I have always said there are three kinds of commercial real estate brokers:
- Those that are great executers, great transaction managers and strategist.
- Those that are great business developers, effective networkers and highly connected.
- Those that follow somewhere in between the two.
This is not to say that the business development stars are not capable of being great transactional brokers, many are, it is just they are most successful at doing what they do best, securing the larger and most profitable accounts.
For most of my career, I focused on being a great transaction manager and executer. My real strength was listening to the client, understanding what they wanted to accomplish, and then figuring out the strategy and executing the transaction that accomplished their goals. My strength was not business development.
When the market was great, it wasn’t so much of an issue. Business came through referrals from satisfied clients and from colleagues who wanted to partner with me, seeking my execution and transactional skills. Business kept coming in, and I convinced myself I was a good business developer. Yet despite some very successful years, in which I reached the upper third of production levels of the company, I still never reached the very top production levels among my peers. So I began to question myself “Why is this?” I often was disappointed when I would see brokers who I didn’t perceive as talented as me, with more great clients than I had.
Did I need better sales skills? No, this wasn’t the issue. My sales presentation skills are actually excellent. I listen well, then analyze and inform the prospect how I can solve their issues and achieve their objectives. Put me in front of a good prospect, and I will win the account more often than not, even in a highly competitive sales situation. I have a great batting average. The problem lied in not enough at-bats.
This was never more apparent than as we entered the most recent recessionary period. Clients and accounts went away, some went out of business, some merged or were acquired by other firms and while I still had a respectable portfolio of clients, the flow of client transactions and referrals slowed from a steady flow to an occasional drip. I had to have a serious self assessment of my career. My conclusion, my sales skills rock, I was a great transactional broker but my networking skills, well they needed some work. If I was going to achieve the success I expected of myself, I had to get my fanny in front of as many qualified potential prospects as I could. I had to start generating some referrals and new client opportunities.
Enter Social Media
When I made the decision to integrate Social Media into my commercial real estate practice, I clearly understood it would not be a silver bullet, just because I started a blog, and began to utilize the most popular social media platforms (Facebook, Twitter, Linkedin), I had no expectation that business was just going to start flying through the door. I knew I had to look for new ways to meet the right people and while social media was a strategy I would use, it also included traditional networking and doing a better job of referral selling with my existing clients.
What I didn’t know or maybe I did, but didn’t make the connection is that the skills that make you successful with social media is exactly the same skill set that makes you successful with traditional off-line networking
- Getting out there in the marketplace
- Engaging People
- Being Likeable
- Reciprocity or the mutual exchange of privileges
- Marketing your Knowledge (Giving to Get)
As it turns out, these are the skills and traits that fit my personality like a glove. This is an approach that I am very comfortable with. The light bulb went off, the skills that have been successful for me in Social Media and came naturally, were the exact same skills I needed to apply to traditional networking and business development activities. All of a sudden, traditional networking didn’t seem so scary. What I thought was outside my comfort zone wasn’t really at all.
My Final Point
Those of you that read my blog follow me on twitter or other social media sites know that I am a big proponent of social media. At least in commercial real estate circles, I have been an early adopter and I have been willing to teach anyone who would listen what I have learned. My latest mantra has been; “your primary objective is to turn your social media connections into face to face meetings”.
What became apparent to me is that there is no difference between social networking and traditional business networking; it’s all the same, just a different setting in which you make your initial connection. Whether its twitter, a cocktail party, charity event or the country club that you meet someone, people are going to want to work with you or have the trust and confidence to recommend you to someone else based on all the same reasons.