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Keller Center for Research

Getting Off to a Fast Start

March 1, 2011

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By Bruce Robertson, PhD and Andrea Dixon, PhD

Runners to the starting blocks... Take your mark... Wait for the starter's pistol. A sprinter knows the drill. S/he begins a race so many times in the course of his/her running career that the actions "before the gun" become second-nature. Winners know how to get out of the blocks quickly when the gun goes off.

Business professionals are a little different. We don't restart our careers multiple times a year (hopefully) so thinking about what to do to get off to a fast start isn't second-nature for us. In fact, we oftentimes assume that our "start" will be no different than anyone else's start. Research shows the fallacy of such an assumption. New employees do have different "before the gun" experiences, as reported by Rollag, Parise, and Cross 2005 in the MIT Sloan Management Review. So, how the company and its managers facilitate the starting routine for employees in general does matter. Further, our research, which was focused on sales professionals, clearly delineates ways in which an agency can help new agents get off to a fast start as they begin their real estate careers.

What We Found (Our Results)

How to Turn Your Employees into Brand Champions

Successful field leaders often imply that getting new salespeople off to a fast start is all about hiring the "right" people. In fairness, this does not mean there are "right" or "wrong" people. For someone new to the field of real estate, hiring the "right" person means making sure there is a "fit" or match between the values and beliefs of the candidate, the requirements of the career, the values and beliefs of the broker or agent you are joining, and the firm or brand you will be representing.

To help you assess your fit with any career, you need a realistic view of the job's real pros and cons. In real estate, you must understand the uncertainty of commission work and the time and financial investments required for success. To assess your fit with a particular broker or agency, meet as many people in the organization as possible. Focus on understanding the firm's systems and ways of doing business to determine your fit to this particular part of the real estate industry. According to our research, one way of ensuring that you've adequately assessed this fit issue in advance of taking a new position is to explore the career opportunity with multiple firms. Only by such comparison can you determine which part of the industry (i.e., which broker or agency) represents the best place for you. Many successful field leaders will encourage you to "shop around" to be sure you see a good fit with their operation.

Even when the fit is good, there are "before the gun" actions taken by field leaders and salespeople that can be quite different in organizations/situations where a new sales associate gets off to a fast start. Many of the actions are either orchestrated by the field leader or requested by the new associate (and facilitated by the field leader). Our research suggests five areas that can help get you out of the starting blocks quickly.

Instrumental Support Systems

Getting off to a fast start, the critical piece is not sales. Making a sale is the end result. Seeing people and seeing the right kinds of people, and getting referrals... are the critical part of it.

Since the learning curve for a new real estate associate is so steep, you need access to training programs that are digestible and focus heavily on applications in order to get off to a fast start. The goal is to transform the deluge of available information, like water from a fire hydrant, into a manageable stream of the most useful know-how, like a gentle spray from a garden hose. Look for training programs where the knowledge is presented in chunks, essential elements are delivered through simplified concepts, and role play and application are emphasized. Look for training sessions that feature stories and vignettes because contextual learning approaches provide a "stickier" method for important knowledge and skills. Look for training programs that focus on three key areas: prospecting, gathering referrals and developing relationships with clients. If you can master these areas early on, you will succeed and you will get off to a fast start.

In addition, ask the agency leader what informal training is available to help you achieve your professional goals. Salespeople who get off to a fast start have sales leaders who intentionally structure their work relationships, making introductions to people who can be resources for specific business issues, experts on market segments, and/or conduits to important others who can help you build your business. If your broker or agency conveys the attitude, "good luck and just tell me when you need help," it is possible that you are not joining a team that will help you get out of the blocks quickly and become the winner that you desire.

Problem-Solving Support

For [my people], I'll call and get things done. I immediately address any concern they have. Like now, let's drop this, make a phone call, handle it. 24/7. Cell phone, home number, we're in this together.

