How To Do It: Step 4 – Ace The Buyer Inquiry

(This is an elaboration ofAnd HERE)

This is the arena.  It’s where all of your marketing dollars and hours of business building activity come together to produce either a potential client or a lost opportunity.  It is the pivot point on which your entire business turns.  And yet it gets little more than a passing thought from most brokers.

I’ve sat in lots of real estate offices and listened to many agents handle an incoming call and have generally been sickened, saddened and disgusted by the experience.

‘Brand X Realty,’ says the duty agent, ‘How may I help you?’

‘Of course, just a moment . . . let me look it up.’

‘That home is priced at $189,500 . . . would you like to go see it?’

‘Well there are others a little less expensive I could show you.’

This is the point at which the ‘agent’ holds the receiver out and stares at it for a moment, shakes his or her head and hangs it up — just like the caller did, a moment earlier.

Listen: I know of no better skill to polish than those required to handle a buyer inquiry if your goal is to improve your bottom line.  And if that’s not your goal, you need to get busy getting publicity for your firm because you’ll be the world’s first official non-profit real estate company!  Step 5!E.   And HERE.

This is a pivotal point in your quest to Rule the (real estate) World, too.  You’ve used your wonderful consumer offering to get more than your share of listings and now the listings are creating inquiries.  You have to capture those inquiries and convert them into leads and then into clients to move to the next steps:  staffing, accountability and closed sides.  You’re not ready for the next step – staffing – until you do this because you have nothing to offer a new recruit unless you have a buyer pool book and you get that by effectively handling inquiries.

There is a set of simple telephone techniques that work together to produce favorable results with incoming buyer calls.  Mastery of the techniques — using an ‘interrupt’ to gain control of the call; never answering a question without asking one to keep the conversation going and earn you more information about the caller; taking advantage of opportunities to demonstrate the value you bring to the transaction, and so on — is very important.  But what’s just as important is attitude.

Funny.  I have a really good friend who will turn 78 in a few weeks.  You’d never guess his age because he looks a lot younger and acts even younger than he looks.  I’ve been thinking of buying an ocean Kayak and a few weeks ago, he agreed to rent one with me — a tandem — to see how it performed.  We put it in the bay and had a great time paddling about, playing with the sea lions.  What I didn’t know until later is that he’s terrified of water.  He never learned to swim.  When I heard this, I suggested maybe he ought to go down to the Y and learn . . . and the other day he had his first lesson with his coach.  I think buried in that verbiage is one of the secrets to staying young, but that’s not the point.  The point is what the coach told him.

He said that, while technique and breathing are very important in swimming, what’s most important is your attitude about water.

That’s true with the buyer inquiry, too.  You have to know, without ever having to think about it, that the person on the other end of the line needs you.  They may have amassed an artificial barricade between you and the need, but it’s there.  You also have to believe right down to your marrow that And HERE.  Honestly, that’s what makes you good on the phone.  It makes you purr with confidence and competence.  You become an irresistible force and you own the call.

So, how do you get to that glorious state?  You have to know your stuff.  You can’t fake it.  You have to know what’s on the market — which means previewing regularly.  You have to know all the ways to buy a home today — which means learning about financing and contracts and keeping up on what’s new.  You need to be comfortable getting down to that caller’s wants, needs and financial capabilities and mixing that information with what you know to produce . . . the dream house.

I know of no better way to build this knowledge and confidence than by doing (really doing) the training exercise our great founder, Don Taylor, created, Step 5!.  It is absolutely what a new agent should begin on day one.  If they do they will have tangible business  in 30 days.  But it’s also what you old dogs should do if you’re running out of steam and fire.  Science to Sales is activity based and if you do the activities you can’t help but create new business.  Plus, no matter how much you already know, you will uncover some real gems while working through the program.

Finally, role playing the buyer inquiry should be like brushing your teeth.  You do it so often that you don’t even think about it.  There is no discomfort, no hesitation, no embarrassment.  You create an office culture of constant improvement through the three P’s:  Practice, Practice, Practice.

So set a goal today:  You want to get contact information and earn the right to continue the relationship with 5 out of every 10 buyer inquiries you receive (of course, this means you’re going to have to fastidiously log and track incoming inquiries!).  Then get busy studying and practicing.

On to Step 5!

