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Making Sales Warriors Outstanding

With Dane Atherton 

Managing Director Harcourts Coastal


Dane Atherton knows that sales people are a particular breed. He says, "Being a trainer and an auctioneer is actually a great background to being a business owner. When you're a trainer, you educate, you teach - your clients are real estate agents."

The Managing Director of Harcourts Coastal, Dane’s knowledge of sales peoples' nuances and what makes them tick has led him to create an environment for his sales warriors to thrive in. Harcourts Coastal, on the Gold Coast, is now one of the most dynamic agencies in Australia. There are four offices, 150 staff who have a good mix of experience and emerging talent with just under 90 salespeople. The team produce 130 - 150 sales per month and there are 960 managements.

Much time and thought has gone into creating a supportive office in which to nurture his powerhouse of talent. A particular mindset is required. It’s not an easy role and you have to be clear and committed to the required roles and responsibilities.

Before Stepping Into the Role of Real Estate Sales Manager...

1. Be really honest with yourself

Dane says, “Make sure you're doing it because you really want to serve and help people become better than they are. Leading is serving, and it's not about, 'I'm the leader, I'm in the office, I've got my own business, I keep 100% of the commission and I make my own rules.' It is about serving. Your time's going to be sleepless nights thinking about whether your people are doing well, whether they're happy. That's what a real leader does. That's the behind the scenes real estate principal. He or she lays awake at night hoping their people are happy, and are they doing everything they can to make their businesses better? That's what it's all about."

2. Be the leader that you never had

Dane is clear, “Be the leader that you always wanted, or if you had a great leader, emulate those characteristics of that person and make sure that you're prepared to give that of someone else. Because as I said, it's about serving."

3. The DJ versus the nightclub owner

Ask yourself what kind of person are you? Drawing a useful comparison, Dane says, “There's a big difference between being the rockstar salesperson and being self-focused, which is what a sales person needs to be, than actually then all of a sudden being about the growth and support of others. Understand that salespeople are your clients, so if you look around your office that you're in now, you're thinking about leaving, and if you don't want to be accountable to the people that are sitting next to you, and you don't want to serve the people that are next to you, then you shouldn't be a real estate principal, because those people are going to effectively be your clients when you make the next step."

The Service Orientated Business Mindset

Dane is clear about the demarcation lines in his office and his role with his sales staff – he and his administration team are there to service the sales warriors. He says, “We want to be there as a pit stop and a support crew - that's professional, so that we can get them on their way to go out there and be productive. Building a great administration team is a very big point of difference out there in the recruiting space, because many people shy away from it.

"We developed a culture, which we still have today, that the salesperson is our primary client in this business."

"It's not easy, but when you've got the right people, it flows very naturally, because it comes from a service mindset."

1. Believe in what you are offering

Create the right space, the right administrative support and then believe in what you have created. Dane says, “I learned very quickly, if you get your backend right and you believe in it, that will inspire you to go out there and want other people to share that with you. You've got to believe that you can actually handle these people coming in, 'cause if you don't believe that, you're hardly going to go and get people to join. I would use the analogy if a salesperson has five overpriced listings that they can't sell and the market's slow, their desire to want to go and prospect and get another five is probably low. However, if they've got a process of clearing their stock and they are able to move the listings and get them sold, well then they'll have more desire to go out there and get more stock."

2. The primary client is your sales people

Dane says, “We developed a culture, which we still have today, that the salesperson is our primary client in this business. When we recruit a member of our admin team, that's the philosophy in which we bring them on. If someone at reception is asked to do a mail out and gets a snarl saying, 'I'll get to it when I can,' - that is not who we are. We say 'yes' and we help. We are there to treat them like the sales warriors that they are. Going out there, representing our company, bringing in the income. We've got, for example, four salespeople here doing over a million, of which none of them have PAs. We are able to support that. We are able to provide that. Now, when you've got that, that's an exciting proposition to go out there and sell."

3. Shoulder the load with administration

Sales people know how to sell. Giving them a bigger cut will have no bearing on their ability to be better administrators. Dane says, “We're in a position where we can build a scalable, highly resourced, highly skilled administration team that includes marketing, graphic design, contract management and listing management. We do everything except database entry, virtually, for their own business. I believe that we can do a better job than they can. They are better for being a part of what we offer."

