You're the Coach

Keeping your sales team motivated and productive requires careful planning and individual attention. But the work does pay off.

September 1, 2010

Chad Goldwasser was a superstar athlete while growing up in his hometown of Apple Valley, Minn. He played hockey and soccer, but his main sport was football. He loved winning, and he won often.

But during his senior year of high school, his football team, the Apple Valley Eagles, missed the 1991 state championship by one game. Nearly two decades later, Goldwasser still feels the pain of that loss.

"I was devastated," says Goldwasser, ABR, CRS, who went on to become a top producer in real estate sales and broker-owner of Goldwasser Real Estate in Austin, Texas.

Yet even more vividly than he remembers losing the game, he recalls what his coach said to him afterward.

"I was captain of the team, sitting by myself in the locker room, bawling my eyes out. My coach came up to me and said, ‘Chad, you have nothing to be sad about. You’re one of the greatest leaders to come through this school.’ That left a mark on me. I realized that those kinds of encouraging words can change someone’s life."

That experience, along with other positive influences from athletic coaches, turned Goldwasser into a believer that great coaching can lead to success. After moving to Austin and entering the real estate business in 1998, he worked with various mentors, trainers, and coaches who helped guide his career.

Goldwasser led the No. 1 sales team for closed transactions worldwide for Keller Williams Realty in 2007, the same year he founded his own corporate coaching and speaking business. In 2008, he opened his brokerage. "It’s not that I’m a better leader than anyone else, but when someone says you are, it’s amazing what you can do to lead others," he says.

During these lean and mean economic times, when spirits often sag and deals are harder to come by, a little coaching could go a long way in inspiring your team and helping them through the rough spots.

You don’t even have to hire an outside expert. Real estate coaches and broker-owners who champion the "coach" role say there’s plenty that an owner or manager can do to motivate staff and help them achieve great things.

Choose a Coaching Plan

Whether you purchase a coaching program or write your own curriculum is up to you. What’s important is to institute some sort of dedicated process to guide sales associates toward success.

"You can’t teach someone to play a Beethoven sonata without the music," says real estate coach and motivational speaker Carla Cross, crb, gri, who’s also a professional pianist and flutist. "If you let agents make up their own program, they’ll do whatever protects them the most. If they don’t like to generate leads, they’ll make a plan that is light on lead generation. If you give them a program, they’ll follow it, and they’ll go faster than if they don’t have one."

Cross recommends researching coaching programs to find one that best fits your team’s needs. Most programs include guidelines for setting goals and taking steps to reach them.

For example, a salesperson who wants to earn $100,000 a year must have a certain number of closings, which means making a certain number of presentations and a certain number of telephone calls per month, plus doing an array of network-building activities that ultimately lead to sales.

But Cross cautions that a single program may not suit everyone at your office. Sales practitioners have different production issues during different phases of their career. Her Issaqua, Wash.–based Carla Cross & Co. offers several programs for both managers and associates including one called "Up and Running in 30 Days."

"For the new agent, we talk about what to do, how to do it, how much to do, and how to measure it," says Cross, who founded her company in 1992 and has three decades of experience in real estate sales and management. "For the experienced agent, we look at past business to see what works and why."

Unlike Goldwasser, who coaches because he was coached well, Erica Ramus coaches because she wishes that she had been.

Ramus, a voracious reader who estimates she owns hundreds of self-help books on sales and success-building, coached herself during the decade she has been in real estate. Three years ago she became the broker-owner of Realty Executives in Pottsville, Penn., and she now provides customized coaching to each of her six associates.

"I don’t believe every agent can be a jack-of-all-trades," she says. "Not everybody is suited to work with first-time buyers or can pick up a commercial listing and sell it well. I’ve created a culture where each person names a niche, and I create an educational program for them to become an expert in that niche."

Occasionally, she’ll use materials from other coaches, including Carla Cross and Jennifer Allen of Pensacola Beach, Fla. In one case, an introverted associate was too shy to promote herself or ask for listings. Ramus recommended she enroll in an eight-week course to build her assertiveness skills. When the associate resisted because of time constraints, Ramus offered to pay half.

