They were mature women, both well-groomed and articulate, elegant even. By contrast I was fresh-faced, full of dreams and brimming with youthful enthusiasm. Already I was well out of my comfort zone having moved from Kalgoorlie to the hustle and bustle of the big smoke.
And I was about to enter the cauldron of my first sales meeting as a principal. It was a moment I’ll never forget.
Within moments the prima donnas were at it, firing salvo after salvo of insults and allegations. There was hardly a moment to draw breath.
They were arguing over who “owned” a prospective seller. “They’re in MY farming area”, claimed one. “But they came through MY home open”, retorted the other. Back and forth they went, voices getting louder, veins on necks and temples set to burst. Soon they were standing, shouting at one another across the board room table. One shook her fist, lips quivering in anger.
It was sad to see.
What was especially sad was they were arguing over the wrong question: Whose client is this anyway? It’s a question that’s always drawn false battle lines and been resolved using equally false justifications.
The real question is: Who does this client want to do business with? That question recognises that no-one owns a prospect. No-one owns a client. No-one owns a farming area.
For as long as I can remember business owners lay claim to the client based on how much they spend on training, advertising and wages. As Ray Perkins, principal of RealSell in Wanneroo, observes there are a lot of costs that go into training an developing new sales reps that need to be recouped. “This is where an office can feel that work carried out by the rep over this period of time in creating a database of clients belongs to the office”.
But, according to Bunbury RE/MAX agent David Willis, it’s outdated thinking.
back in the dark ages, we relied on the company for leads in a way that doesn’t happen anymore. The argument was that the company paid for the phone to ring, therefore, they own the database that comes from it, and it was a good argument at the time. Most agents are now seen as semi independent, paying for and bringing in business via their own methods rather than waiting to be spoon fed.
And, for many agents, Willis is on the money. Times have changed, they believe, and it’s now a simple, incontestable fact: the sales representative owns the client. It’s a view held by Geoff Baldwin, Regional Owner and outspoken Managing Director of RE/MAX Western Australia. Baldwin asserts that “the relationships belong to the Sales Associate. Any Agent who thinks they can change that is kidding him/herself.”
Others see more nuance in the debate. According to Kylie Atkinson, a Perth based real estate technology trainer, it’s “a very grey area which can be viewed from both sides of the fence.”
But just how do agents separate the black and white from the many shades of grey? For Atkinson and others it’s all about rewarding effort.
She believes that one of the biggest mistakes an agency will ever make is not staying in touch with their database. In her view no-one can lay claim to ownership of a database that’s not being actively worked.
Based on years of industry knowledge she’s developed a solution to reduce friction about database ownership. “Databasing is all about ‘maintaining the contact'”, she says. “No less than 4 communications (verbal/face-to-face) per year and a variety of ‘relevant’ paper/email communication” is the minimum.
By her own admission, though, the reward for effort approach has it’s limitations. “You cant own a person full stop”, she says. It’s an observation shared by veteran Victoria Park agent, Jay Wood. He believes that claims of ownership over clients will always be moot because “the customer will shop where they like”.
It’s a pragmatic point of view, one that’s based on an understanding that no matter what agents say it’s the customer who decides. And with Facebook and Twitter making relationships between agents and their clients more transparent than ever it’s time to throw the idea of ownership out the door completely.
In reality clients would be right to laugh at the absurdity and hubris of agents attempting to claim ownership of their relationship. Regardless of the effort made by the agency or the sales rep no-one owns a client. All agents can ever own is their own actions. And if those actions are sufficiently focussed on building, thickening, extending and improving relationships then the result will be more business.
Image credit: Francis Carnaúba on Flickr