Editor’s note: This is the second installment in a two-part series based on an interview with Vicky Chrisner, a Northern Virginia real estate consultant who focuses on real referral business. Read Part 1, "Q&A: mastering referrals."

ROOKIE: Last week you talked about asking your closest sphere for help, marketing to other agents, and how to handle a less-than-top-quality referral. Will you share some of your database secrets? How big are your spheres?

CHRISNER: As far as my personal sphere, I have a tiered system: an "A" is someone I’ve done a transaction with who has referred me or attempted to refer me. There are 63 of those. A "B" is someone who I think would refer me, but the right opportunity hasn’t come yet. I’ve got 79 of those. Then there’s the Cs — hundreds of people who I have relationships with, who know me and recognize my name — but they’re not the first people I call when my pipeline runs dry.

As far as agents, I have 292 agents who I am actively marketing to. I’m always interested in hearing (about and from) the Best of the Best, so I would welcome anyone who is interested in building a reciprocal referral relationship to contact me.

ROOKIE: What do you use as your database product? I feel like I’m reaching the limit of what I can do using Excel spreadsheets.

CHRISNER: I use Top Producer, which my assistant is better at than I am.

ROOKIE: And your marketing materials? Are you a call-people-on-the-phone person, or a drip e-mail person, or something in between?

CHRISNER: I’m not into mass marketing. If the average stranger doesn’t know my name, that’s fine with me. But I find that I have a better life and I have a better business if I have real relationships.

A lot of the people that I know (meet for) a monthly dinner club, so many people cycle through once a month or at least once a quarter. I couple that with phone calls that are more personal, and then more generic e-mails.

You have to fit your communication style to the recipient. I used to think that if I gave generic marketing stuff to people who I knew they would be offended. I do want to reinvent the wheel, but it helps to start with the wheel that’s already moving. You will come to a dead stop if you take all the wheels off at once! So the balance was to find things that people I know would find value in.

I don’t focus on the image stuff — that’s not me. I remember my aunt and uncle who used to come to the family reunions with buttons that said "Ask me about Amway," or whatever, and I always used to think, "Why can’t you just be my aunt and uncle?"

You also have to fit your communication style to your limitations. I can’t drive to every person I know every quarter. When you touch your people once a quarter, you do that by phone or e-mail.

ROOKIE: Let’s steal more of your secrets. What do you say?

CHRISNER: I have a great line that I use — do you want to hear it? Here goes: I say to them, "Every adult knows six people per year who are either buying or selling. If you could refer half of them to me, that would make a huge difference," and then two weeks later they call and send me someone.

You say that maybe once a quarter to them, and then they’ll look for those opportunities.

It sounds odd, but you’re kind of giving them a quota. And remember, they want to help. It’s just that if you don’t ask, they don’t pay attention to the conversations that they hear over the water cooler.

ROOKIE: Even in this slow market?

CHRISNER: I know the market is tanking just as I’m trying to build a business, but the strong survive. It’s tough, but you hang in there and with the right relationships it happens. Also, (money is difficult in this market) — with short sales, they’re trying to renegotiate the commission after the contract.

I think it’s a mistake that we try to give the illusion that we work for free. I would prefer that someone say, "What do you charge?" And I can say, "This is what I’ll do for you." We really need to say what we’re worth, and if we can’t, then maybe we’re not worth it.

ROOKIE: One last story?

CHRISNER: Treat every single contact as the most important. We drove our son up to Boston with a U-Haul on the back of the car, and in one of the highway rest areas we hit someone’s car with the trailer. So I left a note on the back of my business card; it was what I had with me.

I didn’t hear for a week, and then I got a call from the man whose car we hit. He turned out to be a commercial agent. He said, "Now I’m going to refer someone to you. I can tell my network that I want to make sure that you’re with an ethical agent — and then there’s no better business recommendation than somebody who hits your car and leaves a note!"

Right? That’s being good when nobody is looking. And I referred someone to the commercial agent. This is going to be the only car accident that turns out to be profitable for someone.

Alison Rogers is a licensed salesperson and author of "Diary of a Real Estate Rookie."


What’s your opinion? Leave your comments below or send a letter to the editor. To contact the writer, click the byline at the top of the story.

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