Monday, February 26, 2007

Bragging on Iacobucci Homes

On February 23 I had the opportunity to deliver the Multicultural Sales course with the cooperation of the Builders League of South Jersey. I was gratified to see a full class of sixteen, but especially pleased that fourteen of the learners came from one company. Iacobucci Homes brought not only their sales and marketing team members including the sales manager, but also their customer service/warranty team, two of their three builders, and the division president as well. As the course author, it was my intention to broadcast a clear message to all course attendees: it's all or nothing. Multicultural sensitivity requires a buy-in on the part of every team member. The salesperson can build trust and credibility only to have a production or warranty person drop the ball. By including all team members in the course, this company is assured that everyone got the message. What a terrific model for all builders who are facing lost sales and lost referral opportunities on account of a lack of multicultural sensitivity.

This program outlines why multicultural sensitivity is important, the state of the multicultural market today and projections on where it will be upto 40 years from now, and moves to applying multicultural sensitivity to the sales process, introducing an overview of the communication skills necessary to implement this newfound sensitivity, and moves on to give techniques and strategies for multicultural sensitivity for the marketing team, as well as all other team members. The textbook is a virtual reference work with a multitude of facts and opportunities for further research, particularly for the largest segments of the foreign-born today.

If you have a chance to attend this excellent program, do yourself and your multicultural client a favor. Be like Iacobucci Homes and take the whole team. I'll be trumpeting their success after implementing some of the skills shared in this program. Stay tuned.

Sunday, February 18, 2007

What happens in Vegas . ..

What happens in Vegas is supposed to stay in Vegas, or so the current wildly successful ad campaign asserts. Supposedly, this gives permission to otherwise straitlaced folks to go wild in Las Vegas and feel like their old comfortable self-righteous lives will be waiting for them when they return home. But my trip to Las Vegas last week was so momentous, what happened to me in Vegas just can't stay in Vegas. What happened was too big. It was all about culture.

Our firm, OBC Real Estate, is actively pursuing a Keller Williams national franchise for North Carolina's Outer Banks. So, my associate and I attended the Keller Williams Family Reunion as guests. It seemed like a great way to get up close and personal and learn about the business model as well as what makes this organization so energized. It was indeed. I had an opportunity to network with fellow Team Leaders from all over the country. The annual convention drew nearly 10,000 Keller Williams family members, walking down the same hallways as the NBA Superstars at the All-Star Game are walking as I write this. These real estate superstars are part of a unique selling proposition for the real estate business. This proposition rests on three legs: first, low risk coupled with high reward; second, the firm is agent-centered and relies on an agent council to contribute to policy-making decisions, and gives back just under 50% in profit sharing; and third, the mission, vision, values, and perspectives are all in alignment.

The mission is: work worth doing, businesses worth owning, lives worth living. The vision is God, Family, Business, in that order. The values are WI4C2TS, or: Win-Win or no deal; Integrity, Customer first, Commitment, Creativity, and Communication; Trust and Teamwork; and finally Success through sharing. Keynote speaker Ken Blanchard noted that Vegas was not his favorite destination, and speaking to a real estate firm in Vegas about clinched his low expectations. Until he read Gary Keller's "The Millionaire Real Estate Agent" and researched the company. "It's remarkable," he commented, "our values are so, so close." Dr. Blanchard calls it servant leadership. It's specializing in getting others what they want without regard for what you want. And yet, amazingly, every time you engage in servant leadership behavior, you get more than you bargained for.

