There are some very big earners in our industry, sales people being paid very large commission cheques at the end of each quarter.

It might or may not shock you to know that there are local sales people being paid in excess of a $1,000,000 per year. In other industries, top sales people are referred to as ‘rain makers’, sales people who are able to find markets and do deals that no one else can. Universities and private research organisations spend massive amounts of money and time studying what these great sales people do, so they can sell that knowledge back to businesses desperate to improve their bottom line.

When I undertook my Marketing Degree, I remember the senior lecturer telling us the only consistent traits he had seen across all of the research he had been party to, was that strong sales people had two key characteristics. They are empathetic so they know what their prospect was feeling and wanting. And that they had a strong ego drive. Harvard Business Review described ego drive in sales people as a drive to make sales not so much for the financial reward but for the emotional hit. For them, every sale is a conquest that improves their own perception of themselves. I remember thinking at the time, as he described people and situations he had witnessed, that you wouldn’t have to strengthen those traits very much to instead be describing a psychopath rather than a sales person.

Is making the sale all that is important? Would you feel safer employing someone to sell your home who sees the result in terms of only a financial payday or a personal conquest? It’s a hard call for many. I remember one potential client telling us that he was going with another agent. When he said who the agent was to my wife, she was quite taken aback because he had said to her previously that he didn’t trust this particular person. When she reminded him of his concern, he said ‘I still don’t trust him, but I think I can handle him and I need a shark to get the money I want’. I could use so many metaphors here but I won’t.
Instead, I keep coming back to the idea that being great at selling surely doesn’t demand someone of questionable self-interest.

Instead, I keep coming back to the idea that being great at selling surely doesn’t demand someone of questionable self-interest.


If you turn to our back page of this booklet and look at our team, you’ll notice that apart from me, my team are all ladies. I get asked ‘why no men’, a lot. Truth is I have had a lot of male sales people and it’s not always gone well. We are a team-based agency, all of us working on a sale rather than one person working on his listing and his buyer and another on her listing and her buyer. We moved that way a long time ago because we found having multiple people involved increased objectivity and improved decision making. So why no males? Well the ones I had were a bit too, ‘the commission is mine’ and some were a little too inclined to blame.

I’m not just talking about blaming others for their failures. Actually the really good ones tend not to. What I’m referring to is the way they are happy to blame themselves for their success. “This sale only came together because I did xyz!” . That may be true but a sale is a chain of events not a single key moment. There may be a crucial make or break moment but there is also a heck of a lot grunt work that needed to be done, on time and without fail and consistently or those make or break moments would not have occurred. When sales people work as individuals (male or female) aided by their own support staff, the focus usually moves to ‘look at me’. One researcher I met described many of the sales teams he had worked with as a team in name only. They were more like a swim team, on the same side but swimming for themselves and their own glory, quite independent of others. They don’t share, will only assist if there is no cost to themselves and are very selective in how they interpret events and their own behaviour.

Forgetting sales people, most of us are very comfortable taking responsibility for our own success. Paul Piff who is a Social Psychologist had people play the board game Monopoly however they changed the rules a little. To one player he gave twice as much starting money, gave them two dice and gave them a little Rolls Royce to move around as their board marker. The other player received half the money of the first, could throw only one die at a time so was a lot slower moving around the board and had to use a boot as their board marker. The decision as to which player was to get the privilege of the double resources was decided by a coin toss. As Paul says:

‘And as the game went on, one of the really interesting and dramatic patterns that we observed was that the rich players actually started to become ruder toward the other person — less and less sensitive to the plight of those poor, poor players, and more and more demonstrative of their material success, more likely to showcase how well they’re doing.’

The outcome of each game was invariably the same, the player with the advantage won. Again Paul says ‘And here’s what I think was really, really interesting: it’s that, at the end of the 15 minutes, we asked the players to talk about their experience during the game. And when the rich players talked about why they had inevitably won in this rigged game of Monopoly, they talked about what they’d done to buy those different properties and earn their success in the game. They became far less attuned to all those different features of the situation — including that flip of a coin — that had randomly placed them into that privileged position in the first place.

In real estate we love owning success. Owning the reasons for success rather than accepting that success was driven by multiple factors makes us feel safer. If
you can have good luck, you can have bad luck so we hold the fear at bay with thinking frames and sayings:

‘You make your own luck in this business.
– Everything is able to be controlled and attracted –
‘I work harder than most to achieve what I have achieved.’
– I’m entitled to success, the universe wants me to do well –
‘You have to have the talent, it can’t be taught’
– I’m different and others can’t do what I do, I’m gifted –

These statements are ones I hear regularly, spoken with a certainty that can’t be challenged. When things go wrong, the level of blame towards those around them hits peaks that few support staff will put up with. That’s why a lot of very success sales people go through an awful lot of personal assistants.
It’s not fair to say that all good sales people become destructive demigods. But it is fair to say that the system of individual rewards is more likely to distort perception and behaviour as the Monopoly experiment demonstrated.

The most common set up in agencies is Sales Business Units where strong sales people employ their own administrative support person and a buyer agent who
looks after the buyers. The agency pays the sales person and the sales person pays the support staff. The system doesn’t make a team, it creates a rock star
with his own adoring posse. The sales person is able to leverage their skill by doing the key functions of selling and delegating the rest but everything still swings off them.

Business grows, more money, more ego and a lot less control by the agency over the agent. The key sales person shares rewards between the individuals in the group but only as much as necessary to keep them employed and the system going. The support staff learn but eventually leave because that’s the only way they can grow. And when they do leave, its usually a pretty ugly break up.

There is a structure that is now starting to form in some agencies in which sales teams have people of equal standing but specialized skills. The
bonuses are a team bonuses so while some are rewarded more than others,  there is no competition between team members and less of a sense of superiority. If you ever get a chance to see an American TV series ‘The Pitch’, watch it. Each episode shows teams from different advertising  agencies pitching against each other to win the marketing accounts of various large businesses. In some of these teams, the creative person is the driver of the pitch, designing amazing mockups and directing the copy and tag lines. But it’s the teams that are composed of creatives and strategists that seem to be the strongest combination. Strategists know everything, the market, the buyer motives of the consumers, the competitive landscape and so on. They are anything but creative. They couldn’t make things look or sound right if their life depended on it but they know the target and the creatives are guided by them to fashion up a pitch that not only looks andsounds good but hits the mark.

That same university Marketing lecturer that told me all those years ago about  ego drive also told me another observation he had made. He said
good sales people will tell you about their biggest sales, great sales people talk about their hardest sales. The thing about sales is that for every moment of brilliance where high level skill comes to the fore and creates an amazing result, there are 100’s of moments that required constant chipping and chasing, following up and following through. Without all the detail work,  the chasing of every lead even though most are turn out to be dead ends, those great sales wouldn’t come together. Individualism is attractive to sales people and to the consumer. If you are going to sell your home, a superstar sales person is easier to spot, especially now with social media, and perhaps intuitively more natural to rely on.

But it’s the team that has at its heart a commitment to backing each other and doing the hard yards that will produce the best results in a tough market. 

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