Broker Hires Undercover Phone Sleuths

October 1, 1997

VANCOUVER, Wash.--If you’re like most brokers, this year you’ll spend more than 15 percent of your company dollar on advertising, according to the most recent National Association of REALTORS® research.

Picture all that money going down the drain. That’s what happens when salespeople who answer your phones don’t know how to turn calls into appointments.

“We neglected the problem for years,” says Jim Pool, head of three-office, 180-salesperson ERA-Borge LeDoux Real Estate. He guesses that only one of 10 calls resulted in an appointment. “Terrible! But I didn’t understand the problem or how to solve it.”

So Pool let his fingers do the walking to a “mystery calling” service that conducts undercover investigations of salespeople’s telephone skills. The phone sleuths posed as callers asking about Borge LeDoux’s advertised inventory. For about $300, Pool received taped conversations from 12 calls into his three offices, a lesson in interpreting the calls, and advice on improving his salespeople’s phone skills.

“We discovered that our people were more interested in giving callers information about our properties than they were in making appointments,” says Pool. Why? According to Pool, they didn’t want to sound overly pushy, they didn’t understand the objectives of answering calls, and they lacked the skills to achieve the objectives in the first place.

Knowing that, Pool and his staff focused on solutions. First, they defined the objectives for answering incoming calls:

  • Make appointments
  • Get a name and number for follow-up
  • Create and maintain a professional image of the company and its salespeople

Next, they established regular classes, conducted by salespeople who excel at turning calls into appointments. In the classes, salespeople are taught that

  • Asking about callers’ needs so that salespeople can better serve them is assertive, not aggressive.
  • The best time to broach a question is just after answering one.
  • Every caller is an opportunity to make an appointment.
  • The best leverage to success is preparation.

Borge LeDoux also provides its floor people with cheat sheets, such as lists of questions to ask, inventory descriptions, and scripts for securing appointments.

Pool says the company’s emphasis on phone skills, along with the fact that any caller could be a spy, has encouraged salespeople to treat calls more seriously. Now five of every 10 inquiry calls result in appointments.--Robert Liparulo

Before You Tape That Call . . .

When mystery callers taped calls to ERA--Borge LeDoux Real Estate, Vancouver, Wash., none of the company’s salespeople knew. And when they later found out, they didn’t object. “They wanted to improve their telephone skills as much as we wanted them to,” says Jim Pool, the company’s head. But Pool warns against using the conversations to berate or embarrass people. Negative motivation fosters hard feelings, not commitment.

Let people listen to their own conversations, advises Scott Williams, general manager of Phone Pros, Westlake Village, Calif.. “Hearing yourself blow an opportunity is an eye-opening experience.”

Finally, remember that in some states it’s illegal to tape telephone conversations without the consent of both parties. Check with an attorney about your state’s laws.

How Bad Are Telephone Faux Pas?

WESTLAKE VILLAGE, Calif.--According to Phone Pros, a national mystery calling service, in the more than 1 million undercover conversations the company says it has conducted with real estate salespeople,

  • 66 percent didn’t ask the callers for a phone number
  • 46 percent didn’t ask to schedule an appointment
  • 89 percent of those who weren’t the listing salesperson were unfamiliar with the advertised property the callers were asking about
  • 74 percent told the callers to sell their current house before shopping for another
  • 82 percent didn’t ask whether the callers’ current house was listed
  • 98 percent didn’t ask about the callers’ timetable, such as how soon they needed to move.
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