Administration teams within Harcourts Coastal are professionally led and professionally run. Dane says, “We have a professional leader, Katrina, who is our administration business manager. She runs our administration team. She is just as passionate and connected about running an admin team as I would be about running a sales team. It's very much the third discipline I think of real estate business, where many principals, can think, 'It's an expense, I don't get a return from it'. They put it in that path. It is, without doubt, one of the biggest points of difference that we have in our business, and it is an investment. It is a false economy to let agents do their own admin, because it either won't get done - they'll be their own assistants and it will eat into their dollar productive time. Or, if they do it, they won't do it to the same level that you'll be able to deliver for them, and they'll end up resenting the expense. They'll end up resenting the value."

What to offer sales staff to make them sales warriors

1. Provide great administration

Dane always provides clear value to his sales staff. He says, “I didn't want to rely on just having a clean brand and a charismatic leader. I want there to be other things, sticky points that people get value out of our business. Not to mention I actually genuinely believe that when an agent plugs into a business with professional admin support, it really does help them do more business, because they don't have to worry about organisation.

"I didn't want to rely on just having a clean brand and a charismatic leader."

He adds, “Without speaking out of school, sometimes a salesperson doesn't have the expertise to lead their own employees. Sometimes they don't want to lead their own employees. This whole push towards salespeople to have their own PAs and to have their own administration assistants has only come from the pressure that's been on fees. With our commission structure, we don't pay the most, we don't pay the least, but we pay enough so we can have that in. Further, if you look at the end, what drips out at the end on their P&L, you'll find that they get far more value out of a business that actually takes responsibility for that. It's always been part of my agenda, only because I believe it's a win/win for them, and it's a win/win for us."

2. Thorough onboarding process

Dane makes sure that new staff are aligned with the culture of Harcourts Coastal from the very beginning. He says, “They meet all the key personnel, so they've got a very good understanding of what is on the menu at Coastal."

3. Strong team approach

Dane creates strong bonds and relationships between sales and all the different types of administrative staff that bring sales to life. He employs Administrative Staff, a Contracts Manager and a Graphic Designer who are there to support the sales teams.

Dane says, “The Administration Assistant in our business sticks with the same sales people over a long period of time. Why we did that is we had situations in the past where a salesperson would have a certain way of working - it might be a certain prospecting letter, it might be a certain way they want their listing files delivered to them. If you have to explain that three or four times because you've got three or four different administrators each week, that can be an efficiency problem, and a productivity problem for a sales person.

To find the right fit, Dane explains, “We do a personality match with which sales person we think is going to align best with which administration assistant. They are very clear on how they want their files delivered, and how they want their listings and prospecting material handled. Over time, they develop a strong connection, a strong understanding, which cuts out a lot of back and forth with regards to explaining things. It does create, most importantly, a real strong team environment where we have salespeople and administrators. When we do our competitions, they are actually linked in terms of results, so there's a real team feeling.

Administration Assistants will:

  • Prepare marketing material such as prospecting collateral and letters
  • Handle the e-news database
  • Be responsible for database mail outs and emails
  • Prepare a Listing Presentation proof, courier pre-listing kits, prepare and complete listing files and forms with contracts. Option registration paddles and make sure everything is delivered to the sales person's specification
  • Create prospecting materials - Just Listeds, Just Solds and any other specialty letters that need to be done
  • Organise photo shoots if requested.

In relation to shoots, Dane says, “It's not something that's on the list every week. If someone asks, we would do it. That's the level we go to."

Dane also employs a full time Contracts Manager. He says, “Quite often during negotiations, an agent might send someone in to sign a contract, or a listing form - our Contracts Administration Manager will handle that for them. Once they get a contract, they'll disperse it to solicitors, they'll take care of everything from there, and they'll also keep everyone informed with building reports and finance dates - they'll take responsibility for that communication."

Finally Dane has a full time Graphic Designer, who creates personalised material for the sales team. Dane says, “Whether that's something that attaches to our pre-listing kit, whether that's your own prospecting material, your own profile material, whether you're sponsoring community events - he'll take care of all your graphic design. There's no charge for that. There are no fees. It's not added onto your consumables. That's all part of the service at Coastal."

And that’s not all. He says he also provides, “Events, training, leadership - all those kinds of things - that's just scratching the surface of what we offer."

It’s clear to see why sales staff wants to work at Harcourts Coastal and why administrators like it there too. Everyone is appreciated for the skills they bring to the sales process - the selling, the emotional engagement and the administrative finesse. A master of reinvention and fine-tuning, Dane’s done the work and keeps doing the work to create the perfect conditions for a thriving real estate business.


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Dane Atherton