This week I bought my dog a rubber chicken. He’s not a budding stand-up comic; he’s not even a little bit funny. It’s just that during my most recent trip to the pet store for an essential — dog food — I made a wrong turn down the chew-toy aisle, and this particular plaything amused me. As did the squeaky hotdog I brought him last time, and the rubber wrench the time before.

All Simon wants is food, yet last time I checked, he doesn’t have an active debit card. So I’m his personal shopper. And the pet store knows this. While his single purpose in life is to consume, I am the consumer — at least where the pet store is concerned. The toys are designed to appeal to me.

My dog, being a dog, didn’t get the joke. After giving me a brief "What the hell is that, and is it OK to eat it?" glance, he reluctantly accepted my generous gift. And that’s when instincts kicked in. You see, he is a golden retriever, a bird dog by nature. Now, when he dares to go near the whimsical lump of petroleum byproduct, it is only to ever so delicately deliver it from one room to another. The squeaker inside that I really liked is lost on him. The thing looks like a bird, and he’s been bred not to bite down.

It’s not that my dog missed the point. I did. I may be the pet store’s customer, but Simon is mine. In amusing myself, I failed to give him what he really wanted: something he could really sink his teeth into. All he really wanted was a pizza.

Recently, I received my own "rubber chicken" in an e-mail from my local association of Realtors. For only $279, I can now earn a new designation, something along the lines of "Seller Advisory Practitioner" (I made that up because I like the acronym). Assuming I am able to brave the grueling two-day training session (and given the check clears), I will instantly rank among only 1 percent of agents nationwide who hold this title. Sign me up!

To be clear, this isn’t just another designation-bashing rant — that is so April. (Well maybe it is, but just a little.) There is the obvious hypocrisy in the designation system, the one that says even though I pass the test to become a SAP, I will be permitted to remain a SAP only by mailing in a fresh check each year. Rather, it was something in the course syllabus that caught my eye.

In all fairness, it sounds like some good information will be coming my way. I will get some pointers on RESPA (the Real Estate Settlement Procedures Act), presumably along the lines of "It is illegal to accept things of value from your title company rep including but not limited to free property brochures and small Caribbean islands." The rest of the agenda, however, appears geared toward snagging a live one. Given the call to action, something about "earning designations that can set you apart from other agents," there seems to be an inherent disconnect.

I am told I will learn valuable secrets of the elite top 1 percent, like "objectives of different types of open houses." Isn’t the objective of all open houses to find a buyer for the house? No, that’s thinking like an end user. I should just buy the rubber chicken and forget what it is my own clients want.

Real estate agents are stuck in the middle. From the time our licensed careers are born, we are taught to go out and fetch some clients. The message isn’t entirely wrong, as I personally have found it is nearly impossible to represent a client without actually having a client, but the idea that we view our customers as game to be returned to our master is so old that it has become instinctive.

And the vendors, our brokers and our member organizations are just giving their customers, us, what we want. There are countless toys being offered to deliver agents unto success. Yet the agent’s best friend is still the homebuyer or seller and, based on my informal survey, they don’t give a flip about any of the stuff we buy into unless it’s something they wanted in the first place. …CONTINUED

Your future client wants relevant information offered conveniently, freely and without strings. Your existing client wants competency, not acronyms intended to symbolize competency. Beyond that, everything you are doing is for you. We tend to confuse the two.

I have received at least half a dozen offers this week for a better Internet Data Exchange (a system of data exchange for brokers, also known as IDX) solution. The pitch for each involves the promise of a superior lead-generation back-end, when all my clients really want is a better front-end. I know — business development is a prerequisite of business, but our approach is still backwards. Give the customer what they want, and you may ultimately get what you want.

This morning, I have a promotion in my inbox from a print marketing firm warning that time is running out to order from the June series. Do I pick the recipe postcard, chimichurri flank steak with a side dish about refinancing your mortgage, or the one about the best European vacation spots with "a great time to buy" postscript? Oh, what to do. They are all so pretty!

You bought a template Web site because you were told you needed one. You do need a Web site, of course, but remember that everyone is trying to sell you, while you are ultimately trying to appeal to the homebuyer or seller. Does your customer really want another online all-about-me poster? What’s in it for them? Before rushing to the checkout line, consider for whom you are really shopping, choose wisely, and then deliver the goods.

Got video? I don’t, I should and I will — just as soon as I figure out how to bring home what my audience really wants in a compelling and cost-effective manner. My time is not unlimited, nor is my budget. If I start spewing video, any video, just because I’ve been sold the concept, I’ve forgotten why I am doing it in the first place. My own days of making impulse purchases are over.

Last weekend, my husband and I found ourselves at a block party. It was a going-away party for a pair of our selling clients. They hadn’t been following me on Twitter; they weren’t to my knowledge planning a European vacation; and they had never once asked which designations I held. But, as we enjoyed our chimichurri flank steak (just kidding — it was street tacos), the wife was stuffing our business cards into the clinched fists of every neighbor within sprinting distance. The husband, meanwhile, was proudly clutching the transaction document file we had brought along (which looked suspiciously like a CD-ROM) and wishing aloud that we had been able to represent him on his home purchase in Maryland as well.

I’ve been so busy, I’ve been averaging a dismal one post a week on my own blog, and I don’t even remember my YouTube password. Yet, we are on track to have our best six months in the past six years. Go figure.

I’m not suggesting we all rush back to 1995 or that we stop striving to better ourselves. On the contrary, if we fail to stay relevant, we will fail. But our technological, forward march needn’t be a frantic, thoughtless race for the finish. My theory is that we spend entirely too much time chasing our tails when the answer is fundamentally simple: We need to first adopt the correct mindset.

As we build our businesses and buy our toys, we need to remember who it is all for. It has always been about the customer, that guy at home, and it will always be so. And if we keep thinking of him as a lead, a mark, or a prize to be won, if we keep not listening, not caring and not spending our money wisely, we will keep bringing home rubber chickens.

Kris Berg is broker-owner of San Diego Castles Realty. She also writes a consumer-focused real estate blog, The San Diego Home Blog.


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