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Working with the sphere of influence

With Sam Debord, Vice President of Strategic Growth at Coldwell Banker Danforth and the managing broker at Seattle Real Estate.

Mark Zuckerberg once said, “People influence people. Nothing influences people more than a recommendation from a trusted friend. A trusted referral influences people more than the best broadcast message.” Of course this is true. The most successful agents in real estate are the ones whose businesses are built on referrals. However, it seems it is also a cold hard fact that for many of us, we resist asking for business from the people we know. Many agents would rather cold call than ask the hard question to someone from their network – ‘do you know anyone who is buying or selling’?

Sam De Bord, the Vice President of Strategic Growth at Coldwell Banker Danforth and the Managing Broker at Seattle Real Estate, runs a sales team and recruits for the brokerage. He is always on the lookout for a salesperson who can ask the hard questions. He knows that the ability to build long-term relationships in the end is the greatest defence and best weapon in sales.

As Sam says, “It’s a mindset.” He continues, “We have to reinforce a lot with our team that it's not the past client who is going to sell again. It's your referral network. These are literally people who will get you 10 other clients if you're just good to them, if you just make them feel like you're grateful for their business.”

"It's not the past client who is going to sell again. It's your referral network."

He prizes realtors who appreciate the power of their sphere. He says, “We're looking for people with experience who already know the business and who we know will do a good job with our clients. They probably have an existing client base, but they're looking for a better platform. So whether that's pricing costs, the tools that we have, branding - we're looking for somebody who sees our model and our flexibility as something that's an improvement to their career and they see that as a reason to come over and work with us and sort of take the next step in real estate.”

Sam also values the agents who work and focus on their sphere. He says, “I think our most successful agents are the ones who have a really traditional sphere. They are just really going after the folks they know, going for that repeat business and trying to build their sphere. They do the really, let's just call it ‘boring things’ of calling old friends and keeping in touch with folks. Once in a while, we even have a door knocker, which most people are scared to death of these days, but those folks have a defensible model. They've got something that no matter what website comes out, they've really got that sphere that they can go back to whenever they need to.”

Of course, in theory it's a lot easier to go to somebody you know rather than try to sell to somebody new but agents often resist, not wanting to turn a friendship into a sales relationship. Sam says, “Honestly, not all of our people are natural sales people. A lot of people feel like, ‘I don't want to call my old friend if they think it's a sales call. I don't want to call someone and say, ‘Who's selling, who's buying, who do you know, who can you refer me to?’’, and I understand that. I'm not a natural sales person myself either. So for a lot of our agents, it's easier to just pay for something else as opposed to feel sort of vulnerable and call those folks who have already been in your sphere. I think they need to be coached into a way that they can make those contacts without feeling like, ’I'm calling my brother in law and he doesn't want to pick up the phone because he knows I'm trying to sell him’.”

He explains, “We bring on agents who you can see the fear in their eyes when we say, ‘Give me your network and let's get to your sphere and let's make some phone calls’. So I think you're going to have the superstars who can do it and they love doing it. You don't have to do a lot - they usually still benefit from coaching, but there's other folks who just need alternate strategies. How do I say it? How do I make this transition with folks so that I don't feel uncomfortable and that they don't feel uncomfortable? What do I have to do to make them feel like I'm giving them value when I'm staying in touch with them?”

In the digital age, it’s easy to rely on robots and automated responses from databases to maintain connections with any client. But we can’t. To be successful, you want a client to feel comfortable, who will then refer you to others, so often that means picking up the phone. When a property has sold for example, Sam says for clients, “Hearing that voice, knowing that it's someone who has done this over and over and over, and they hear that in your voice when you have done it that many times. Email can't necessarily convey the comfort of, ‘This is not a big deal’.”

As Sam says, “This is not new. Any agent who has done any coaching, any development, has heard this before.” But it seems to be a lesson we need to learn over and over again. Perhaps it requires turning the equation around. Rather than seeing working your sphere as taking something from people, see it as offering assistance; that your sole purpose is in fact to assist people in the sale and purchase of their home. Sam believes, “If you make them feel like you're grateful for their business, and you're a successful, quality, smart, friendly person - that may be the most important thing of all."



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