How COVID-19 Will Create Tenacious Leaders
The founder of a fast-growing brokerage provides a road map for how you can adapt in difficult times when working through the pandemic.
May 6, 2020
How do you respond in the face of stressful situations? How do you lead a brokerage during unknown times? Tenacity is key, says Robert Slack, founder and CEO of a fast-growing brokerage, Robert Slack LLC, with locations throughout Florida.
Tenacity is determination and persistence in a time of challenges. COVID-19 has certainly brought challenges to many brokerages across the country, forcing them to quickly adapt their businesses to new social distancing protocols and processes.
But Slack isn’t letting the pandemic rattle his brokerage. He’s endured ups and downs before, and he’s finding comfort in past processes to carry his company through any current economic challenges. Slack shared how during a realtor.com®-sponsored webinar, “The Power of Tenacity,” on April 17.
“Do something to move your business forward,” said the webinar’s moderator, Andrew Dorn, vice president of events at realtor.com®. “In times like these, brokerages can gain market share.”
Slack’s company is on track to complete $1 billion in sales this year. His brokerage boasts 445 agents across Florida, who completed 3,754 sides in 2019.
But Slack’s brokerage is still relatively new. Slack was in his late 60s when he started Robert Slack LLC in October 2014 with just himself as an agent. He began to pursue real estate in a bigger way following financial hardship after he sold his horse farm and squandered the money. With barely any money to his name, he bet on real estate.
“I could have looked back at all the mistakes I had made, but instead I decided to look forward,” he says. “Real estate is where I learned how to be tenacious and the ability to adapt in difficult times. I was really enthusiastic about real estate. I never had any doubts that I wouldn’t make it.”
He believes that in the current environment as well, as the fight against the outbreak of COVID-19 presents its own set of unique challenges to the industry. He acknowledges a pivot to a new normal and to additional virtual and video walk-throughs to conduct showings and the greater reliance on technology in moving forward. “We’re adapting our business to the current conditions,” but his brokerage is also continuing to rely on a business process that it had leveraged to grow so rapidly over the last five years: the power of having a great database.
His brokerage’s gold mine is a database containing 700,000 contacts. He credits that mammoth database for helping this company sell 72 homes the week of April 6, as the pandemic reached new heights in the country and social distancing measures kept cities mostly shut down.
Four Key Focus Areas
Tenacious leaders refuse to be derailed as challenges arise. Slack views now as a critical time “where we all need to look at our businesses and reach out to our past and present clients.” Here are some key focus areas of his company during this time.
1. Capturing more online leads.
Slack has long credited buying online leads as the reason his brokerage grew so rapidly over the last five years. One year after launching his brokerage, in 2015, his company was investing $15,000 per month on online leads. By 2018, he grew that to $450,000 per month on leads, purchasing them solely through realtor.com® by that time.
“When I started buying leads, I treated every lead as the last one I had,” Slack says. “I call leads opportunities. And we were always the first one to respond to any leads.”
Indeed, his brokerage started a call center in Ocala, Fla., that operates from 7:30 a.m. to 10 p.m. every day of the year just to respond to all the leads coming in. The call center’s mission is to respond to every lead within 20 seconds of coming in. “We buy shared leads from realtor.com®, so we have to be the first,” he says. “We have to beat the other person to the lead.” After all, buyers may be tempted to go with the first person who contacts them back. One online buyer lead that came into the firm was for a $36 million property.
His company remains in constant contact with every lead, using drip-marketing campaigns and contact relationship management systems such as Follow Up Boss and Ylopo.
2. Building stronger relationships.
Creating stronger bonds with customers has become another key focus area of his brokerage. Slack charges his agents with staying in contact with all current leads and prospects, past clients, and everyone in their databases. “Our agents are mostly stuck at home right now and so they are calling all the people they sold a home to in the last five years as well as their current clients and asking: ‘Do you need any help with anything? We’re here for you,’” he says. “See if you can help them at this time. Become their friend and chat and have a good conversation with them. Let them know you’re there for them.”
Toss the sales scripts, he says. Don’t sell them on anything right now. Offer a short text or video message (Slack’s brokerage uses Loom for video messages) that simply says: “How are you holding up through this? Is there anything I can do to help?”
Brokers should be there for their sales associates, too. Real estate professionals may be uncertain and uneasy about the future of their businesses. Brokers and team leaders can offer reassurance and check in on them. Slack has 445 agents, and he’s committed to calling each on their birthday. If he senses they need extra attention, “I will give them a call if I think they’re having an issue and try to keep team morale high, productive, and feeling connected,” he says. His brokerage does weekly video call meetings, some broken out by team leaders and agents. “I like to reassure agents that we didn’t start you on the track to fail, and we’re not going to let you fail now,” he says.
3. Looking for growth areas.
As the aftermath of COVID-19 plays out, some brokerages may need to find ways to diversify business. Slack’s brokerage sold 3,700 homes in 2019 and none were from FSBO or expired listings. They also have not done any mailings. “There are other areas of business that we have not done,” he says, acknowledging that they may revisit areas to grow as they adapt to any new market realities.
A growth mindset is a component of resilience in challenging times. Indeed, Carol Dweck, a renowned psychologist, wrote about harnessing resilience: “The passion for stretching yourself and sticking to it, even (or especially) when it’s not going well, is the hallmark of the growth mindset. This is the mindset that allows people to thrive during some of the most challenging times in their lives.” She adds that resilience allows the fear of failure to lose its power and control as you approach new challenges with a more positive frame of mind.
Dweck’s 2016 research on resilience shows that those who consistently develop and maintain growth mindsets tend to share certain characteristics: They embrace challenges, persist in the face of setbacks since they view efforts as the path to mastery, learn from criticism, and find lessons and inspiration in the success of others.
4. Being a force of positive energy.
Don’t dwell on negativity. “Customers are looking at you for strength,” Slack told attendees during the webinar. “Be sensitive to those who are struggling, but also realize that people are looking for happiness right now. There is a lot of negativity. Be a pillar of positivity and strength.” And be extra attentive to what your customers need right now, he adds, and connect to as many as possible.
Even when a lot of unknowns exist, offer hope and a voice of assurance that the housing market will be OK and that clients can still buy and sell in this environment, he says.
“We’re going to come through this to the other side,” Slack told attendees. “We all need to use our time and use it well. Call your sphere and make as many contacts as you can. Have as many good conversations as you can. Continue to invest in your business. Be a pillar in your community, and you’ll come out and be a leader in your community once this is over.”