The Elevator Speech

You’ve got one, don’t you?  You know: an elevator speech! 

It’s the 60 second or less description of who you are and what you do that you will use over and over again, just about every day in your career.  The elevator speech should differentiate you from your competitors, make you stand out and above all, distinguish you as an alternative to the status quo. This is the biggest reason your more traditional competitors don’t have elevator speeches:  they are all pretty much alike, with little to distinguish one company from another beyond the logo and the colors.

Here’s an elevator speech from a traditional real estate practitioner:

‘Um, well . . . we’re a full service firm and um . . . we list and sell real estate, and . . . we’ve got a great sign and of course there’s the MLS and you’ve seen our ads in the paper, right?’  . . . and so on. 

It is essential that Help-U-Sell people have an elevator speech because you are different.  Consumers sense this from the name or from what their neighbor said, but they’re usually not sure how you are different.  The elevator speech, rehearsed and internalized until it becomes automatic, powerfully establishes you in the consumer’s mind with a distinct identity — one that is very attractive! 

Here are the points your elevator speech should make:

  • You are a REALTOR
  • You do everything the others guys do and more
  • You charge a set fee instead of a commission
  • You save consumers a lot of money over what they’d spend on a traditional commission arrangement

Here’s an example of a typical Help-U-Sell elevator speech:

(You get on a fairly full elevator on the first floor and punch the button for ’17’.  You notice one of the other passengers staring at your name badge.  ‘Help-U-Sell, huh?’ she says, ‘What do you guys do?’)

‘We’re full service REALTORS.  We do everything all of the other REALTORS do — and more — but instead of a sales commission, we charge a low set fee, which can save you thousands of dollars.  For example, the median price single family home here in Springfield is about $220,000.  A typical 6% real estate commission on that would be $13,200.  We’d sell the same property for a low set fee of $4,950, a savings of almost $8,000.’

Notice that the speech is customized to the local market at the end, an important element in bringing the power of your program home.  If you happen to be in a situation where you have a little more time — say 10 seconds more  — you might even personalize the speech for the person with whom you are speaking:

‘We’re full service REALTORS.  We do everything all of the other REALTORS do — and more — but instead of a sales commission, we charge a low set fee, which can save you thousands of dollars.  For example, may I ask the approximate value of your home?’

‘Well . . . about $250,000 I guess.’

‘A typical 6% sales commission on that would be $15,000.  We’d get the same result and only charge $4,950.  That’s about $10,000 in savings!’

The point of an elevator speech is not just to quickly an succinctly distinguish yourself from other real estate companies.  It’s also to leave the other person hungry for more information.  Typical responses to good elevator speeches are:  ‘Really?’ ‘ How are you able to do that?’  and ‘Tell me more!’  All are an invitation to elaborate. 

You’ll use your elevator speech when you are face to face with a consumer (and you want to always wear your name badge to encourage the question), but you’ll also use it when the telephone rings in your office.  Seller inquiries often begin with the question, ‘What do you do?’   Any time you hear it — or anything similar — it’s time to trot out the elevator speech.  I’d suggest you always personalize the speech when you get this kind of inquiry because it helps start the process of getting information from the caller that will continue as the call progresses.  Here’s an example:

‘Help-U-Sell Acme, may I help you?’

‘Yeah, um . . I saw one of your ads and I was wondering, what exactly do you guys do?’

‘We are a full service real estate firm.  We do everything all the other REALTORS do, and more, except that instead of a percentage based sales commission, we charge a low set fee — which can save you lots of money at closing.  For example, may I ask the approximate value of your home?’

‘Oh, I dunno . . ’bout $300,000′

‘Well, a traditional broker with a 6% commission would charge $18,000 to sell your home.  We’d do the same thing for $5,950 — which would save you about $12,000.’ 

‘You’re kidding!  How are you able to do that?’ . . . and so on.

Notice that each of these example speeches end the same way:  with the savings a seller might achieve by working with you.  That is the most powerful story you have to tell and it is important that your elevator speech leads up to it. 

You may be wondering how you might use the elevator speech with a prospective buyer.  First, let’s distinguish between the casual, curious question and the serious inquiry.  The casual question is the one you got in the elevator.  A curious person saw your badge and asked for information.  Chances are they don’t have an immediate need to buy or sell. It’s an opportunity to educate everyone within earshot about your program and it may end with one or more requests for your business card.  In these situations it’s best to simply use the standard seller version as illustrated above.

A phone call into your office, an inquiry,  is different.  You can be reasonably sure that the person on the other end of the line has a legitimate need to buy or sell real estate in the near future:  why else would they have called?  Sellers will usually begin the call by asking what you do.  Buyers will usually begin by asking about a property.  It’s the sign, the ad or the flyer that motivates a buyer to make the call, not curiosity about how we’re different.  You must use the opportunity of the buyer inquiry to distinguish yourself as being different (better) than anyone else, to communicate the value you can bring to the buying process, and oh, by the way:  answer the buyer’s questions! 

