Motivating Your Sales Team

Has the rah-rah gone the way of the Gipper?

March 1, 1999

The rah-rah pep talk has long been the chief model for inspiration in real estate sales. But is it still the best way to galvanize your salespeople?

Not always, say some brokers and top industry motivators. One of the staunchest opponents of the “get one for the Gipper” speeches is Mike Ferry, a motivational speaker and chairman of the board of the Mike Ferry Organization, Newport Beach, Calif.

In a world where broker-owners face shrinking bottom lines and profit margins, they’re finding different and more effective ways to motivate their sales teams, Ferry says. Successful managers are moving away from hype and getting involved in individual coaching.

“They’re working with their salespeople on individual business plans and helping them develop the skills to accomplish those goals through individual meetings versus large group functions,” says Ferry.

That strategy works for Bob Gadsby. “The best motivator is personal accountability,” says the broker-owner of Century 21–Tri-Star Realty, San Jose, Calif. “You hold sales associates accountable for their actions and teach what they must do on a daily basis to meet monthly, quarterly, and yearly goals. That’s the key to motivation.

“Ours isn’t necessarily a rah-rah business,” he says. “People you hire either are motivated when they come through the door or they’re not.”

Marianne McClure-Barkman, CRB, uses a combination of personal accountability and a little rah-rah on the side. The branch manager for John L. Scott Real Estate, Bellevue Place, Wash., spends three afternoons a week doing individual coaching to see how her salespeople can tweak their business plans to be more effective.

She asks them, “What did you learn last week? How many hours did you prospect?”

Then she may use some peer pressure to create sales energy in the form of, say, a 90-day contest. At the end of last year, each member of the sales group anted up $100 for a jackpot. “At the end of the 90 days, whoever has the most listings taken, sales made, or listings sold walks away with $800,” she says.

The bottom line? McClure-Barkman proudly points out: “In the course of the contest, there were 12 listings taken, 11 sales, and 10 listings sold. That’s 33 transactions in the last 90 days of the year, when people typically take it easy.”

Meanwhile, in rah-rah land

Joe Clement, CRS®, is a rah-rah kind of guy, and he says it still pays dividends.

“What I do is try to motivate myself first and get in the right frame of mind,” says Clement, broker-owner of RE/MAX Properties Inc., Colorado Springs, Colo., and a former high school swimming coach. “It’s hard to stay that way all the time. I read books, listen to tapes, and go to a lot of seminars.”

To inspire his sales associates, Clement holds a breakfast rally once a month at a local hotel. “We try to create an upbeat, professional atmosphere, with music playing as they walk in the door,” he says. “They can talk and visit and go through the buffet line. I’m working the room and shaking hands. We pump up the volume, and by the time the sales meeting starts, there’s a lot of energy in the room.”

The rallies work, he says. Attendance is good—most of his 120 sales associates were at the latest meeting—and the feedback from the associates has been positive. After they’re all jacked up, they discuss listings. The result: Company in-house sales were up 30 percent last year.

Contests: good and bad

Contests as a form of rah-rah are alive and well, too. At Allen Tate, REALTORS®, Charlotte, N.C., salespeople who meet targeted sales goals get invited to special gala events, such as the recent preview of a new museum.

Pat Riley, Tate vice president and general manager, says the brokerage has also given away jewelry, trips to Europe, and even a golden Lexus.

Then there’s the element of chance to add some excitement. Luck blended with achievement put some oomph into the Lexus giveaway, says Riley. Salespeople get a raffle ticket when they reach the average production listing volume or average sales volume. Then, as they exceed the company average, they get more tickets, increasing their chances to win. The sales associate who ended up winning closed about $7 million in sales last year.

Peter Rogers, however, thinks contest results are overrated.

“Those types of ideas are great for giving away money, but they do nothing to improve an individual’s production over the long term,” says Rogers, president of Coldwell Banker-Mountain West Real Estate Inc., Salem, Ore. “Great leaders teach people how to increase production and how to become successful. Morale improves when production improves. You can’t improve morale in a poorly producing office or in a poorly producing person.”

How does Rogers motivate his team? Through training. “All the hype and cheerleading won’t do any good if people haven’t had great training,” says Rogers. “That’s what gives people confidence to go out and try.”

The team approach

After 35 years in the real estate industry, motivational speaker Floyd Wickman, the Troy, Mich., founder of the Sweat Hogs Program, is convinced you can’t motivate an individual to do anything unless at that moment the individual wants to do what you want that individual to do.

“But you can motivate a team real easy,” he notes.

Keller Williams Realty, Dallas, motivates through groups. The brokerage has set up a leadership council made up of 20 percent of the top producers in each office. The leadership council meets twice a month to make decisions about such items as marketing, technology, and overhead.

“The salespeople aren’t being told what to do—they’re part of the overall operation of the office,” says Terri Pescatore, Keller Williams team leader. The brokerage backs up that all-for-one philosophy with profit sharing based on the production of new salespeople recruited by existing salespeople.

Team motivation is also working at Jenny Pruitt & Associates, REALTORS®, Atlanta. Pruitt’s “Work Horses” group competes in teams against one another to see who can generate the most business. Pruitt, who sees herself as an inspirational leader, produces a company newsletter with motivational articles; she also uses the broadcast features of voice mail to motivate her salespeople.

“As an inspirational leader, I don’t have to be there in person to deliver a motivational message,” she says. “I can call each week with an uplifting fireside chat.

“Instead of lighting a fire under my people, I try to light a fire in them.”

The personal honor

Recognition may be the most prevalent form of motivation in the world today, says Tony Macaluso, CRB, broker-general manager of Schwartz Property Sales Inc.--Better Homes and Gardens, Key Largo, Fla. Macaluso says he gives plaques to the top seller, lister, and producer on a monthly and quarterly basis.

The presentations can be inspirational to newcomers, says Macaluso, owner of Tony Macaluso Seminars and 1998 NATIONAL ASSOCIATION OF REALTORS® Educator of the Year. “Sometimes, just participating in office meetings where they see accolades given to people being recognized for production is an incentive for those who are limelight oriented.”

He also pays special attention to the “newbies” to make sure they’re keeping their early disappointments in perspective: “I want them to see they’re experiencing a business rejection, not a personal one. If they make lots of calls but don’t get appointments, they need more education in that area. If they get lots of appointments but don’t bring in any listings, we know they need help there.

“And there’s nothing more motivating than gaining a piece of new business.”

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