How bad habits are killing your brokerage

Brokers, make sure your business goals are measurable, not just aspirational

By BRITTANY FRITSCH

This recent article outlined the most difficult pitfall for agent’s to avoid: losing your business plan in the chaos of the transaction. Often, agents find it harder and harder to return to their original good habits of daily prospecting and follow-ups. Instead they just start jumping from one chaotic sale to the next, until their business looks more like a tornado than a profession.

 Baby brain image via Shutterstock

Baby brain image via Shutterstock.

The curse of the baby brain

Everybody knows one of those agents that is totally unreliable — a complete mess — but still manages to pull the transaction together in the end. What a headache they are to work with!

Nobody sets out in their real estate career to become one of those agents, and you’ve worked hard to help your agents avoid it. Maybe you’ve set up a transaction management system to take some of the stress out of sales, or hooked them up with a customer relationship management (CRM) platform to make follow-ups quick and easy. But it can still seem like a constant battle to keep focused on their business goals, and its often new agents with the greatest potential who are the worst offenders!

What is up with that?

Well, its not really their fault. It all goes back to the way habits — good or bad! — are formed. One of the oldest parts of our brain, the basal ganglia, is responsible for identifying activities that can be turned into habits. This brain thinks in simple, instant, black-and-white terms like a very young child. It is disconnected from the parts that identify long-term vs. short-term value or morally good vs. bad. Those kinds of considerations are too abstract and don’t come into play when our habits are being formed!

Instead, your baby brain looks for simple activity sequences that result in positive or negative feelings. If the result is negative, our brains subconsciously train us to avoid those activities, sometimes even at great cost in the moment. If the result is positive, our brains will subconsciously bring those activities to the top of our minds and push us to repeat them.

Now when we think about the real estate transaction, it’s clear how this starts to play out. Landing a client or hearing how much a past customer loves their new house feels pretty good. But nothing feels as awesome as closing the deal and getting that big payout. If the transaction was particularly chaotic, their relief is even greater that it didn’t all fall apart in the end!

Just think about that — agents get paid for fighting amidst the chaos!

Now, logically, we all know that’s not actually what’s going on. We recognize the important connections between good prospecting efforts and that paycheck, focused branding and that paycheck, long-term relationship building and that paycheck. But the immature part of your brain that’s in charge of habits? It doesn’t get that stuff. All it sees is the closing ends the pain of the effort (possibly chaotic transaction) and brings pleasure (getting that check).

Subconsciously, this is training agents to think only of how to most quickly get from one closing to the next.

What does this mean for the brokerage?

When an agent sinks into what Bret Calltharp calls “the Monkey Bar” approach of swinging from one transaction to another without actually building the foundations of their business, it puts their brokerage at risk.

Brand

As a brokerage of any size, you primarily rely on your agents to build your brand. While brokerage level marketing is important for getting people in the door, your agents enact that marketing and prove whether it was truthful or not. If your agents aren’t out there enacting your branding and following up, you are not effectively building a customer base for your brokerage. It takes a lot of marketing dollars to make up for that.

Liability

The transactional mindset where agents are just looking to jump from one closing to the next is a short-term mindset. It puts agents in the prime position to “just do whatever it takes to close the deal,” with no context on how that might hurt the firm legally or professionally. If an agent isn’t protecting their own long-term business goals through prospecting and following up, they certainly aren’t protecting yours.

Churn

This is twofold. Agents who can’t invest in long-term business growth tactics are more likely to burn out and quit, wasting all the time and effort you’ve spent training them, and likely losing you the connection you had to their customer base.

On the other hand, customers who feel dropped by agents after the closing are not likely to use that agent again. Only 15 percent of customers return to the same agent. If they won’t even use the same agent, who they had a personal relationship with, why would they use the same firm? Reconvincing customers to trust your brokerage is much harder than selling them the first time, and every market has a limit to the number of people you can churn through before “word gets around.”

How can you counteract this?

You actually already know! Remember, the baby brain can’t tell the difference between a good habit and a bad habit — it’s simply looking for short-term pain and pleasure responses. So to counteract the siren song of the closing, create an environment that rewards long-term business-building activities on a short-term basis. Since most agents close one to two deals a month, they need to be reviewing their long-term business goals at least every other week.

Here are three things you can do as a broker to help them stay on track and build powerful business habits:

  1. Work with your agents to identify the main pillars of their business plan and what steps they need to achieve them. Feeling that someone else is, or even could, hold you accountable is a powerful force in habit building.
  2. As Calltharp points out, it is incredibly important that the goals be measurable, not just aspirational. Once they’ve settled on a metric to measure their progress, make sure they have access to those numbers as often as possible — on a daily basis or real time would be ideal. Watching those numbers tick up is an immediate gratification. Anyone with a Fitbit or Nike FuelBand can tell you how powerful that is for reinforcing good behavior!
  3. Keep it positive. Remember, the baby brain decides what to keep as a habit and what to throw out based on whether the feelings associated with it are positive or negative. Recurring blameful meetings with an agent who is not meeting their goals is actually less likely to make their behavior change, as counterintuitive as that is! Instead, keep reviews positive and solution-oriented. Be supportive and encourage them to reach out to their fellow agents for support and ideas as well. Not only will this effectively help that individual agent course-correct, but it will build these good habits into your brokerage’s culture, and create a constantly rewarding environment for agents to balance both long-term business goals with short-term transaction management.

To learn more about habit building, check out Tiago Forte’s talk at Parisoma.

heashotBrittany Fritsch, a Kansan gone Californian, is the founder and CEO of Real Estate Ally (REAlly), a San Francisco-based analytics company that helps agents and brokerages build healthy businesses and happier lifestyles by working smarter not harder.