Notice that with the seller inquiry, we lead with the elevator speech because it opens the caller to wanting more information about us and a willingness to share information about their situation.  It’s almost the opposite with buyer inquiries.  We must begin by answering their questions about the property in such a way that they perceive the value we bring.  That’s what opens them to learning how we’re different and better (the elevator speech). . . and it’s also a topic big enough for a post of its own!

SOI vs CI

You may have both, you know.  An SOI and a CI that is. 

SOI is ‘Sphere of Influence.’  It’s an old real estate term and means everyone who knows who you are and that you are in real estate.  Some are your immediate family and best friends while some may be little more than acquaintances.  The key is that they associate you, your name or face with buying and selling real estate.  You cultivate your SOI in hopes that when it comes time or them to sell, they’ll think of you.  Cultivation comes with newsletters, postcards, drop by visits, occasional phone calls, market updates and so on.

CI is ‘Center of Influence.’  It’s a Help-U-Sell(r) term and it is subtly different from SOI.  A Center of Influence is someone who, under the right set of circumstances, might tell others about you.  The concept of the CI comes from the marketing truth that word of mouth is the most powerful form of advertising.  CIs help you spread the word to those who are likely to be buying or selling soon.  They may not know you personally, but they understand that Help-U-Sell equals savings and are willing, even anxious to share that understanding. 

Here’s the deal:  in 1976, when I started selling real estate for Century 21 in suburban Atlanta, I was told it was a numbers game.  I was told the more people I asked if they wanted to buy or sell, the more business I’d do.  This was true.  Probably still is.  I was also told that I should ‘farm’ an area and ask everyone who lived within that geography if they wanted to buy or sell, regularly.  Years later, the concept of farming evolved to where it was not necessarily a geographical thing.  We began farming other kinds of groups of people.  People with a strong connection to an ethnic group might farm that group.  People who were active in a specific country club might farm that club.  Others of us started farming our Sphere of Influence:  contacting them on a regular basis to see if they wanted to buy or sell. 

Help-U-Sell came at it from a direct marketing point of view and realized what was needed was to help people understand if they worked with Help-U-Sell they’d probably save money.  We wanted people to equate Help-U-Sell with savings.  When we cultivate that identity with one consumer, chances are good that next time he or she hears that a friend or neighbor is planning to sell or buy, they will suggest a conversation with Help-U-Sell. 

Our advertising messages were carefully crafted to cultivate this kind of CI behavior.  Postcards, Free Weekly Lists, homes magazines, newspaper ads — all were designed to make three important points:

We’re here — People use us — and It works

Look at Help-U-Sell homes magazine ads.  You may see a dozen homes, but  as many as half of them will be sold — and will say so.   But they’ll say more:  ‘Sold in 16 days, Seller saved $4,325’.  Or ‘Sold in 8 days, Seller saved $5,676.’  We showcase ‘sold and saved’ as much as ‘For Sale’ because doing so powerfully delivers the three key messages:  We’re here, people use us and It works. 

Keep looking at that Help-U-Sell ad.  There’s another distinguishing characteristic there, maybe off to the side:  the Testimonial.  Our clients are usually delighted the day they list with us and even happier the day they close.  Getting a concise testimonial to use in marketing is easy under these circumstances and using the testimonial in advertising powerfully hammers home the message:  We’re here, people use us and it works. 

Testimonials, Sold and Saved, and the tag line:  Full Service – Big Savings all work to ingrain a Help-U-Sell identity into the consumers’ mind.  Anyone who gets the message that we might save them some money in commissions is likely to call just to find out what we do — and that  accounts for a large part of the numerous leads the typical Help-U-Sell office receives every month. 

So, really: whats the difference between SOI and CI?  Nothing much.  It’s mostly in your approach.  If you’re running around like a chicken with its head cut off screeching ‘Wanna Buy?!?  Wanna Sell?!?’ you probably have an SOI.  But if you’re gently getting the message that you are different in a way that benefits buyers and sellers into the minds of people — you probably have a CI.  And I think that’s better.  Eventually your SOI gets tired of you always asking the same questions.  They may just joke about it or they might stop taking your call.  The CI on the other hand, gets your message and disseminates it for you.  The CI is self perpetuating.  

And oh, by the way:  unless you have a business proposition that is different and also beneficial to the consumer chances of ever getting anyone to spread the word for you are pretty slim.

Seller Involvement

Help-U-Sell started as a For Sale By Owner enhancement.  The original signs, in fact, used to say ‘For Sale By Owner — Assisted by Help-U-Sell’ (or something to that effect).  Lore has it that numerous complaints and threats of suit by traditional brokers led the young company to change the verbiage to ‘For Sale with Owner.’ 

