March 28, 2015

Weekly Book Scan

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Updated: 1 hour 27 min ago

Book Clubs for the Obsessive-Compulsive Learner

Mon, 03/23/2015 - 09:06

There are so many books out there. In fact, there are so many titles to choose from that it’s becoming a problem for busy readers out there. Anyone can self-publish an e-book on Amazon or CreateSpace that claims to have a solution to your business problem, without having any experience in actually solving such issues.

Viktor Hanacek, picjumbo

So where do you go for ideas on the next book you should buy (other than this column, of course)? Do you post a blurb out on social media asking for the best title? Or do you join a book club in order to consistently hold yourself accountable for staying up the latest trends?

In this post, I wanted to share a few different book clubs that have not only vetted the work of the author, but also offer a community of like-minded learners who take their professional development seriously.

C-Suite Book Club: Senior executives determined to find the latest trends that are impacting business today find their home at the C-Suite Book Club. Many of the authors featured have written New York Times Bestsellers, including Gary Vee, Shep Hyken, Scott McKain, and Jay Baer. In addition to the public book club, the C-Suite Collective offers a private community for VPs at companies averaging more than $10 million in revenue, as well as TV and radio networks to reinforce the dialogue. Sales supervisors, team leaders, and community managers can expect to see results from the books they recommend to their associates when they join the Better Book Club. This site allows the subscriber to select books from 400 titles for their employees to read. Each time an employee reads a book from the list, they share the lessons they learned with one another and explain how it impacts their everyday challenges. In return for contributing, they get a dollar. This way, team members read what they want, when they want, and are compensated for helping to create a culture of learning.

Blinkist: This app provides a sort of CliffsNotes version of approved titles that is more comprehensive than the marketing descriptions, but requires less of a commitment than buying the entire book. This helps you narrow down your list to the books that you’ll find most interesting before you make your purchase. Key insights are shared as bullet points and act as menus for more thorough explanations. You can access one book a day for free, or pay a nominal subscription fee to get access to unlimited reading.

Goodreads: Goodreads is like Facebook for avid readers. This online community and app allows you to synchronize all of your past books bought from Amazon, add them to your own profile, and review them so your friends can benefit from your experience. There are hundreds of groups you can join, and you can use the site’s widget to display books you’ve read and reviewed on your blog, if you like.

Most people who buy books don’t get past the first chapter, but readers like you and me are different. Dedicated learners not only devour books, but they also share how reading impacts their business or life through their own community. Take the time to write reviews on the books that you read on either the title’s book review section or your own profile. Share your best takeaways, what you like about it, and what could have been better. This reinforces to the author what worked and how they can improve the next version for your benefit.

The Evolution of Attention

Mon, 03/16/2015 - 10:06

As soon as I started tracking analytics, I found myself watching the way that I browse websites and read marketing e-mails. I couldn’t help it! I began taking mental note of practices that made me want to click away from a page, or subject lines that made me more apt to open correspondence.

While it can make for an interesting method of self-analysis, this is a very unscientific and biased way of measuring what captures attention. And that’s precisely why I was so taken with Ben Parr’s new book, Captivology: The Science of Capturing People’s Attention (March 2013, Harper One).

Ryan McGuire/Bells Design

In it, the venture capitalist and former Mashable editor provides scientific reasons for the kinds of attention-grabbing phenomena we see all the time. One of my favorites is an explanation of why so many of the “Buy Now” or “Contact Me” buttons we see on websites are red. Parr explains the fascinating evolutionary reason behind why you should consider choosing red, orange, or yellow for the call-to-action button on your website. The theory behind it is that when humans were trying to survive during prehistoric times in the jungle, we were drawn to notice these colors as standing out against the green background of our daily life: “In the wild, life-giving red berries stand out against the green of grasses and forests. If leaves were naturally purple, red would be a terrible color for capturing attention. This also explains why red, yellow, and orange website buttons stand out—they contrast better against the white and gray backgrounds.”

