Is the old-fashioned model of prospecting dead?

Even five years ago, cold calling and walking neighborhoods were part of my marketing plan. I’m not sure if I should be embarrassed about that or not.

Why was I still doing it? Well, it said to in my brokerage handbook, and I’m nothing if not an obedient student. Tips for success included practicing positive affirmations before picking up the phone or knocking on the door, targeting specific clientele, and my favorite, "Do it every day."

I did it every day. Picked up the phone or knocked on doors for hours, sometimes whole days if I felt like my listings were slowing down. And even though somewhere in the back of my mind I said, "This is ridiculous and futile," I kept it up religiously.

At least I was getting exercise when walking a neighborhood. And maybe I’d get lucky! Maybe I’d get a listing! I mean, I’m a nice-looking gal dressed professionally with valuable information to share — what’s not to like?

Lots, apparently. And I mean that from both sides of the door.

"Who are you and what do you want?" was a common greeting. Or "I don’t care what you’re selling, I’m not interested." Also, "Can’t you read? It says no solicitors."

If they weren’t downright mean, they were certainly dubious. And I didn’t blame them!

Stranger comes to my door these days and I keep my cell phone in hand. My first thought is: They’re casing the joint. Then, I open the door two inches, and shout, "Hey, whatever you want we’re not interested!"

One afternoon, after telling myself how beautiful and smart I was, I approached a stately old home with big picture windows in front. A very elderly woman sat watching TV in her living room.

Perfect, I thought. A captive audience! I rang the bell and waited. And waited. And waited.

I started to get impatient. She was taking forever. Forever. F-O-R-E-V-E-R. I finally walked back around the house and looked in the window again. Poor lady was doing her best to get to the door, but hadn’t made it far. Obviously, she couldn’t walk well. And when she did make it, what was I going to do? Barrage her with questions about home values? Show her graphs and sales figures?

Geez, she hadn’t even opened the door yet and I felt like a complete tool. But I didn’t leave. I returned to the front door and thought of other things to talk about. Her garden, for instance, was gorgeous, the daphne intoxicating. So that’s what I asked her about instead of homes. Yes, she thought I was odd for stopping to ask about her flowers.

I’ve met everyone. The old, the young, the crazy, the pants-less. The friendless, the postman, the newlyweds. And for all the years I poured into this old-school prospecting — using direct questions, indirect conversation, and target marketing — I cannot attribute one earned dollar to this action.

But, surprisingly, it wasn’t my pocketbook that made me abandon the practice, or even my own abhoration of door-to-door salespeople. It was an introduction to another elderly woman in my preferred prospecting neighborhood. After giving her some spot-on market data, she told me that although I was very cute, she’d already promised her listing to a competing Realtor upon her death. Uh — Gut-check!

It took a moment like this to bring me to my senses. No matter how compelling my sales manual, this wasn’t how to build relationships! This was how real estate professionals became characterized as uncaring, one-upping hacks.

So even though I asked the question, allow me to also answer it.

Old-school prospecting is dead. Don’t waste your time with cold calling anything. Instead, practice relationship building.

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