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Just yesterday I went to a local meeting for apartment owners and managers. In rolled a vendor with a "buy real estate with other peoples' money" program. I was about to shut off my brain when I realized that he had a very convincing sales pitch. He had learned from the best.

The best sales people teach that you can increase your sales by giving something to your potential clients for free. He walked around the room giving away a 45-minute video to all of those who registered with "clearly printed hand writing." It was a cleverly created five-minute sales pitch, and I noticed that 50 percent of the people there signed up even if they did not believe in the magic of "No Money Down." He also effectively developed a mailing list that he could farm into the future.

This man's sales pitch made me pause to recall a recent article I had read in the February 2001 edition of Scientific American entitled "The Science of Persuasion" by Robert B. Cialdini.

In the article, Professor Cialdini spells out the secrets to sales success. These secrets apply to all of us in every facet of real estate -- and other fields. He used specific examples to show that there is an unofficial code of "reciprocity." His examples included the Disabled American Veterans, which increased its fundraising response rate from 18 percent to 35 percent when they included personalized address labels in their mailings. He explained that humans, when receiving a gift, tend to want to return the favor.

Give a Gift

So how does that apply to our industry? Think of it this way. You go to an appointment and you take a prospective buyer out to lunch. Or you give a client a map of the area for free, or a coffee cup, a bottle of wine; something that shows that your care about the person and their business. You could close a potential rental tenant by giving them a coffee cup ($2.39) with the logo of the apartment complex emblazoned on it. Now they may feel they owe you, and your chances of working with them have increased.

Of course giving away all of the free stuff in the world will not encourage a person to work with you if your product is not a good quality product your and customer service skills stink. One of the biggest advertisers in Oregon is a big tire company. They're more expensive than many other dealers, but their service skills are noted by all of their customers. Their business just keeps growing and growing.

Another example is how you speak to people on the phone. In the apartment rental and real estate sales business you set many appointments to have people visit with you. Many of those people don't show up. This also happens in the restaurant industry, and Caldini explains that you can increase your show-up rate in how you ask your question. He encourages you to phrase your question in such a way that the customer acknowledges, even confirms, their attendance at your meeting.

In other words instead of saying to a prospect, "I have scheduled you for 5 p.m. tomorrow," you might say, "I have scheduled you for 5 p.m. tomorrow, and will you please call us if you have to change your appointment?" Then you wait for an affirmative response. This will increase your effectiveness and sales and reduce your down time because more customers will show up to meet with you.

I Want to Like You

Customers want to work with people they "like." They like familiar faces, good-looking people, good grooming, and people with confidence that are service-oriented, customer caring people. They want to do business with successful people; they like to see letters of reference and testimonials. Customers are nervous about their decision-making, and if they can see that others have made the same decision is makes them feel more comfortable.

Just yesterday I was on the phone with a client who was ready to sign a listing with our company but felt that the agent she was going to be working with may not have had enough experience. We chatted for a while, and then I commented that he had closed a couple of very difficult deals in the last week and his other clients were raving about him. She was very excited about that and decided to give him a try. In my absence a letter from a satisfied client would have done the same. Customers want to go with success, and it is our job to show them how successful we are.

In summary, no matter what part of real estate you're involved in, you can increase your success by taking small wins and converting them into larger wins. You can increase your appointment rates by asking the questions the right way. You can increase your business by giving a gift, being a leader, and using testimonials or letters of reference to back it up. You might want to consider all of these items as you develop your marketing plans for the future.

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