There are tons of examples like this one. Parr explains why people can’t resist cliffhangers (and how to craft one that won’t backfire) and how mentioning well-respected people who work with you can boost your reputation (and how to do it without sounding like a name-dropper). But the part that I thought would be most useful to those in the real estate industry comes in the last few chapters. Parr explains a sure-fire way to engender trust in people who don’t know you yet. In the beginning of the book, he cites studies that show people are more likely to pay attention to someone they trust, and at the end of the book, he explains the type of behavior we as human being require from the people we trust.

Parr splits these expectations into three needs: one for recognition, one for empathy, and one for validation. His definitions of these needs are key to evaluating your relationships with clients and prospects. Ask yourself these three questions to see how well you are connecting with clients:

  • Acknowledge: What do I do to demonstrate my recognition of others? How much time and energy do I devote to remembering names and key aspects of other people’s existence?
  • Validate: Do I take the time to find out what’s special or different about the people I meet? How do I recognize what is important about them as human beings?
  • Empathize: How do I show that I care? Do I really understand what matters most to each person I encounter?

What really got me about this last section is that, while this is a book about capturing the attentions of others, Parr rightfully emphasizes the fact that you can’t get other people’s attention unless you’re giving it out yourself.

For anyone the least bit interested in learning more about how and why people pay attention, though, I recommend reading the whole book. It’s packed with the science behind how our brains work, and there are more moments of fascination than I have time to share in a short blog post. After all, I wouldn’t want to wear out your attention span.

Bring Them in With Style

Wed, 03/04/2015 - 12:46

In our upcoming March/April issue, we have a feature about a consumer panel we brought in to give feedback on real estate professionals’ bios. One of the biggest complaints? Sloppy grammar and spelling mistakes.

Credit: DMedina 2014, Morguefile

As a writer, I don’t need much convincing as to the power of the written word. Real estate professionals, on the other hand, are a different matter. They are trained to respond to e-mails at lightning speed, not necessarily reading over what they’ve written before hitting the “send” button. They’re encouraged to quickly get the word out about their business through blogs posts and Facebook updates, giving them little time to deploy spell check.

But what about the business proposition of good writing? We’ve often made the argument that accurate, concise, intelligible communication is valued by your clients and colleagues alike, and I think the piece in the March/April issue will really drive this point home from the consumer perspective. However, I read something this week that summed it up so well, I had to share it with readers here. I recently picked up Steven Pinker’s The Sense of Style: A Thinking Person’s Guide to Writing in the 21st Century (which I find to be excellent so far), and I couldn’t help but sharing his encouragement in the prologue, which seems almost to be written for the rushing real estate pro described above:

…Style earns trust. If readers can see that a writer cares about the consistency and accuracy of her prose, they will be reassured that the writer cares about those virtues in conduct they cannot see as easily. Here is how one technology executive explains why he rejects job applications filled with errors of grammar and punctuation: “If it takes someone more than 20 years to notice how to properly use it’s, then that’s not a learning curve I’m comfortable with.”

So stay tuned for our next issue (hitting mailboxes around the third week of March) to see how consumers define a successfully written bio in real estate. But in the meantime, know that I’m one of those silly writer-types who is going to be much more likely to work with someone who can string a sentence together!

4 Ways to Rise Above the Noise & Generate Leads Online

Thu, 02/19/2015 - 15:25

Are you drowning in the endless supply of data? Chances are your customers and clients are too. Search engines are quick-loading when it comes to giving advice. And too often, that advice is automated, over-opinionated, and misinformed. The buzz of social media is quietly fading and the scream for demonstrating value is taking on new forms of creativity that promote the customer’s best interest, not just sell a solution.

Credit: Ryan McGuire, Gratisography.

So how do you lend a helping hand without coming across as a salesperson who is just looking for a commission check? In his new book, YouTility for Real Estate: Why Smart Real Estate Professionals are Helping not Selling (Portfolio | Penguin in November, 2014), Jay Baer really lives up to his subtitle. This shortened version of his New York Times best-selling book YouTility provides practical case studies on how real estate agents are succeeding with this approach.

