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INSIDER: The Art of the Sale

Dec. 1, 2012

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By Susan Monaghan, MBA Candidate

In The Art of the Sale, author Phillip Delves Broughton conveys the primary role that sales plays in business and in life. As a graduate student at Harvard Business School, though, he discovered that sales courses did not exist in the curriculum. Broughton understood that this gap in schools' curriculum means that many businesspeople may be unequipped to promote revenue growth in their companies, as sales is the driving force of any business (please visit the University Sales Center Alliance (USCA) website to see those universities who are committed to a professional selling curriculum).

For this reason, Broughton decided to create his own real-life sales course, culminating in The Art of the Sale. By journeying across the US and around the world, he sought to learn from the masters of sales, discovering who sells best and how to sell most effectively. He pursued master salespeople "in their element" to determine if sales skills are teachable or innate. Most of all, Broughton desired to understand the mind (more than the character) of a successful salesperson.

Four key sales strategies emerge from Broughton's international journey. Embracing these strategies will help you master the art of the sale, and can help take your real estate sales abilities to the next level.

THINK POINT #1: Learn to Read Your Customer and Adapt... Quickly

Broughton visited a shop owner in a Moroccan port city souk named Abel Majid Rais El Fenni. Majid has sold his wares to such famous customers as Yves Saint Laurent and Jacques Chirac. An expert at classifying individuals entering his shop and adjusting his sales strategy accordingly, Majid maintains his reputation as master salesperson. Through innovative product displays, finding ways to connect with his customers, and uncovering his customers' true desires, Majid creates value for his clients and is able to charge more than other shop owners in the souk.

Specifically, Majid understands that sales opportunities develop quickly and that sales strategies must be readily tailored to meet the needs of the customer. This skill is difficult to teach because it involves perceptibility. Real estate agents also require a great deal of sensitivity and adaptability to be successful salespeople. As new sales opportunities arise, whether planned or unplanned, in a formal business setting or a casual social setting, agents must learn to read their customers and adapt their sales strategies to most effectively meet their greatest needs.

Broughton also visited with Norman Levine, an award-winning life insurance salesman and author, living in Palm Springs, California, who expounded on the idea of reading your customer. Levine explained, "To sell, you have to have an effective means for people to achieve what they want. To know what they want, however, you must get inside their heads, have empathy." To really get to know potential customers, Levine advises salespeople to get involved in the community, church, PTA, school boards, clubs, and community organizations.

How are you getting involved in your community to better understand your current and prospective customers? What organizations in your community might provide fruitful business opportunities in a social setting? Remember, friends can become clients and clients can become friends.

THINK POINT #2: Serve Your Client's Best Interest, Not Your Own Ego

Broughton was impressed by the master salespeople he met who, after identifying the needs and motivations of their customers, responded not by selling, but by serving. Instead of crafting their identity as successful salespeople, they would let go of their egos and instead focus on their customer's best interest.

Levine told Broughton that a successful salesperson sells himself as a credible, trustworthy person and is able to create value for his customer. Once credibility and trust are established, the successful salesperson abandons "self" to serve the other person. Ashok Vemuri, head of an Indian company's operations in America, echoed this sentiment. When Vemuri hired and trained salespeople, he explicitly looked for selfless people who made customer service a priority.

Martin Shanker, an expert sales trainer in New York, reminded Broughton that successful salespeople actually care about their customers. Unfortunately, many salespeople value clients only based on the size of their bank accounts. Emphasis, though, should be placed on serving the client, not in calculating potential financial gain. Remember, successful real estate agents do not profile customers - they genuinely care about them.

For another perspective, Broughton traveled to the other side of the world to visit Chie Shibata, a top Japanese life insurance salesperson at Dai-ichi Life Insurance Company in Tokyo. Shibata built a strong customer base in her early days in sales simply by acting in her clients' best interests. In the insurance industry, this meant focusing on her clients' current peace of mind and future well-being. Shibata learned that sales is not only about earning what she needed for herself, but providing the goods and services that her clients needed.