Dr. Blanchard related an anecdote about fame. He's published over 13 million books, including The One-Minute Manager and Raving Fans, so he could be allowed to think himself famous. He found himself at the airport just in time to catch his plane but with his identification at home. No time to return, he thought, and then he passed the airline bookstore. Sure enough, one of the very few books where his photo was on the back cover was available. It was the book he co-wrote with the former coach of the Miami Dolphins, Don Shula. So he picks up the book and walks over to the ticket counter. He explains his picture id dilemma and shows the back cover of the book to the agent. The agent's voice boomed across the terminal, "Hey, Mickey, this guy knows Don Shula!" He got his ticket smoothly and was personally escorted through security. Of course the airline was Southwest. His destination required switching airlines so he connected with another airline, you know the one, always talking about imminent bankruptcy. Once again, he sheepishly admitted to the ticket agent that he didn't have picture identification, but had his photo on the book he co-wrote with Coach Shula. This time, it wasn't Southwest. Blanchard equates Southwest Airlines with the Eagles in business, always in flight. His connecting airline reminded him more of a duck. "Quack, quack, quack, we can't possibly make an exception in your case. Quack, quack, quack, our policy and procedures manual fails to address this issue, we'll need to get it before the Committee. Quack, quack, quack," and so on and on. Eventually Dr. Blanchard got on the plane but it took a supervisor to make it happen. What makes the employees at Southwest empowered at work and those at Droopy Airlines so ineffective and just plain glum? It's passion.

To create passion in the workplace must be our goal. That means three elements must be present at all times, otherwise passion in the workplace will never materialize. The first element is meaningful work. What you do must make sense to you as well as matter to the business. Real estate practiced according to the WI4C2TSs value system unites vision and action. This powerful combination can make dreams come true and create memories that last lifetimes. The second element is a nurturing environment in which to perform that work. This translates as education, training, mentoring, and coaching, to each according to their need. The third element is fun. When we defer living our lives over and over again, eventually we run out of life to live. We don't get any do-overs in life. Therefore, making the work and the work environment fun is critical for passion to bubble up. When it does, it's like a miracle. But it takes a commitment to experience this miracle. In order to walk on water, you have got to be willing to get out of the boat.

Real estate has a reputation as a dog-eat-dog world, and so it might take some getting used to before fully embracing a business model where everyone helps everyone else. But before you start painting a nostalgic picture in a warm '70s encounter group glow, keep in mind that being dedicated to a balanced life includes equal time and energy on learning, working, and living, all the time. The model emphasizes adopting a structured process as the skeleton of the business. Then one's creativity can take over and customize the model, fleshing out the skeleton. Simply put, it couldn't be simpler. But it must be strictly adhered to. Creativity before understanding and implementing the structured process will burn out. Process without creativity is lifeless.

I've always thought of myself as a paid optimist. And in fact, that has been my public persona in real estate. "How's the market?" someone might ask. "Incredible!" I'd respond, knowing that the interpretation was up to the listener. But inside there's a voice I hear that's neither overly optimistic nor negative. It is the matter-of-fact voice of reality. That voice mirrors my realization that a real estate business model that is focused on the agents so that the agents can focus on their clients and customers has positive market differentiation. That may explain why Keller Williams agent growth is five times higher than its long-time competition. An idea whose time has come is like a blaze on the prairie. It is upon the crucible of this blaze that the culture is forged. God, Family, Business. Has a nice ring to it, don't you think?

