph argues that we need to add the “learn button” to our Web sites in order to provide them with all the content they need, not just listing or local community information. “Wikis” such as the ImmanWiki are attempting to meet this need. The issue is why is this being left to the innovators and entrepreneurs rather than to the brokerage community.

While most of our industry is still busy talking at our clients, you can stand out from the potatoes by listening and actively searching for ways to provide your clients the best possible buying or selling experience.

Bernice Ross, national speaker and CEO of Realestatecoach.com, is the author of “Waging War on Real Estate’s Discounters” and “Who’s the Best Person to Sell My House?” Both are available online. She can be reached at bernice@realestatecoach.com or visit her blog at www.LuxuryClues.com.

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