While mentoring relationships can certainly provide instrumental support (just discussed) as well as psycho-social support (discussed in just a moment), our research also identifies a mentoring system as crucial for ensuring new agents have someone to turn to immediately when they are facing a work-related problem. We define mentors as experienced associates or specialists who have been linked with new salespeople to provide work-related support. Collegiality becomes a real part of an organization's environment when the culture includes strong mentoring relationships. Having experienced associates provide assistance, support and counsel to new associates is a highly valued form of support for new associates. Leaders of high performing organizations control this process by purposefully engineering situations that allow new agents to identify and select mentors and role models, so that the behaviors the new real estate agent models are representative of the culture and norms the broker wants established. In high performing units, mentors provide informal support and problem-solving assistance, not formal supervision.

As a new real estate professional you are building a business and you work on your business 24/7 (or so some days it seems). Gone is the era when contact with clients was ordered and well paced. The client expects 24/7 access to information and to you. While serving your clients, you may need assistance or require answers to questions. This is an important area to explore; determine how you will be supported so you can best support your clients. Will you be connected to a mentor for such help? Is there another primary go-to person in place? What happens when s/he is on vacation or traveling? Is another person clearly available as a replacement?

Psycho-Social Support

The manager/representative relationship was very important to me. He was very encouraging. He would say, "You are doing the work, it just hasn't happened yet. Keep on doing what you are doing. You'll break through." If I had lost his faith, I would have looked for a new job.

Each company, broker or agency, the leaders, and associates exhibit distinct norms and characteristics forming an organizational identity. High performance leaders focus on maintaining the integrity of their firm's culture. To get off to a fast start, new associates will need to tap into informal networks and camaraderie to build their psychosocial support network. If there is not a fit between you and others in the firm, your ability to access this network will be compromised. At the highest level, field leaders use interviews between existing associates and prospective associates to jump start the process of matching mentoring partners.

Sales roles today can feel somewhat isolating and lonely. The sooner you can assimilate yourself into the culture, the sooner you will experience the firm's network of camaraderie and informal support. Our research found that high performing field leaders use rituals such as welcome events and standard introductions to such connections. Team-building lunches, sharing career war stories, and contests pairing new associates with more experienced associates build such connections.

As a new associate, your relationship with your broker or agent can be a lifeline during the first few months in the career. Look for a leader who understands the value of this connection and who nurtures new associates through purposeful, high touch relationships. Since you will be investing heavily in this new career, you need to know that your leader is equally invested in your future. Before you join that agency or broker firm, ask yourself, "Do I think this leader will provide the kind of psycho-social support that I need to be successful? Is this leader upbeat and optimistic when s/he is interacting with me?

Recognition Support

I always go with a personal pat on the back, right in front of everybody. Say he got his first close. I want to make sure others hear and say something to him as well.

As you examine various companies and agencies, ask specifically about their motivation and recognition programs. Any type of sales role offers daily disappointments and challenges that can block the visibility of long-term rewards. Through our research, we found that high performance sales leaders use short-term or incremental rewards and recognition to enforce specific behaviors and create habits linked to long-term success. Talk with other associates to find out what kind of contests might be offered to help keep agents motivated. See if the contests are designed to reinforce specific parts of the sales process allowing you to build and refine important skills. Find out if the leader demonstrates encouraging behaviors (pats on the back, hand-written notes) to help his/her associates along to success.

Support Personnel

I don't have to worry about the headaches of payroll, secretarial, computers, programs. These are all outsourced through the agency.

Before you get started down the track, you need to really know and connect with the support personnel in the agency. If you are reading this article before deciding on which broker or agency to join, we encourage you to get to know the support personnel as one of the deciding factors about the opportunity. In fact, one of the benefits of joining a broker or an agency is so you don't have to deal with all of the headaches of running an entirely independent practice.

How We Studied This Process (Research Method)

Working with an industry trade association, we identified field leaders in the top ten percent in terms of retention and production for early-career sales associates (or salespeople with three or fewer years' experience). We contacted these field leaders to identify:

  1. Salespeople who joined directly from college

  2. Salespeople who joined the organization due to a career change (left a non-sales position)

  3. Salespeople who joined the organization from another sales role

  4. Salespeople who left a related career (but were not in a sales position)

  5. Sales leaders who successfully launch new salespeople

This process resulted in a list of about 400 potential participants. A professional recruiter (using a stratified random sampling approach) scheduled 60 one-on-one interviews with salespeople (36) and sales leaders (24) representing the categories listed above.

