Do you love real estate so much that you would work in it even if you weren’t paid? This seems like a silly question, yet about 50 percent of all agents failed to close a single deal in 2013. What is it that differentiates those who are wildly successful from the rest?

For years, brokers have searched for ways to identify future top producers from those who will fail. Research from Target Training International shows that there is a behavioral profile for real estate success: high drive and strong people skills, coupled with being highly practical or utilitarian. But is there something else that transcends behavior, connections and other circumstances?

I recently read Simon Sinek’s “Start with Why.” While the book focuses on what creates continued innovation and success, those same principles apply to real estate as well.

The golden circle

Sinek’s model is simple. Think of a bull’s-eye with the center labeled “why,” the next ring out labeled “how” and the final ring labeled “what.”

Most agents can explain “what” they do: They list and sell houses.

A tougher question is explaining “how” they do it. If you have a unique selling proposition (USP) that outlines the specific steps you take to help your clients list or buy a house, you have identified your “how.”

Sustainable business comes from “Why?”

Sinek argues that only a small number of people and companies can answer the most important question: “Why?”

For example, do you know why people are your customers? If you can answer this question, you will be able to consistently attract high-quality clients who value your services and refer you business.

Do you know why you get out of bed each day to work in the real estate industry? (It’s not about the money — that’s the result.) More importantly, why should anyone care?

To achieve consistent success, you must be able to replicate results. When you can answer “Why?” you can create replicable results. In fact, it’s the strength of your “why” that underlies success in virtually every industry.

According to Sinek, “People don’t buy what you do; they buy why you do it.”

Unfortunately, most businesses, including the real estate business, approach sales from this perspective:

“Here’s what I do,

How I do it well,

Do you wanna buy from me?”

Notice that the focus here is exclusively on the agent/company rather than on the customer. According to Sinek, the sale takes place at the point where your “why” and “how” intersect with the customer’s “what.”

Symptoms of being stuck at “what”

Sinek argues that when you define yourself by what you do, you become a commodity. If you are unable to describe your unique selling proposition and you lack a “why” that benefits your clients, lowering your commission becomes your primary way to compete.

This habit is so harmful that Sinek likens it to a heroin addiction. In fact, the habit is equally hard to break.

Reach “why” through the reptilian brain

To better understand this dynamic, imagine that you are working with a buyer. You ask your buyer, “What type of house would you like to purchase? How many bedrooms and bathrooms will you need and in what area?”

This is where most agents stop. So far, you are focused on the features that the buyer wants, but you have not addressed what will make that buyer purchase: the emotional benefits that those features represent.

Most successful agents know that benefits and emotions sell houses, not features. Yet real estate marketing is feature-based. The reason is that our neocortex lacks emotion. Facts and data are logical. They’re much easier to compile as opposed to figuring out how to write emotionally compelling ad copy.

The power of connecting at the “why” level allows you to cut past the neocortex and connect at the limbic system/reptilian brain. “Why” connects with emotion and benefits.

This approach is supported by Clotaire Rapaille’s research. Rapaille is the marketing consultant for 50 of the Fortune 100 companies. His research explains why many agents complain, “Buyers are liars.” The truth is that the agent hasn’t asked the right questions. Instead, most agents gather features such as bedroom-bath count, area and price. They never reach the reptilian brain where gut or heart decisions are made.

Sound, smell and taste are all routes for tapping into the reptilian brain. For example, it could be the aroma of hot chocolate chip cookies, a song that reminds you of your high school sweetheart, or a house that brings back pleasurable memories from your childhood.

To tap into what the buyer will really buy, ask the buyer about their favorite house from their childhood. They are much more likely to purchase that type of house than what they tell you they would like to purchase.

The competitive advantage

Do you know your personal “why”? How does this show up in your business and how does it intersect with your clients’ needs or their “what”? When you can answer these questions and articulate those answers to your clients, you will be the agent who gets the business over the person who lacks a strong “why.”

Bernice Ross, CEO of, is a national speaker, author and trainer with over 1,000 published articles and two best-selling real estate books. Discover why leading Realtor associations and companies have chosen Bernice’s new and experienced real estate sales training for their agents at and

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