Editor’s note: Meet Kris Berg at the upcoming Real Estate Connect conference in San Francisco, which runs from Aug. 5-7, 2009. She will be available to meet with conference attendees from 12:30 p.m. to 1:30 p.m. in the Palace Hotel’s Ralstom Room. Click here to send Kris a message.

My computer is on its way out. This one lasted about a year, which is a record even for me, master of coffee-spillage. I’m not entirely sure what ails the poor fellow, but I suspect the recent incident involving a certain chicken taco or the fact that the hard drive is host to enough software to power a small orbiting satellite had something to do with it.

Alas, I know that a trip to a power-cord superstore, like Superior Purchase, is in my future. Let’s imagine that when I arrive at the Pearly Gates I am greeted in the following fashion:

COMPUTER-SELLING GUY (CSG): Hi, my name is Top-Producing Computer-Selling Guy with Superior Purchase. Are you thinking of purchasing something that plugs into the wall today?

ME: My computer is making gurgling sounds.

CSG: So, your computer is making gurgling sounds, is that right? Super!

ME: Yes. And it makes its screen go all white and squiggly sometimes, which makes it hard to see my script for generating and converting leads, for snagging live ones and for taking my game to the next level.

CSG: So, you are an angler, is that correct? Angling is a great pastime, don’t you agree? And, before I forget, reliable computers are in high demand right now. If I said I could find you one of those, would you be prepared to sign up today?

ME: I think it’s broken.

CSG: Great! You do have a credit card, is that right?

ME: I think it hates me.

CSG: So, your credit card hates you? I hear you. Once I felt a little victimized by my American Exp …

ME: No, my computer. It gurgles.

Of course, this is silly. No one would ever rely on a contrived, thoughtless script for having a conversation, even if that conversation represented a potential meal ticket. Had I been at the receiving end of this script, I might have felt manipulated. Fortunately, Superior Purchase respects its customers.

But, what if before stepping foot in its store I had already read the conversation to ensue? What if they posted their script for selling me something on their blog, kind of a helpful how-to for the employees? "If a lead accidentally stumbles in and says their computer is exhibiting signs of acid reflux, match their speech pattern, talking slowly and in single syllables. Pretend to listen; it’s about connecting, and prospects like this. You need to convert them quickly before they escape. If they resist, try saying things like, ‘Good computers are flying off the shelves!’ or ‘There has never been a better time to buy a computer!’ " …CONTINUED

There was a fairly heated debate raging on the blogs this week about the use of scripts in real estate. It began with one well-meaning agent offering a scripted conversation intended to win the hearts of the homebuying customers. And the reactions revealed two very polarized camps: one steadfast in the belief that scripts are essential in staying on point and ultimately getting the business, and the other insistent that scripts are the work of the devil.

I spoke out pretty harshly on the side of the latter and took a little heat as a result. My issue, though, runs deeper than trivializing interactions with our customers by treating each encounter as a screen test in which we must convincingly deliver our polished and practiced lines. There is the second issue of effectively putting them on notice that we intend to do so.

This could all be about semantics or it could be about a mindset. I have personally tried to purge words like lead, convert and prospect from my vocabulary. It’s not that my plan for bill-paying solvency doesn’t rely just a little on having actual clients to work with, but rather a notion that my role changed somewhere along the way from the days of the cross-directory-wielding used-house salesmen. A "lead" is a potential client, and "converting" is earning the business. Tomato, "tomahto," and yet one way of thinking suggests that a real human being is involved, while the other does not.

I don’t for a second mean to suggest some moral high-ground; it’s just one point of view — one I have developed from having spent a few years as a customer myself. And I have no doubt that many agents are making a far, far better living than me by taking a highly scripted approach. Knowing ahead of time and from experience the things you might ask a potential client or ways in which you can best connect with them I suppose could be called a "script," but I tend to call that experience — or good communication skills.

Having a formula for delivering a presentation at a listing appointment may be a script of sorts, but I think of it as a method for presenting information so that it is most easily understood and best received. So, this argument could really be about semantics after all.

But, back to what is admittedly my bigger issue. Call our business development methods by any name you wish, but while we are hanging out at the blog watercooler scheming and scripting our next encounter with a "lead," do you not think the customer might be watching?

Just because you are speaking to an industry audience online, you are still online, not in a private clubhouse delivering the secret handshake. And use whatever handles you like in referring to our clients and potential clients, but remember that the choice of words will define your culture and ultimately our profession.

We are fighting a big old stereotype for our lives and livelihood. So much emphasis is placed on getting the business that we are forgetting the part about doing the business. Call it semantics if you must, but every time a broker, trainer or coach gives an agent a tool for effectively communicating and calls it a "script," it enforces a culture wherein we see ourselves as actors focused on getting the role rather than professionals intent on performing it well.

Every time we chat among ourselves, even offline, about leads and prospects, farms and conversion rates, our culture continues to be one of calculating opportunists rather than of respectful specialists committed to serving our clients.

And every time we call ourselves salespeople (Department of Real Estate, I am talking to you here), that is what we remain. We say we are agents, but our licenses tell us we are salesmen and women. Which is it? An agent is a business representative, a person authorized to act for and on the behalf of another. It implies representation, and indeed our fiduciary roles have been clearly documented for us. Being in sales, however, suggest that one is involved in a persuasive undertaking. We can’t be both: we need to pick one.

Tomato, tomahto? Maybe not so much.

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


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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