Similarly, people need homes. Real estate agents have an important opportunity to serve their clients' interests by helping them find the right home - the home that ensures current peace of mind and future well-being. The right home does not necessarily mean the home that translates into the greatest agent commission, which means setting aside ego for the benefit of the customer.

How are you working to understand and serve your client's best interest? Are you focused on your client's needs versus the potential for financial gain? What ways can you work to set aside your ego for your customers this week?

THINK POINT #3: Be Resilient - Have "Loose Robes"

Majid, the Moroccan souk shop owner, has developed a very unemotional approach to selling. Majid's father taught him to have "loose robes," which means he does not let customers upset him and does not take customers' opinions or expressions personally. He does confess that sometimes customers can be unreasonable and irrational; however, his "loose robes" allow Majid not to let a perceived snub or insult interfere with a sale.

Resilience, a necessary trait for every real estate agent, is the ability to maintain emotional stability in the midst of unpredictable and unpleasant events. Resilience is particularly useful for anyone who regularly hears no more than yes each day. Great salespeople can take the occasional rejection or failure and use them as building blocks for future success. Great salespeople refuse to shy away from rejection, and choose to see it as a "vaccine" that can improve their resistance to personal criticism. Great salespeople embrace both success and failure as part of the process.

Shibata would advise real estate agents to be genuine, knowing that clients value your intelligence, talent, and service, no matter the package. She divulges that when beginning a sales career (and particularly a career in real estate), most people resign because facing so much rejection and "financial uncertainty" is "brutal on the ego and the wallet." Shibata would also encourage agents to maintain an objective view of their performance, enjoy difficult situations and maintain passion. Even difficult situations can ultimately lead to a promising future.

THINK POINT #4: Establish Long-Term Relationships with Your Clients

All of Broughton's insight culminates in a fourth and final point: a successful real estate agent's goal should be to foster long-term relationships with his/her clients.

To describe the value of a long-term relationship, Broughton shared one of his most positive sales experiences - buying a suit for his wedding. After determining the general specifications Broughton required for the suit, the salesperson had him try on a variety of styles, asking what he liked and disliked about each suit he tried. After walking through this questioning for a couple hours, Broughton selected the suit - the one he would wear on his wedding day.

Broughton insisted the salesperson did not sell him the suit, but rather let the suit sell itself. What enabled the entire transaction, though, was the trust the salesperson build at the outset of the transaction, not any slick moves in the close. The trust Broughton established with the salesperson supported him as he selected the attire for his wedding. The relationship they built in that one transaction, though, translated into many future sales opportunities.

Majid echoes a similar philosophy, encouraging salespeople to establish long-term relationships with customers by building trust, rather than pushing or forcing sales. Majid suggests that in his store, he may back away from the easy sale and offer advice to the customer instead. He advises salespeople to be patient and thoughtful which fosters trust and credibility, and leads to future, greater sales.

Real estate agents have an opportunity to develop strong relationships with their clients. Home sales/purchases are important, personal transactions and often represent a significant transition or experience in the life of the client. Therefore, a positive interaction built upon trust and credibility can lead to a long-term relationship with the client. A strong relationship will translate into additional sales opportunities and potential for future referrals.

Broughton's international journey taught him a lot about the global face of sales. Packaged with hard work and patience, these four strategies have the potential to transform an agent from meeting the sales status quo to experiencing significant sales success. Incorporate these strategies into your daily sales practices and you, too, can master The Art of the Sale.

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Recommended Reading

Broughton, Phillip Delves (2012), The Art of the Sale, New York: The Penguin Press.

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About the Author

Susan Monaghan, MBA Candidate, May 2014, Baylor University
Graduate Assistant, Keller Center for Research

Susan is a graduate student from Houston, TX. She earned her bachelors degree in English from Vanderbilt University and her master's in Elementary Education from the University of Houston. She is currently pursuing an MBA with a concentration in Economics.

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