"That’s what she needed to push through to the million-dollar level," says Ramus. "She wasn’t even close in her other firm."

Matthew Dollinger, the corporate performance coach and trainer for @properties, a Chicago-area network of 900 sales associates in seven offices, urges broker-owners and managers to develop their own curricula.

"I have the utmost respect for outside coaches and I still go to every coaching seminar I can," he says, "but if you take the time and interest in coaching, and your agents feel you contributed to their success, you build loyalty and retention because it’s something they can’t get anywhere else. They talk to other agents, and that helps with your recruiting."

Make Your Expectations Known

Sales practitioners who know what’s expected of them will be more likely to deliver, says sales coach and motivational speaker Rory Vaden of Southwestern Consulting in Nashville, Tenn.

"You need to have some system of holding people accountable," he says. "If you don’t, you’re going to have a mediocre office. It doesn’t have to be extreme, but whatever is a fair level of production for your office is what they should be doing."

Vaden is a former door-to-door book salesman and first runner-up for Toastmasters International’s 2007 World Champion of Public Speaking, and he counts Goldwasser among those he has coached. His signature program is titled "Take the Stairs—Success Means Doing Things You Don’t Want To Do."

Quantify not just closed transactions, which could be two sales per month for experienced associates, but also other activities that have sales potential, coaches recommend. These might include phone calls, mailings, listing and buyer presentations, open houses, thank-you notes, and networking events.

"When you establish productivity standards, you and they know what’s expected, and you have a baseline from which to coach," Cross says.

At the very least, measure initial appointments, says real estate coach and motivational speaker Rich Levin, e-pro, of Rich Levin’s Success Corps in Rochester, N.Y. 

He explains: Suppose an associate wants to earn $50,000 a year. Based on her market area, that might translate to selling 20 houses. If 50 percent of her initial appointments historically lead to sales, she needs 40 appointments to reach her goal.

"She can make 150 phone calls and do all those other activities, but all she needs is one appointment a week," Levin says. "Too many people don’t focus on quantity; they just hope sales will occur."

Sales associates should check in with you at least once a week to report their progress. Use this "check-in" time to recognize small achievements as well as big ones, and identify problem areas early.

"I use the theory of Pavlov’s dog," says Levin, who launched his company in 1996 after careers in real estate and teaching first-graders. "The time it takes from today to the sale being made is weeks and months. If you waited from the time the dog started salivating to feeding him a month later, there’s no association to the training."

Provide Individual Attention

Most coaches advocate one-on-one sessions or coaching in small groups rather than officewide gatherings. "We say if there are more than three people, it’s training, not coaching," Vaden says. "Training is about delivering information—there’s not much accountability."

Dollinger coaches individually and in small groups. He prefers the groups because peer pressure enhances accountability.

"In a small group, they see when one person doing $5 million [in annual transactions] doesn’t have his stuff done and complains he didn’t have time, and someone else who does $20 million [in annual transactions] got it all done."

One of Dollinger’s groups includes all the "rock stars," 10 hand-picked top producers. The other groups include associates of varying production levels because he believes they motivate each other. 

But when the topic is technology-oriented, he gathers participants by computer proficiency. That way a session on, say, using social media to generate leads isn’t slowed down by someone who is new to the art of search engines.

Make a Long-Term Commitment

Coaching is not an annual weekend retreat or an all-day seminar given by a well-known presenter. It’s not something you do for a while and then you’re finished. Experts say that coaching is an everyday culture of breeding success for every associate, and it has to come from you.

"Lead by example," Goldwasser says. "When I come into the office, people are looking at me. If I’m energized and positive and focused and smiling, that’s coaching. They see that’s why I’m selling homes, and they want to do that, too."

Goldwasser recently coached a new associate who had good basic selling skills but whose demeanor was a bit rough. His attire was casual and he called people "dude."

Goldwasser helped him develop and practice a professional presentation and showed him how to dress more appropriately for his clientele. The associate has become a top producer. He is 26 and will earn more than $150,000 this year, Goldwasser says.

"That’s the kind of stuff that makes you feel good," he says. "It’s not just real estate. It’s not just money. The things I’m trying to teach can help people and their families live better and become better leaders and better people."