Helping Hands: Mentor Programs Boost Salespeoples' Confidence, Gross Income

Brokers are hiring seasoned pros to give one-on-one assistance to their promising newcomers.

March 1, 1998

Mounting industry competition and complexity often claim the careers of practitioners before they’ve begun, so some companies are making like Vince Lombardi and developing mentoring—or coaching—programs.

And the results can be stunning: One mentored Edina, Minn., salesperson boosted his yearly sales gross by $5 million.

So what exactly are these mentors teaching?

“This goes way beyond mere training,” says Harriett M. Isaacson, who recently moved from branch manager at the six-office Brigham-Williams, REALTORS®, headquartered in Birmingham, Ala., to the company's newly created position of vice president of salesperson development.

In addition to 40 hours of classroom teaching, each Brigham-Williams recruit gets an individual leg up from Isaacson. During this mentoring time, Isaacson helps the recruits develop a 30-day business plan and determine career goals; walks them through the paces of prospecting; and generally guides them onto firm career ground—all suited to their own personalities, timetables, and ambitions. “What works for one person,” she explains, “doesn’t necessarily work for another.”

Jane Paulus, who runs a similar program for Edina Realty, in Edina, Minn., prefers the term coach to mentor. “I think of a mentor as someone who's emulated,” she says. “Instead, I give people exercises that’ll make them more successful at their jobs—like a coach.”

Paulus insists that her protégés develop certain daily habits, such as meticulously scheduling each day's activities from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. and spending two hours making prospecting calls. Beyond that, she designs the drills she puts her protégés through around their individual needs—more social contact if they’re shy, lots of number crunching if they’re weak in analyzing their business, and so forth.

Both women say accountability is crucial to their programs. “In real estate it’s easy to get away with not doing what you should be doing,” says Isaacson. “You're your own boss; who's going to question you? Now I’ll ask, ‘Did you follow up on this?’ until you habitually do it on your own.”

Anecdotal Success: The $5 Million Leap

Edina's and Brigham-Williams’ programs kicked off in late 1997, so the jury is still out on quantifiable results. For now, both companies point to anecdotal evidence of their programs’ success. Tommy Brigham, CEO of Brigham-Williams, says he's seeing more enthusiastic recruits, who cite the mentoring program as the primary reason for joining the company.

Before entering Paulus’ coaching regimen, Edina salesperson Scott Card, an eight-year real estate veteran, felt stranded on a $2 million sales plateau. “I’d been stuck there for years,” he says. Now, a few months into being coached, he's already approaching what he made all last year. “I'm going to hit $7 million in 1998,” he says.

To Begin: Hire a Mentor

The most important aspect of setting up a mentoring program is finding a mentor. “Talk is cheap,” says Brigham. “Mentors must have done what they’re teaching and have done it well.”

Barb Jandric, Paulus’ boss and regional sales manager, agrees, adding, “The best mentors have organized the convoluted process of selling real estate into definable, repeatable steps they can show others.”

Costs of the programs are fairly straightforward, says Brigham. “You need space for the mentor, some materials, and your mentor's salary,” he explains. “That’s it.”

Still, tapping the kind of experience and talent that forge mentor material can’t be cheap. Isaacson’s job is full- time, and she mentors 20–25 protégés concurrently. Paulus coaches 10 salespeople (each for one hour a week for three months) in addition to running her own $12 million practice.

Jandric won't divulge the protégé fee the company pays Paulus but insists it’s “worth every penny.”

Neither company charges salespeople for the service.

Establish Your Mentoring Goals

The two companies have different goals for their programs. Brigham-Williams wants new recruits to bring transactions to the closing table as soon as possible and gives them two months from joining the company to enroll in Isaacson's program.

Salespeople at Edina, on the other hand, must have been in real estate a minimum of one year before seeking Paulus’ help. “I want them to understand the basics before I come in and show them how to put that knowledge to good use,” she says.

Mentoring Gone Wrong: Wean Students so They Don't Cling

Not everyone is sold on mentoring. Linda Trott, owner-broker of ERA—Trott Realty, Englishtown, N.J., has run the gamut of salesperson development and training in her twenty-something years as a top producer. She warns that one-on-one mentoring can have unpleasant side effects, such as:

  • Protégés becoming ineffectual without near constant supervision
  • Mentors passing on their bad habits
  • Mentors becoming bigheaded over their teacher role, eventually trying to micromanage their protégés
  • Protégés setting listing appointments, showings, and closings around their mentors’ schedules, instead of their clients’ or customers’
  • Protégés left hanging, should their mentors leave.

All these potential problems stem from a protégé's over-dependence on a mentor. And that, says Tommy Brigham, CEO of Brigham-Williams REALTORS®, just doesn’t have to happen. As helpful as mentoring is, it should never take the place of a practitioner's initiative and skills.”

Advice is good. “But if the mentor senses a greater dependence, that person needs to be weaned—and fast.”

Trott thinks the solution lies in what she calls “mentor pools,” groups of top-producers who lend a hand in only their specific fortes. So the top listing salesperson advises on listing presentations, and someone skilled in personal marketing helps there. That way, she says, no one person reigns over another. And new salespeople don’t risk leaning too heavily on one mentor's shoulders.

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