Practice makes perfect?

There are plenty of my estate agency client firms who have enjoyed a very successful 18 months or so. However, a good many of those are still striving for better market share and profitability by raising standards through training.

They are absolutely right not to rest on their laurels. I have always believed that in any business, you are only as good as your last month’s figures.

One estate agency firm had its three best ever sales months in its 23-year history during 2014, but that is already ancient history.

They make great profits and have impressive market share, so why do they employ us once a month to run training courses for their team?

It is because they recognise that however successful a business might be, they still suffer a “Performance Gap” – namely the gap between actual performance and perfection. An agent with 40% market share in a town where there are eight agents should be applauded, but there is 60% still to go after!

Raising standards of knowledge, behaviour, skills and attitude is essential in any market conditions, but some firms lose sight of this when business is booming, leading to a massive problem as and when conditions take a turn for the worse.

Plenty of agents made buckets of money in 2007 and then went out of business in 2008.

So, what to do? It won’t surprise you to know that as MD of a training company, there is a one-word solution … training. It may however surprise you that I am not prospecting for business here. In fact, I am going to suggest a DIY option, hinged upon the age-old adage that “practice makes perfect”.

David Beckham did not stumble upon the fact that his free-kicks were generally well above the standard of most other players of his era. These skills were the result of many years of practice.

Beckham himself said: “I must have taken tens of thousands, maybe hundreds of thousands [of free kicks]. I would go to the local park, place the ball on the ground and aim at the wire meshing over the window of a small community hut. When my dad got home from work, we would go over to the goalposts together.

“He would stand between me and the goal, forcing me to bend the ball around him. People looking on must have thought we were mad. We kept going even when the sun had gone down, playing by the light coming out of the windows of the houses that surrounded the park.”

It seems fair to say that “practice makes perfect” applied to one of England’s most successful footballers, so why shouldn’t it apply to the most successful estate agents?

Exceptional people have a drive to be better than their competitors, but willpower alone is not enough. It is the discipline of practising constantly to reach higher standards that makes the real difference.

People who attend our training courses are often fearful of the dreaded “R” word when they first arrive. Role-play, however, is an essential element on the journey to higher standards. It allows the trying out of new techniques in a no-risk environment.

We ran a session a few months ago on closing and handling objections which contained a huge chunk of time on practising how to overcome resistance from vendors. I had an email later that afternoon from a valuer who had used two techniques he had had a chance to trial and hone during the session which won him an instruction within hours of the course.

Without the training and practice, he would not have been aware of the techniques nor would he have had the confidence to apply them in the right way in the right circumstances.

So, what of that DIY option I mentioned earlier?

Set some time aside regularly for the team to get together and practise their techniques, with input and feedback from you.

A 15-minute session at the end of a couple of morning meetings a week when the team are all together and fresh works well for some firms. An hour at the end of one particular weekday may suit you better. Whatever suits – the key is to make it a regular part of your culture.

What type of role-plays work best? The ones that are as realistic as possible.

For example, ask a member of your team at random why a local vendor or landlord should use your agency to sell or let their property rather than any other local agent. This will show you how competent they are at promoting your services, and in particular, how adept they are at selling your USPs.

Throw the classic line “Your fee is much higher than Bloggs and Co” and see how your negotiator fields it.

Apply a role-play scenario to a real life problem. How about the vendor who has been on for nine months and won’t reduce their price?

Why not play out that call with you as the vendor and let the negotiator try out a few angles to persuade you to reduce the price. This will give them much more confidence to use those techniques with the real client.

After each role-play, invite feedback from the person who had a go, but also from their colleagues present, so it becomes a real team event.

They (and even you) may feel self-conscious in the early stages of this new “role-play regime”, but stick with it – the improved skills of your team will be well worth the effort.

As the old saying goes: “The more you sweat in practice, the less you bleed in battle.”

Julian O’Dell

TM training & development

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3 Comments

  1. Mark Scobey

    Great article Julian and for me highlights the importance of both formal and informal training and that training isn’t just for a classroom environment.

    The thing I really like about the Beckham story, is that it highlights for the importance of focusing on the fundamentals.  I coach a team of six to ten years (or herd cats!) and there is always a keenness to learn something ‘cool’ (how to do a windmill kick is a common one) where as understanding the simple stuff and getting that absolutely nailed will serve them better in the heat of the match.

    I’ve been lucky enough to spend a lot of time with top performing sales teams and a great way to improve the overall performance, is to understand the habits, traits and attitudes of the top performers.

    When I look at any team performing the same or similar roles, there will a pretty standard distribution curve with the top performers on the right, those on performance improvement plans or new starters on the left and the majority somewhere in the middle.  The trick is to skew the performance curve to the right.

    With a clear, documented understanding of the top performers, a ‘playbook’ for sales excellence can be created and shared.  I have found this particularly useful is reducing new hire ramp-up times and getting people delivering quicker.

    Lastly, I found running these best practices along side any software or technology being used to support the roles will further boost sales performance.  It makes sense to map performance traits to the systems that underpin the business.

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  2. julianodell

    Cheers Mark. Appreciate the feedback! Regards, Julian

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  3. PeeBee

     

    Beckham was and is a master of the art of the dead-ball.  But he was able to master that art because there were a number of fixed parameters he had to work within.  Once placed on the spot, the ball was a sitting target.  The goalpost was the fixed target it needed to get to.  The ball was, by comparison to the goal, minute – therefore the margin of error was vast even if aiming for one particular spot.

    If only there were fixed parameters in our ‘art’.  Instead, the rules are there are no rules – and the goalposts are moved the second you kick the already moving ball.

    Yet – we still score – most of the time, at least.

    Betcha Beckham couldn’t – given the same parameters… ;o)

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