Here are four elements of Baer’s new book that you can implement in your marketing right away.

“Friend of Mine” Awareness

The best source of business is via trusted referrals and past clients. The way to achieve this in a social media world is by getting personal. An agent who shares an undifferentiated, company-centric messages will find their marketing goes unseen, unshared, and un-referred. The more targeted the message and the more value it offers to a specific customer type, the more likely people are to share the message with others because they can easily see how everyone can benefit.

Self-Serve Information

Customers are starving for the right answers, not just any answers. If you can post authoritative, easy-to-understand solutions to potential clients’ online queries, you’re building trust before you ever meet them. And sometimes a helpful tip will require the customer to contact you to get more specific details. Baer calls these information-packed nuggets “knowledge snacks.” If you don’t feed your customers, they might go searching for another meal elsewhere.

Real-Time Relevancy

Even more rare than accurate information is an accurate understanding of what the data represents. Outdated statistics, legal information, and accounting principles that don’t automatically update can easily mislead a customer. In order to combat this problem in a constantly changing world, you need to make yourself available. Increase your accessibility by opening up your communications on several mobile-friendly channels. Then, when a customer has questions you can quickly respond to their answers according to their preferred method of communication.

Radical Transparency

Have you ever publicly given a potential customer a good reason not to hire you? What might seem to be a self-destructive maneuver is actually a brilliant tactic in disguise. A post or video that outlines the type of real estate professional you aren’t can be a real differentiator in your marketing. One of my favorite examples of this comes from the BREL Team in Toronto. They say customers who “just want someone to tell you what you want to hear” or who are “looking for a discount agent” should seek services elsewhere. This tactic works to both introduce your style to unknown prospects and to help you find clients who are looking for the specific types of service you provide.

Hiring to Amaze

Fri, 02/13/2015 - 16:40

This week, NAR Vice President of Business-to-Business Communications Stacey Moncrieff and I toured the headquarters of Quicken Loans in downtown Detroit and sat down to speak with a few key players there about the mortgage market, commercial design, and urban renewal, among many other topics. You’ve probably heard about how Quicken Loans Founder and Chair Dan Gilbert is looking to revitalize the city via his sizable business investments there, and that’s something we hope to dig into further at REALTOR® Mag. But here at the Book Scan, I wanted to share some reading material that you wouldn’t necessarily assume to be the most engaging: the Quicken Loans employee manual.

An art installation in the company’s offices in the Compuware Building in downtown Detroit. The Isms book cites the mid-century innovations of local soda favorite Faygo as inspiration in their “We’ll Figure It Out” chapter.

OK, so it’s more than a manual, really. Quicken Loans sent us home with copies of Isms in Action: Faygo Edition 2014, which is a 140-page book produced by the company that outlines the values and expectations throughout the many sister companies under the Quicken Loans family. The mini-chapters cover everything from customer service expectations (“every client, every time, no exceptions, no excuses”) to their openness to innovation (“yes before no”). It’s colorful and fun, filled with real-life e-mails, pictures, and stories that illustrate the isms in action. But the best part was being able to see and hear firsthand how these isms affect life for the leadership, employees, and clients of Quicken Loans.

Jay Farner, Quicken Loans president and CMO, explained that the isms help communication and decision-making flow more naturally between leadership and employees. He said that the isms had been in development for a long time, with Gilbert talking about them and sharing stories informally for years before the idea came to make a book out of it.

“Dan said, ‘We’ve got to package this in a way that’s digestible for our team members if we’re really going to get people to understand them,” Farner recalled. He added that having the isms also helped the company avoid some of the common problems that plague companies that grow rapidly. “If you’re growing and there’s still only three or four people who can make a decision, you’re going to become pretty bureaucratic pretty quickly. And so the mission has been to make sure everyone understands our culture so they’ll be able to make decisions about what we should do when any situation arises.”