In its pure form (that means ADTDI:  as Don Taylor did it),  the Seller’s phone number was on the sign – prominently – and in the ads.  The Seller took many if not most inquiry calls, handled showing the property and holding open houses.  The broker only went to the property to take the listing and to show it (if he had a buyer). 

This all served to free the broker to focus on high-payoff activities:  managing the marketing, followup, solving problems, looking for new business.  Instead of housing an office full of agents to manage the flyer box and hold open houses, the broker had his sellers handling these basic tasks.  Sellers liked it too, realizing that through their own efforts they were reducing their commission expense by thousands. 

Of course, for it to work, the seller had to be coached — usually at the end of the listing consultation — on how to show the property, how to get a name and number from everyone who called or came through, and how to fax those names and numbers over to the broker for followup every few days.  But we’re not talking rocket science here; most sellers found their part to be easy and enjoyable.

Fast Forward to 2009 . . .

By and large, the seller’s phone number has disappeared from the sign and from the marketing.  The phrase ‘For Sale with Owner’ has vanished, too.  Help-U-Sell SignWhy?  The obvious answer is that we all discovered, somewhere in the late ’90s, that buyers were important to our business.  Today the broker wants those calls.  He wants to show the property so that he has an opportunity to build rapport with the buyer prospect and perhaps get an appointment for a full Buyer Consultation.  In addition, the phrase ‘For Sale with Owner’ implied a limited service or discount offering and Help-U-Sell practitioners are adamant:  we are not discounters!  

Even seller-held open houses are less frequent than they once were.  This, I believe, is unfortunate. 

Open houses are all about 3 things:  making a strong statement in the market place, securing buyer leads, and sometimes even selling the house that’s held open.  Every open house is an opportunity to put 3, 4, 5 or more directional signs out.  Every open house is and event to be publicized to neighbors and members of the buyer pool.  If the broker and his handful of agents are the only people holding open houses, that greatly limits the number that can be held.  If, on the other hand, all of our sellers hold all of our listings open just once a week, the impact — in terms of signage and office visibility — can be huge.

But what about the leads?  Easy.  For obvious reasons, the seller shouldn’t be letting anonymous strangers troop through the house.  You must give them a sign-in sheet and coach them to use it faithfully:  no name and number = no admittance.  You call them after the open house to remind them to fax you the sign-in sheet so you can followup with those who came through.  Imagine the boost your buyer pool would experience if every Monday you received sign-in sheets from a dozen sellers, each of whom held a Sunday open house! 

We want to coach the seller to be as involved in the selling process as he or she wants to be.  We want them to distribute flyers to their friends, family and co-workers.  We want them to put them up at the cleaners and the coffee shop.  We want them to do additional advertising on their own and hold additional open houses.  Why?  Because that gives them the greatest shot at finding their own buyer and saving the largest amount of money.  And that’s what we’re all about:  Seller Savings.

Never forget:  the most powerful message we have is not that our listing sold.  It’s that our listing sold and the seller saved thousands!

3 Reasons Percentage Commissions Are Nuts

Percentage based commissions make no sense (and everybody knows it).  Really. 

Reason one:  Um . . . ‘Scuse me?

The Green’s house sells in 94 days  for $255,000.  They pay a 6% commission to ABC Realty:  $15,300. (Mrs. Green turns to her husband in the car on the way home from closing and says, ‘Remind me again, honey – what did we get for our $15,000?’)

The Browns house, 3 blocks away, is also sold by ABC in 85 days at a 6% commission.  But it’s a bigger house and brings $315,000.  They pay $18,900.  Bill Green and Bob Brown are golfing buddies and compare notes.  Bill Brown tees up wondering, ‘I wonder what I got for the extra $2,600 I paid?  Did I get $2,600 more advertising?  I don’t think so.  Did my agent work $2,600 harder for me?  No.  Hmmm. . . what’s up with that?’ 

Reason two:  One size does not fit all. 

As it turns out Green’s house was listed by ABC but sold by XYZ.  He paid 6% but it was shared among two brokers and two agents.   Brown on the other hand heard about a co-worker transferring in from out of town and put his agent in touch with the new arrival, who bought the house.  He found his own buyer and only needed to pay one broker and one agent.  But he paid the same 6%.  If you don’t think this bugs him (big time), you’re wrong.

Reason three:  But Captain, it is not logical.

Bill Green owns a hardware store.   Hammers are among the many items he sells.  He buys his basic hammer from a distributor who gets them in Korea.  He pays $2,25 for each one and has learned that they will last about six days on his shelves before being sold.  He prices these hammers at $4.98, which is enough to pay each hammer’s share of his cost of operation during their time on the shelf, and deliver a nice profit to the bottom line:  $.50.  Bill belongs to the local business association and he knows almost every other member has some similar pricing formula . . . except ABC.