We led the participants through a three-stage discussion of: (1) their actions prior to taking the job, (2) the actions of the field leader, others inside the firm, and others outside the firm and the salesperson during the first week on the job, and (3) specific behaviors identified from published research. After exploring these areas in depth, we used a parallel process to examine success factors since joining the firm.

The audio-taped interviews were transcribed yielding 834 pages. We independently analyzed the transcripts to identify fine grained "issues" and then content-analyzed the transcripts to identify themes consistent with existing research, additional factors not represented in the published work, and applications or examples of how these factors are implemented in the field.

Summary

If you have assessed your fit, explored several agencies where you might affiliate, and decided that this real estate career is a race you want to win, you are in the starting blocks. If you've found the agency that provides instrumental support, problem-solving support, psycho-social support, recognition, and support personnel, then you are ready to take your mark. When the gun goes off, you'll be off to a fast start as you build this new career!

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Suggested Reading

Rollag, K., S. Parise and R. Cross (2005), "Getting New Hires Up to Speed Quickly," MIT Sloan Management Review, 46(2), 34-41.

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About the Authors

Bruce C. Robertson, PhD
Associate Professor, San Francisco State University

Dr. Bruce Robertson (PhD - University of Cincinnati) Is an Associate Professor of Marketing at San Francisco State University. Coming from an industrial background in sales and sales management, his research interests embrace issues related to sales leadership and leader development. Bruce has published in the Journal of Personal Selling and Sales Management, Organization Science, Leadership Quarterly, and other academic journals. In addition to his academic publishing, Robertson has been involved with industry research in the financial services arena.

Robertson's teaching experience includes a variety of undergraduate and graduate courses as well as in the College's EMBA program. Robertson has achieved recognition for his innovative use of technology developing a hybrid online/traditional class format enabling him to reach more than 1500 students per semester. He was named teaching professor of the year by the College of Business in 2003-2004. In 2011 he was named the Academy of Marketing Science's Outstanding Marketing Teacher award winner.

Prior to joining the PhD program at Cincinnati, Robertson had extensive experience in a variety of sales and marketing positions including acting as a commodity futures representative and broker, as an assistant campaign director for a local United Way, and most recently as the national sales manager for a consumer products company.

Andrea Dixon, PhD
Executive Director, Keller Center for Research and Center for Professional Selling
Frank M. And Floy Smith Holloway Professorship in Marketing, Baylor University

Dr. Andrea Dixon (PhD - Indiana University) is the Executive Director of the Keller Center for Research and the Center for Professional Selling. She holds the Frank M. & Floy Smith Holloway Endowed Professor in Marketing at Baylor University. Coming from an industrial background in research, planning and advertising, her research interests embrace behavioral issues related to sales, service and client satisfaction. Andrea has published in the Journal of Marketing, Harvard Business Review, Organizational Science, Journal of the Academy of Marketing Science, Leadership Quarterly, the Journal of Personal Selling and Sales Management, The Journal of Satisfaction, Dissatisfaction and Complaining Behavior, and several other journals. In 2002, Dixon's research published in the Journal of Marketing was selected as the award-winning research in the sales area.

Prior to joining Baylor, Dixon was the Executive Director of the MS-Marketing Program and the Ronald J. Dornoff Teaching Fellow at the University of Cincinnati. She has co-authored the book, Strategic Sales Leadership: BREAKthrough Thinking for BREAKthrough Results, and multiple industry-wide research texts. Dixon serves on two editorial review boards and co-chaired the American Marketing Association's 2007 Winter Educator Conference. While serving as a faculty member at the University of Cincinnati (U.C.) and Indiana University-Bloomington (I.U.), Dr. Dixon taught an array of graduate and undergraduate courses. One of U.C.'s MBA EXCEL Teaching Award winners, Dixon was selected for a national teaching award by Irwin Publishing, as a distinguished professor by Indiana University MBA students, and for a university-wide award by her academic colleagues at I.U. In 2008, she was named the Academy of Marketing Science's Marketing Teacher Award winner. Prior to teaching at U.C., Andrea worked closely with GAMA International as the Senior Director of Product Development and Marketing.

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