Mastering the Buyer Inquiry

Yesterday, on the regular Wednesday Help-U-Sell training webinar, we worked on the  Buyer Inquiry.  I think this is one of the more critical moments in the client life-cycle, if not the most critical.  It’s the place were all of the power and energy of the marketing program falls right into the hands of the person answering the phone.  This is the Arena for your real estate career, where it all happens.  It’s the Moment of Truth you will either leave with the beginnings of a client relationship or leave with nothing.  It is clearly where the rubber of all your preparation and hard work meets the road.  I am absolutely convinced that this is the single most important skill to polish if you want to increase your production and your own bottom line . . . and I’m not kidding or puffing the goods.

Think about it:  if 1 in 10 buyer inquiries make it to the closing table, how much better would your income be if 1 in 5 buyer inquiries made it to closing?  Right:  Twice as good.  So, without even listing more or improving your closing ratios, you could double your income right now by mastering this little five to ten minute phone conversation!

You are in business to help people sell and purchase real estate.  Your measure of success is closed transactions.  You spend thousands of dollars each month to attract the buyers and sellers who will fuel that process.  The Buyer Inquiry phone call is the bridge that connects all of  your marketing dollars with the big payoff of a closing.

Think about your car for a moment.  You have an engine under the hood.  It’s powerful, but all by itself it’s not going to take you anywhere.  To GO, you have to have something else:  spinning wheels. Of course, without the engine, the wheels don’t spin and you still don’t go anywhere.  In your car, there is a contraption that sits between the engine and the wheels that translates the power of the engine into the spinning of the wheels and it’s the Transmission.

In your office, Marketing is the engine.  It powers everything.  The end result, the spinning wheels, are closings – that’s what we want.  But without a strong transmission – the well executed Buyer Inquiry call — we don’t go anywhere.  Let’s put some numbers to that.

Let’s assume it costs $85 to make the phone ring one time in your office with a potential buyer on the line.  Now, I didn’t just pluck that $85 from thin air.  I’ve been working with brokers on operational issues like this for 30 years and I can tell you those who did the math were usually surprised to discover that every buyer inquiry cost between $80 and $100 dollars to generate.  If you were to add up everything you spend to market your company and then divide that by the total number of buyer inquiries you receive over a period of time, you’d know your own cost . . .

So, everytime you pick up the phone and it’s a potential buyer on the other end, just picture that you’re holding about $85 in your hand.  You can either toss it in the trash can . . . or you can INVEST it in your business by capturing that buyer lead.  The payoff for capturing the lead can be very large:  like about $6,000 – that’s what the average buyer side commission is in Help-U-Sell today.

Of course, you know and I know you’re not going to get every single buyer inquiry to the closing table.  In fact, you probably won’t get most of them.  But let’s just assume it takes 50 buyer inquiries to create one closing – then your cost to create the closing (not counting your time showing, negotiating and handling details) is $4,250 (50 inquiries X $85 per inquiry), and that leaves a pretty small return at the end of the day . . . one for which it’s probably not worth staying in business!

So, let’s see what happens when we start doing a better job on the phones.  Let’s assume for every 10 buyer inquiries we receive, we are able to get one to closing.  Then our investment (at $85 per inquiry) is $850 and that’s starting to look like a pretty good return:  invest $850 to receive $6,000?  Pretty good.

But, I think you can do better than that. I believe if you work on the Buyer Inquiry diligently and continuously, you can get that down to 1 in 5.  And now your investment is $425 (5 x $85) and your $6,000 return is more than $10 for every $1 invested in marketing.  Now that’s a business worth having.

At Help-U-Sell, we have a tool for capturing that buyer inquiry and turning it into a prospect.  It’s the Buyer Data sheet and it is utterly simple and brilliant at the same time. You owe it to your income, your career, your office, your family . . . but mostly to yourself, to practice handling incoming calls every week (if not every day). If you are a broker/owner, make role play of the Buyer Inquiry part of your company culture.  Do it every week, several times a week.  Do it so often that the natural discomfort that comes from exposing your skill level before your peers goes away.  Do it until it just becomes what you do in your company.  If you are an agent, make a pact with a partner.  Commit to regular focused practice on this one key skill.  Role play, critique, try different scenarios.  If you do, I promise:  you’ll see a corresponding increase not only in your numbers of buyers, transactions and closings . . . but also in your income.

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!

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