The broker’s pricing seems arbitrary, plucked from air, as if selling real estate is a big mysterious process nobody can really understand.  He doesn’t buy it.  He knows a properly priced home in his area will take about 90 days to sell, give or take a little.  He learned from his agent that the office usually carries about 40 listings at a time.  He knows his broker has a marketing budget (or thinkshe does) and it should not vary much month to month.  With this information the broker at ABC ought to know what it will cost him to sell a typical house in his market.  Why doesn’t he just take that figure, even inflate it a bit, and then add a reasonable profit on top?  That’s what any other business person would do.  Hmmmm. . .

I could keep going.  There’s the seller who, through some stroke of good fortune gets a sale in 5 days instead of 95:  why does ABC still charge him  6% ?  There’s the former FSBO who is ready, willing and able to do much  the leg work in the sale:  open houses, showing the property, keeping the flyer box full.  What he needs help with is marketing,  negotiating and processing the sale.  But he still pays 6% if he lists with ABC.  And there’s the seller in the gated community who won’t allow a lock box, doesn’t want a sign and insists the listing agent be present every time the home is shown.  Seems like ABC ought to charge that guy more.

The point is, commission based pricing makes no sense at all.  The consumer knows this.  He thinks about it.  It burns inside him every time he  lists and sells.  He’s desperate to find a better way next time . . . but most never discover an acceptable alternative.  Oh, they could go FSBO, and get nothin’ fer nothin‘ .  Or they could use a discount broker and get, well, less for less.   But some sellers — the lucky ones, I’d say — are going to hear about Help-U-Sell and they’re going to get on the phone and say, ‘I hear you guys are different.  Tell me what you do . . . ‘

And that leads to a whole new conversation.

Your Magical Marketing Sliver Bullet

Do you want your marketing to generate more leads?  Of course you do.  No matter how many you’re getting you always want more.  You could crank up your spending, send out more mail, increase your pay-per-click budget, take out more ad space.  Or, you could be smart.

One thing that hasn’t changed in real estate is the power of signs.  Really.  I talked with a broker the other day who complained that she got no leads from her website.  We talked around the problem for awhile and I finally asked how many listings she had.  ‘Three,’ she said.  Three listings = three signs.  She’s unknown in her marketplace . . . and that’s why her website doesn’t draw. 

The first part of your carefully created marketing plan needs to address how you’re going to establish your presence in your target area by becoming visible (read:  by getting as many signs as possible out). 

So you only have three listings.  You know that Open Houses create an opportunity to use 4, 5, 6, or even more directional signs.  But how many open houses can you personally hold on a Sunday afternoon?  One, right? 

 That’s one of the great things about Help-U-Sell.  We have this concept of seller participation and a willing and properly prepared seller can hold his or her own open house whenever they want.  If you got all three of your sellers to be open at the same time on the same day, that’s 18, 19, 20 signs in the marketplace (maybe more), and you’re making your presence known. 

Directional signs are not just for Open House day, though.  They are powerful in the everyday world too. You must investigate local law and restrictions and then plan your directionals around them.  However, I know of a number of offices in areas where directionals are prohibited who put them out Friday evening (after the enforcers leave work for the weekend) and pick them up Sunday evening.  We even have one South African office that has a budget for monthly sign fines!  They know they’re going to be cited, but the value of having signs in the marketplace far exceeds the cost of the fines.  To them, the fine is just a marketing expense!

At Help-U-Sell we also have something called ‘Market Blitz Signs.’  These are smaller signs, usually made of cardboard or plastic that simply use your logo and feature your phone number.  They don’t promote anything ‘for sale,’ and they don’t point to anything.  You blanket your marketplace with them — put them on telephone poles and fences and really anywhere they can be taped, tacked or stapled.  You refresh and replace them regularly and pretty soon people are saying , ‘I see your signs everywhere.’ 

Signs don’t always have to be stuck in the ground or tacked to a post.  A car wrap is a wonderful sign with the added benefit that it’s mobile.  I’ve known many brokers who encountered restrictions that affected the effectiveness of their office signage, who used a wrapped vehicle, parked at the street, to build their presence in the marketplace.  And you don’t have to stop with a wrapped vehicle, either.  Magnetic car signs, in your colors with your logo are available and easily attach (and detatch) from the side panels of your car. 

Finally, keep an eye out for community events and sponsorships that give you an opportunity to put your brand in play.  The perfect example is the softball team to which you donate jerseys with your logo on the back.  Hey:  it works for race car drivers and basketball players, why not with the kids in your target market? 

Being visible in your marketplace, laying down a big, thick blanket of branding that people can’t help but notice, will make every bit of marketing you do . . . more effective.  Your ads will pull more, your mailers will get a better response, your website will get more hits.  And you don’t have to have dozens of listings to do this.