Winding Up With a Win

Help your sales associates end their year on a high note.

December 1, 2008

The best athletes stand out not just for their first-place finishes but also for the drive that gets them there. You can say the same thing for the best sales associates.

Yet even your most driven top performers can ease off the gas pedal as the year winds down and holiday demands intervene. Couple that with the frustration of a difficult market—and even the best may have trouble finding motivation at year end.

"A lot of sales associates have hung it up for the year, for all practical purposes," says Fred Doleac, broker-owner of the 35-associate RE/MAX Innovations in Boston and the 30-sales associate RE/MAX Country Properties in Amherst, N.H. And though some of his associates are having a great year, the production of many others is mirroring the Amherst market, where sales are down about 15 percent.

But if there are some legitimate reasons for slower sales, that doesn’t mean that you just have to accept the inevitable and hope for better next year. Here’s what brokers say they’re doing to keep their sales associates motivated through the last days of 2008 and into 2009.

Prime Those Competitive Instincts

Debbie Zois, CRS®, GRI, knows first-hand about sales associates running on autopilot as the year winds down.

"Every October, offices go to sleep," says the owner-broker of the 210-associate Keller Williams Realty, Las Vegas and the 115-associate Keller Williams Realty, St. George in St. George, Utah. "We’ve always had a three-month lull. Business drops off, and it’s January before sales associates start doing business again. But real estate is always about having properties in the pipeline. If sales associates stop prospecting in October, guess what? They don’t get business until April."

This year, Zois’ St. George office team leader came up with a plan to keep associates engaged during the last quarter of 2008.

"We have a contest called ‘Productivity Warrior,’" says Zois, "and any new or experienced sales associate can win."

Unlike contests that reward sales associates for listings taken and sold, this challenge rewards them for lead-generation activity. Points are awarded for the number of doors sales associates knock on, the number of calls they make to sellers whose listings have expired, and the number of contacts they make to their sphere of influence.

"We wanted to get sales associates positive about activity," says Zois. "By rewarding activity, our team leader has created habits in sales associates. If sales associates start doing enough of this activity, they’re going to get good at it and probably get results."

Building Positive Energy

Steve Peletz is also concentrating on activity that generates business, not only prospecting but also activities that promote associates’ personal well being.

"I’ve focused on keeping sales associates positive in terms of investing in their career in a forward-looking way," says the president and CEO of Peletz & Co., a three-associate boutique in San Francisco. "I’m less concerned about what transactions they can close by the end of the year than on their long-term prospects. I’ve encouraged them to focus on things that they can’t address when they’re busier, such as long-term business development and building relationships with clients."

One way Peletz is suggesting associates build relationships is by taking time for themselves. "I’m encouraging them to get involved in other aspects of their lives that might broaden their network, whether it’s exercise, social activities, or whatever else they enjoy. By adding new interests, sales associates aren’t solely focused on the present transaction," he explains. "Other activities help people stay balanced and energized when things aren’t perfect. I also encourage sales associates to become involved in community organizations, now that they have the time to invest."

"There’s a twofold benefit to community involvement," Peletz continues. "You’re helping that cause, but you’re also spending more time with people in general and developing relationships. That’ll return a benefit down the road."

Another byproduct of sales associates doing things they enjoy is the positive mental attitude those activities generate. "This kind of market can be discouraging," says Peletz. "By being involved in activities outside the office, you’re focusing less on the one transaction tomorrow and more on the bigger picture overall. In addition, maintaining a balance and keeping perspective on the market will probably make them happier. When people are happy, they’re better at selling."

If that’s not motivation enough, Peletz reminds sales associates of a simple fact that’s true for many throughout the country. Their 2008 production determines their compensation for 2009 and beyond.

"There should be no shortage of motivation for short-term production," he says. "Sales associates whose 2008 production is currently lower than in 2007 need to focus on year-end production to avoid losing ground on their commission split in 2009. There’s a lot at stake."

For example, Peletz says, closing one or two transactions in the waning days of the year could push a sales associate from a 70–30 split to a 75–25 split for the following year. "If this downturn continues and there are fewer sales next year," says Peletz, "you want to have the highest split possible."

Offering Incentives to Boost Sales

At Doleac’s two real estate companies, educating associates about buyer and seller incentives is the key to a healthy end of the year. "Our company is being very proactive about training sales associates on the tools and incentives available today and adding some of our own," he says. "We’ve given salespeople information that has helped change their attitude so that they can tell consumers with confidence this is a good time to buy."

For example, Doleac is showing sales associates how to educate buyers about the interest-free loan of up to $7,500 for first-time home buyers that was included in the Housing and Economic Recovery Act. Since the credit expires June 30, 2009, associates need to understand that buyers must act soon.

"Our sales associates must have a very strong working knowledge of that program so that when they’re with clients, they can answer questions," says Doleac. "We’re also providing sales associates with the message through handouts and e-mails so that they can present the facts more clearly."

The company is also sweetening the deal for buyers by offering a rebate at closing for those who act now. "We’ve put some of our commission into the game," explains Doleac. "It’s like a sale, and we tell buyers that it isn’t going to last forever. But if they buy now through us, we’ll give them an additional $1,000 toward closing costs."