Derek Latka, vice president of business development for Quicken Loans, started at the company two years ago. He vividly remembers the impact that the isms discussion had on him as a new member of the team. He said that he was used to the idea of having a mission statement foisted upon him when starting a new job, and explained how his experience at Quicken Loans was different.

“Usually, you get a little manual and they review it with you and you put it in a drawer and you never see it again. Here, we live and breathe that every single day. Those isms, those core philosophies that we hold are quoted daily,” Latka said. “It’s constantly at the forefront of every decision we make and I believe it’s that culture that makes us different. I truly do. It’s a great place to be.”

The isms also help the company manage Quicken Loan’s reputation in the outside world. Eric King, VP of REALTOR® relations, explained how having a stable vision of customer service achieves that goal.

“We all live by that same drive and desire to take care of the client,” King said. “When you take care of that buyer or when you take care of that person refinancing, or the listing agent, or buyer’s agent, we want them to stand up at their next sales meeting and say, ‘I had a deal with Quicken Loans, and I’ve got to tell you, they honored everything they said they would, they stood up, and I’m a fan.’”

Of course, we all want raving fans, whether they’re employees, higher-ups, or clients. And we all have our own isms that we live and work by. Maybe it’s time to write them down?

3 Solid Ways to Rock the Cold Call

Wed, 02/04/2015 - 12:39

If you are just starting out in real estate, transitioning into a higher median sales price point, or recruiting new talent to grow your team, what do you think is the best tactic in order to grow your business?

Well, let me first tell you what it’s not. It isn’t creating a website. It isn’t drafting the perfect LinkedIn or Pinterest profile. And it isn’t how many e-mails you can send out to your list.

In my opinion, the No. 1 way to grow your business is to pick up the telephone and call potential prospects.

Photo: stockarch, 2009, Morguefile

There is a difference between marketing and sales. Sales is the act of converting opportunities into closed transactions. Marketing is the act of attracting new opportunities in order for the salesperson to close. Marketing costs money and time in acquiring qualified leads, whereas in sales the only cost is your time.

The No. 1 mental roadblock that prevents each one of us from picking up the phone and making calls is the fear of rejection. But what if for every attempted call, you never experienced rejection?  What if you were able to create meaningful conversations with every person you came in contact with every day, and if each of those conversations led to another opportunity?

In Smart Calling: Eliminate the Fear, Failure, and Rejection from Cold Calling, author Art Sobczak helps sales professionals reverse the paradigm of the dreaded cold call, changing it into a positive experience where callers can connect with prospects in a helpful way. Here are some of my takeaways after reading his book.

  • Create your potential value propositions. Think of how much money you save a seller from their initial purchase, when you help them get full market value upon sale. Think of how much time and how many mistakes you can save a homeowner with the services you provide.  When you can quantify this compared to the market average with empirical evidence based on past success, you will be leaps ahead in a competitive situation. For example, clients who work with me have saved on average of 10 percent off the list price in negotiations, see five fewer homes thanks to my property qualifying process, and have a 100 percent on-time closing rate once the contract is in escrow. That’s what I need to communicate to make the conversation more helpful.
  • Practice social engineering. There is a large and ever-increasing supply of data available that might tip off a listing agent about a homeowner who is ready to sell. This data can be found online, inside social media conversations, or via a predictive analytics tool.  Rather than dialing for dollars with a cold list, warm it up by doing some research ahead of time to have a better-prepared conversation that can set you apart from the competition.
  • Use a script. Professional actors aren’t winging it when the camera starts rolling, and neither should you. The reason why most salespeople object to using scripts is because they don’t want to seem robotic or canned.  But the problem isn’t the script itself. It is the delivery of the script where salespeople goof up.  Once you create your script, you need to practice it over and over again using a friendly conversational approach and you will have more success than those who fly by the seat of their pants.