I met Alice Heiman, as I have done so many serendipitous things, online. (Longtime readers of this column will know that’s how I met my husband.) A sales coach — whose background is in sales training, so she has "trained the trainers" — she is based in Reno, Nev., where she offers some of the best advice for salespeople I have ever seen. Her Web site, www.aliceheiman.com, offers free sales tips, articles and a list of recommended books — in addition, later this month there will be a video presentation with Alice herself.
Until then, you’ll just have to make do with this lovely Q&A.
Rookie: So what’s your background?
AH: Prior to doing sales training and coaching, I was an elementary school teacher for 15 years. One of the things that makes me a really good coach is that I really do understand learning theory.
Rookie:Well, I’ve got some questions about teaching and learning, but as Realtors we don’t think our behavior needs to be changed; it’s our clients’ and our customers’ behavior that needs to be changed.
AH: (Laughs) You can retrain your customers, but you have to remember that everybody learns in their own way. If this client doesn’t get it, you feel "they’re not doing what I’m telling them to do"; maybe they didn’t get it auditorily, so it would be easier for them to watch a video, or see it written down in paragraph or bullet form.
Also, I always say to people that the only person’s behavior I can change is my own. Guess what, if we change our behavior, our customers’ behavior can change as well.
Rookie: I’m going to throw a couple specific scenarios at you.
On the buyers’ side, one of the problems I keep having is an issue of loyalty.
I just got relocating customers in on a referral. I have spent hours running searches for these people, offering advice, telling them I will take them around … I am offering product and advice and sympathy, and yet every time I contact the wife (I’ve never met the husband) I feel like I’m bugging her. How do I strengthen that bond or walk away?
AH:One option is to realize that not all business is good business, and maybe you should walk away.
But the first thing I would say as a coach is why do you think your customer — or your potential customer — has that behavior?
Rookie: I think it’s a price perception that she can get real estate cheaper if she does it herself. I think also prices are very high here, and she doesn’t want to admit that she’s defeated by the market.
AH: Those are two very important things … and there’s probably more. When is the last time you checked in with your friend? Contact your friend and say I would like to get some coaching from you as to how to approach this referral.
This woman doesn’t perceive that Realtors have much value — if this is someone you can get face to face with, and build her perception of value, educate her as to why Realtors are useful, great. If she has tons of time on her hands she might not respond to the argument that Realtors save time.
Perhaps you can say, let me help you by putting the information you’ve already gathered together in a coherent form. Maybe it will take building a spreadsheet so you can help her choose the best of the worst. Maybe her husband won’t be able to believe that you guys have looked at everything and that it could be this bad. Show her how you can help him.
Rookie:Great! On the sales side, I feel I lack authority. I went to Harvard and graduated at the top of my class. I was a real estate journalist that 700,000 people read every week. And now I’m a Realtor, and I’ve got no authority.
AH:Let’s back up a little bit and talk about why people don’t like salespeople. What do people think of when they think of sales?
AH: Exactly, there’s a stereotype of bad salespeople as people who are trying to make people buy something they don’t want or need. A lot of people have had a bad experience with a Realtor, and we need to tell them why they need you.
You need a really good way to tell people why they need a Realtor, and you need it in different forms. You need something written and you need something you can watch. NAR may have something like that, but a nonbiased source would be even better.
Rookie: I am trying hard on the video front!
AH: You can also present people with their choices. A) You can sell your own home — if you do that, let me at least tell you some things to watch out for — that establishes credibility; B) you could use something on the Internet that helps you sell — if the person you’re talking to goes for this option, you know they’re not your client; or C) you can hire a Realtor.
Rookie: I vote for "C."
AH:OK, but don’t talk about yourself; talk about them.
Also, people need to see in print what the money looks like. You can say something like, "You think you’re paying me a lot of money by paying me $20K when your house sells," but show them where that money goes in terms of advertising, time, etc.
It also helps having really great testimonials … "I couldn’t have sold my house without this person, and she did this and this … and I got to spend more time with my kids."
Rookie: How do we fight the media? I was in the media, and now … one of the arguments I make is that as a Realtor I’m in the market every day, and that when the local paper does a story, they’re in the market for a week.
AH: Or Zillow, which I think has done a terrible injustice for Realtors, because people go on it and think they can sell their house for that.
Rookie: On a similar note, how do we get people to believe us when frankly our trade association was optimistic at a point when the market was tanking?
AH:You need to find other sources of information you can offer your customer. Say something like, "This organization has this info, but I also compile my own info. My own association was wrong about the market, but here’s what I’ve found."
Rookie:This is fantastic. Any more tips?
AH: We are very focused on ourselves and what’s so great about us — and in order to be in sales you do need to have confidence — but we do lose touch with the customer and their wants and needs.
One thing you can do is segment your list. If you have 300 people you want to stay in touch with, maybe segment them into stay-at-home moms and working moms.
I have one friend who is a Realtor, and she sends out the most terrific information; I like that she thinks about what she’s sending out. Segment your list, and send different things to different people.
Rookie: Time management. I always joke that this is the only business where we go out searching for clients when we don’t have inventory.
AH: Block time on your calendar every week to prospect, and prospect with the people who are most likely to buy from you.
Closing business is always your first priority — wake up every day and think, "What business can I close today, and how do I close it?"
But then you need to be keeping in touch with your existing customers so they remember to use you. Also, ask them for referrals on a consistent basis, and meet new people on an ongoing basis, so you have a pool of people to draw from.
But prospect with the people who are most likely to buy from you — you will be an excellent salesperson if you contact the right people!
Alison Rogers is a licensed salesperson and author of "Diary of a Real Estate Rookie."
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