When meeting with new clients, take a page from other service industries, and focus on their needs first before you launch into a pitch. That way, you can tailor it to clients’ specific needs and win their trust along the way.

Whether you’re a rookie agent, a rising team leader or an established veteran broker, we can all benefit from sharpening our skills. Follow our “Back to Basics” series to learn fundamental strategies, tactics, philosophies and more from real estate pros across the industry.

This article is an excerpt from Joe Rand’s newest book, How to be a Great Real Estate Agent.

More money, more problems.

A few years ago, once I started to make some decent money in real estate, I decided that I needed to hire a financial planner. I had never needed one before, because, you know, I was a teacher and, therefore, didn’t have any money that needed managing.

So I asked around, because when you’re hiring someone for a job that requires a high degree of skill, you get personal referrals from friends.

My brother recommended a planner named Jim, so my wife and I went to meet with him in his office. Our plan was to hear him out and see what we thought, but we didn’t think we’d hire someone that day — we had a bunch of meetings with other planners set up.

We sat down, and everyone introduced themselves. Then Jim started asking us questions. Not in a “third degree” kind of way, but like someone who was interested in finding out about us.

He asked about our personal and educational background, our living situation, how long we’d been married, our careers, things like that.

Then, eventually, he started moving into financial issues. How much money we made? How much had we saved?

How well did we understand the planning process? What kind of investments had we made in the past? What were our thoughts about the equities markets? About life insurance? About international investments? About fixed-income instruments? All that stuff.

And then he went even deeper, asking us some personal questions about our financial and personal goals. Did we plan on having kids? How many? When did we want to retire? What did we want to do after we retired?

It was almost an unsettling experience because I found myself sharing things that I had never talked about before — even with my wife.

And I was learning things about her that I’d never known, about her fears about money and hopes for retirement.

The conversation become strikingly personal in less than an hour, as we both started to confide some of our most intimate thoughts about our future to Jim (and each other).

That was a little weird, right? I mean, we had just met him less than an hour ago. We knew nothing about him.

But here we were, confiding our innermost goals, dreams and fears to him, telling him things we’d never even told each other in over 10 years together.

And a funny thing started to happen: I started to trust him. I even started to like him.

It was almost a form of cognitive dissonance: If I didn’t trust him, and I didn’t like him, then what the heck was I doing telling him all this private stuff about me?

If I’m confiding in him like this, then I must trust him, right? So I started to build faith in him, and so did my wife.

And it was a reinforcing dynamic: The more I trusted him, the more I confided, and the more I confided, the more I trusted him.

Now, here’s the best part. This went on for over an hour, and during that entire time, I don’t think he ever told us anything about himself, his firm, his services or his track record.

He never talked about any of that. He just asked us questions about ourselves, and listened to what we had to say.

Eventually, of course, he did turn the conversation to what he could do for us.

Now that he knew our familiarity with planning, our tolerance for risk and our financial goals, he explained the services he provided and showed us how those services connected to the needs we’d already expressed.

Even then, though, he didn’t talk much about himself. He just talked about what he did and how it would help us.

At the end of the conversation, we didn’t even have to make a decision about hiring him to manage our money.

We’d already made that decision during the course of that conversation, when we opened up to him. We agreed right there to hire him and later canceled all the other appointments.

And as I left his office, happy with decision, feeling good about my future, a thought occurred to me: Why don’t real estate agents do that?

I mean, that financial planning meeting was basically what we would think of as a “listing presentation.”

I needed to hire someone to help me through a challenging financial process, and I was interviewing a candidate for the job.

But the dynamic between my meeting with Jim and the conventional listing presentation could not have been more different.

For one thing, the traditional listing presentation is completely agent-oriented.

We teach agents to talk about themselves: their track record, their awards, their reviews, their testimonials, their company, their 27-point marketing program and so on. It’s all about them.

We even train agents that when they’re reviewing pricing with a seller, they should forcefully remind the seller that they are the “experts” and that the seller should “trust them” on price.

Why? Because it’s all about the agent.

Even worse, the traditional listing presentation is taught as if it’s a performance, almost like the agent is putting on some sort of show.

Indeed, even the way we talk about listing presentations uses terms more appropriate for the theater.

We encourage agent to “rehearse” their presentation with their manager or coach and give them “scripts” to memorize and recite at the right time: “This way, I can get you what you want in the time you want — won’t that be great?!?”

The presentation is basically an “audition” for the role as “real estate agent.”

We’ve been doing it all wrong.

The traditional listing presentation is a terrible way to meet with a client, completely counterproductive to the relationship we’re trying to establish.

The salesy approach puts the client on guard, skeptical and suspicious of our motivations. Moreover, the traditional presentation is a lot of work.

It’s really hard memorizing all those scripts, and it’s stressful trying perform like that under pressure.

And we’re even worse with buyers! Buyers don’t even get that well-rehearsed listing presentation.

Sellers get hours of prep, slick materials, a whole song-and-dance routine.

It’s terrible, but at least we’re trying.

With buyers, we just meet them at the house they called on. If we do bring them in beforehand, we spend five minutes with them.

No prep. No slick materials. No song. No dance.

We don’t need to do it this way. Look at how Jim ran his interview with my wife and me. The meeting wasn’t about him, it was about us.

That’s what service professionals do. Doctors, lawyers, accountants — they meet you with the purpose of identifying what your problem is and how they can solve it.

And it’s not just white-collar professionals. Think about the last time you brought in a plumber or electrician to work on your home.

Did they come in and spend an hour telling you about their credentials and trying to pitch you on hiring them? They don’t talk about themselves, they don’t put on a show, and they don’t try to sell you.

They find out what’s wrong, and they tell you how they can fix it. Their expertise sells itself.

The whole mindset is different. They’re not meeting with you to audition for the job. They’re meeting with you because that’s the first step toward solving your problem.

Even better: The meeting itself is part of that service. Indeed, it’s the first service they provide, the very act of finding out what you need from them.

Ask questions. Listen to the answers. Be authentically interested in what people say. Find out how to service them.

And, most importantly: talk less, listen more.

Read the entire series of excerpts from Joe’s book here on Inman Select. 

Joe Rand is the author of How to be a Great Real Estate Agent and  Disruptors, Discounters, and Doubters  He is the Chief Creative Officer of Better Homes and Gardens Real Estate | Rand Realty in New York and New Jersey, a regular contributor to Inman News, and a regular blogger at joerand.com

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