• BF Skinner used shaping -- a method of training by which successive approximations toward a target behavior are reinforced -- to test his theories of behavioral psychology.
  • “Shaping” positively reinforces desirable human behavior.
  • We can map out a predictable route for our contacts to follow and support our business.

Do you want the people who make up your center of influence, or COI, to think of and refer you when someone they know wants to buy or sell real estate? Of course you do! Are you doing all you can to encourage this to happen on a regular basis? Let’s see if a bit of psychology dating back over a century can help.

Edward Thorndike’s “Law of Effect” around the turn of the 20th century led to B.F. Skinner’s work with operant conditioning and successive approximations. Who cares? We do and here’s why:

Thorndike said (this is oversimplified, of course) that behaviors rewarded tend to be repeated.

It makes sense. Skinner said that if we create a chronological series of steps toward desired behavior that we can purposely reinforce behavior in a systematic way — increasing the likelihood that a predicted outcome is met.

So, we want to create a road map for what we want from our center of influence. Let’s keep it simple; try this:

1. We want our 200 targeted center of influence folks to respond consistently to our social media posts. Why? Our posts build our brand with our COI and the content is not accidental.

So? Reinforce this by strategically responding to every written post. People love being noticed and appreciated. Don’t over-respond. Desire for attention is trumped by need for sincerity.

2. We want our 200 targeted center of influence folks to consistently engage us as the resource for all things real estate.

How to reinforce?  

  • Build your resources. Agree to cross-refer with contractors and experts.
  • Actively publicize that you love being a connector.
  • Make a big deal of your joy each time you help.

3. Ultimately we want our 200 targeted center of influence folks to refer us to friends and family who wish to buy and sell.

How to reinforce?

  • Show immediate gratitude when receiving a referral. This gratitude needs to be in a form you know pleases the referring friend. Some want a warm card while others prefer cold cash.
  • Elevate those whose refer. Be it client appreciation events, pies around the holidays or simply additional one-on-one attention — you are creating an exclusive club.
  • Care about your supporters. Get to know your “platinum” level referral sources. Patiently learn about them, and register what and who is most important in their worlds. Let a significant portion of your interaction to be free of real estate and requests. Make it real it and about them.

The key to applying successive approximations in real estate is to see these three steps, responses, resources and referrals as being consecutive or chronologically ordered. Each step consistently met increases the likelihood that the next step will be realized.

Brian McKenna manages two residential resale offices for Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices, Blake. You can follow him on Twitter and onFacebook.

Email Brian McKenna.

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