Sellers aren’t forgotten, either. Doleac’s companies are offering move-up sellers a guaranteed bridge mortgage so that they can purchase a home without the purchase being contingent on the sale of their current home. "The company funds the program," explains Doleac, "which is intended to give move-up buyers the incentive to buy." The program, which the company funds through private investors or traditional lenders, gives sellers a loan for up to two years as long as they list through his company.

"It’s very difficult when sales associates hear the doom and gloom," adds Doleac. "You have to give them a path forward so that they understand this market can be a great opportunity for consumers. When sales associates have more energy and are focused on the advantages instead of the disadvantages of today’s market, consumers will make informed decisions and we will capture a bigger share of those who do buy."

Providing a Perspective

Frank McDowell is also focusing on education, giving associates financial and market statistics that will help them understand that this market isn’t the end of the world—it’s just part of a cycle. By shifting sales associates’ focus from the short-term to the long-term economic view, McDowell is helping them stay motivated to push hard every day.

"We’ve been going around to our offices explaining the current economic situation and telling associates that they must have confidence that things will work out," explains the CEO of the 450-sales associate Star Real Estate in Fountain Valley, Calif. "We’re also having the CALIFORNIA ASSOCIATION OF REALTORS®’ chief economist, Leslie Appleton-Young, speak to our associates in December to explain today’s market and what 2009 will bring. That will provide our associates with a clear view to start the next year."

One way McDowell is showing sales associates that he believes this market is just part of a never-ending real estate cycle is by spending funds to prepare his business for an upturn. "We’re refurbishing our brand," he explains. "I’ve hired a company to redo our marketing materials and advertising and to create a new Web site.

"I’m telling my sales associates that I’m investing in my business," adds McDowell, "and they should be investing in theirs, too."

Although their tactics may differ, each of these brokers is making a simple point: When the going gets tough, the tough sales associates keep going—right down to the last day of the year.

Turning Words into Actions

When your sales associates’ enthusiasm for selling shows signs of flagging, it may be time to show them the door—to your nearest bookstore, that is. Nothing helps get the selling juices flowing like an inspirational read. We asked real estate pros to tell us which books they swear by when it comes time to recharge their batteries. Here’s what we heard back.

  • Selling the Invisible Harry Beckwith (Business Plus, 1997)
    Who recommends it: Sondra McFeters, GRI, EXIT Realty, Portland, Ore.
    One reason she likes it: "It makes you look through the same window as your client’s."
    Excerpt: Execute passionately. Marginal tactics executed passionately almost always will outperform brilliant tactics executed marginally.
  • Think and Grow Rich   Napoleon Hill and Arthur Pell (Tarcher, 2005)
    Who recommends it: Nick Alameddin, Premiere Homes, San Diego
    One reason he likes it: "It reminds me about never giving up. I like the example of how it took Edison 10,000 tries to get the lightbulb going."
    Excerpt: Somewhere in the book you will find an idea that will quicken your receptive powers and place at your command, for your own benefit, this same irresistible power [to persuade].
  • Shift Gary Keller, Dave Jenks, and Jay Papasan (McGraw-Hill, 2008)
    Who recommends it: Cindy Bostick, Keller Williams Victor Valley, Victorville, Calif. One reason she likes it: "The real estate market is cyclical, and unless you know how to respond to market ‘shifts’ with your own behavioral shift, you may find yourself on the losing end of your profession."
    Excerpt: In a shift, most sellers are actually "tryers" who never become solds. The market becomes saturated with unsuccessful wannabes. If they are to become true sellers then they’re going to need competent professional guidance to price their houses to sell in the desired timeframe.
  • Failing Forward John C. Maxwell (Thomas Nelson, 2007)
    Who recommends it: Janice Leverington, Coldwell Banker/King Thompson, Dublin, Ohio
    Excerpt: I know of only one factor that separates those who consistently shine from those who don’t: their perception of and response to failure. Nothing else has the same kind of impact on people’s ability to achieve and to accomplish whatever their hearts and minds desire.
  • Thinking for a Change John C. Maxwell (Center Street, 2005)
    Who recommends it: Chuck Webb, CRB, CRS®, Keller Williams, Colorado Springs, Colo.
    One reason he likes it: "John Maxwell demonstrates that to do well in life, we must first think well."
    Excerpt: Ideas have a short shelf life. You must act on them before the expiration date. For some people, the greatest challenge to becoming a good thinker is their emotional turmoil or baggage. Past hurts or current worries prevent them from spending productive time thinking.
  • The Starbucks Experience Joseph Michelli (McGraw-Hill, 2006)
    Who recommends it: Yvette Valdes, Lexi Realty, Homestead, Fla.
    One reason she likes it: "It talks about an inspiring principle called ‘make it your own’ that helped me to fully understand the value of brand imaging in generating awareness of your unique strengths."
    Excerpt: Look for genuine opportunities to do the positively unexpected. Whether it is in the service of customers, coworkers, or suppliers, the willingness to take a genuine interest in another person is often the most pleasant surprise of all.
  • Success Is a Choice Rick Pitino (Broadway Books, 1997)
    Who recommends it: Debra B. Sanchez, Glass Land Acquisition Service Specialists, Miami
    Excerpt: I didn’t understand the value of self-esteem. What I hadn’t learned was that individuals with great self-esteem will do great things. They’re the ones who make the big shots, the ones who want the ball in the closing seconds.
freelance writer

G.M. Filisko is a Chicago area freelance and former editor for REALTOR® Magazine.