Saturday, February 10, 2007

Body Heat

I just returned from Orlando, Florida, the site of the 63rd International Builders Show. The National Homebuilders Association Convention is the second largest in the nation. Of course, it was relatively warm in Orlando but the real warmth came from over 110,000 fellow registrants, all associated with the homebuilding industry. Over 37 acres of exhibits, with aisles stretching almost twelve miles if you were to visit all the exhibitors. Over 250 educational programs and policy making committee meetings. Here's some highlights that made a strong impression on me personally.
I arrived to conduct two Pre-show educational courses. The University of Housing's presentation of IRM 1: Understanding Housing Markets and Consumers had forty-seven learners. Co-instructor Henry Thomas and I had actually never taught together before and students commented that we weaved our presentations together seamlessly, as if we had rehearsed for hours. I introduced Howe & Strauss' theory of generational identity milestones and it brought to life the course's section on demographics. If economics is classified as the dismal science, demographics is often labeled the dry science. But learners were challenged to know more when it became clear that if they are selling to the 50+ market they are likely to encounter three distinct generations. A presentation that works for one may offend the other, and vice versa. On the day before the show, the Train the Trainer program was sold out. This intensive course delivers presentation skills to subject matter experts who ever have to present in front of a group. It consistently rates among the highest of all courses offered by NAHB.
Three other events stand out: the Best in American Living Awards (BALA) showcased regional winners amongst the silver, gold and platinum award recipients in various categories. A new category, Best Smart Growth Community, really caught my eye. The following evening, The Nationals, the Oscars for the National Sales and Marketing Council, spotlighted excellence in sales and marketing in 54 categories, from Best Logo to Best Neighborhood. What really impressed the judges this year was a positive approach that used creativity. And the two highest personal awards from the Institute of Residential Marketing and the National Sales and Marketing Council were announced. Jean Ewell, MIRM, St. Louis, won the IRM's Trina Ripley Excellence in Education Award and Bonnie Alfriend, Pebble Beach, received the Bill Molster Award, the NSMC's lifetime achievement milestone. The morning of opening day, the IRM Induction Breakfast highlighted 47 new MIRMs, the largest graduating class ever and the new class of CMPs (Certified Marketing Professionals) and MCSPs (Master Certified New Home Sales Professionals) were given their pins. There are now 562 active members of the Institute of Residential Marketing.
Christians await the Second Coming of Jesus. If you were Muslim, one of the tenets of your faith would be that at least once in your life, you would visit Mecca. For Jews, the cry for thousands of years has been, "Next Year in Jerusalem." If you are in the building industry, you must attend the Builders Show at least once. Next year it's in Orlando before moving to Las Vegas for 2009.
I returned to my home base on the Outer Banks of North Carolina and the temperature hovered around the freezing mark. But inside, I still was warmed by the body heat of tens of thousands of fellow contributors to one of America's most vital industries, the homebuilding industry. Catch the fire in '08 between February 10-13. It's the peak of our industry, and as Zig Ziglar says, "I'll see you at the top!"

Thursday, February 1, 2007

Service, the Other 100%

In the last post our discussion was focused on the new version of the Critical Path, reinvented as the Critical Wheel, where the elements of Welcome (40%), Discovery (30%), Presentation (20%), and Closing (10%) are turned upside down from years past where Closing was suggested to comprise 40% of your efforts. Although the stops on the Critical Wheel comprise 100%, that only leads to the sale. To create a sustainable business model, to keep the sale on track, the element of Service is the "other" 100%. Zig Ziglar has popularized the notion that if you spend your time helping people get what they want, you will eventually get what you want. The key to success in sales is taking the extra step, the step beyond the sale, in assuring truly outstanding service. Following-up and following-through also represent a badge of professionalism since so few of your competitors practice it. Service connects the Closing to the following Welcome. And to create the referral customer doesn't cost anything when you are dedicated to offering outstanding service to each and every customer and client. Why is Service such a powerful mechanism in creating referrals. Perhaps it's because of the pre-conditioning our customers and clients have, in spite of all we tell them about our dedication to their needs fulfillment, towards the belief that whatever we do is for the "money." When we are already paid (at closing) and still maintain the highest standards of customer service, they are compelled to admit that it wasn't about the money after all. Once they are confirmed by seeing that our commitment to them outlasts the closing, they can become the most powerful mechanism we have for generating qualified traffic.
How can you maximize the customer's perception of our dedication to service? No one is expecting the salesperson to show up in the middle of the night with a wrench to fix a leaky toilet. Rather, the salesperson should follow the model of the orchestra conductor. Though rarely playing a note, it is the conductor that keeps everyone in time and assures that all are playing in tune. The sale is made when the customer gets truly involved. The sale is kept and duplicated when the salesperson gets truly involved. Try it; it doesn't require but a marginal difference in effort but delivers exponential differences in results. Those who serve lead.