The Surprising Persistence of Old-School Multifamily Selling
by Donald Davidoff | January 30, 2020
A couple of months ago, I read a blog about multifamily sales. It caught my attention because the title referred to closing as "the bottom line." Those of you who read this blog frequently know that not only do we regularly write about how to improve sales performance, but we also do so from a contemporary point of view based on science and data behind successful sales/leasing.
Our views are influenced by the seminal research by Matthew Dixon and Brent Adamson in the Challenger Sale, as well as anthropological research on how prospects actually buy. The hook (in the blog) of closing as the bottom line struck me as being completely out of sync with this modern approach. It was reminiscent of the "always be closing" approach that influences many people's idea of sales. This approach - brilliantly satirized in Glengarry Glen Ross - has been clearly debunked by Dixon and Adamson as well as other authors (e.g. Daniel Pink) in favor of much more prospect-centered approaches.
You may be old school if....
Like slowing down to watch a car wreck, I found myself compelled to read on. And I wasn't disappointed. The model presented was based on four parts: greeting, qualifying, demonstration and close. While not inaccurate, this kind of model is based on what the salesperson wants, rather than how prospects make decisions. It treats prospects as "things to act upon" rather than as "people to help make a decision."
For example, the salesperson "qualifies" the prospect rather than "inquires" about their needs. They both lead to questions, but the former is all about how the salesperson judges the prospect's value while the latter is authentically prospect centered and more likely to drive a tone that creates a true connection.
The blog included a few old chestnuts from sales training programs of yesteryear:
- "If you don't lease, you don't last!" Technically true, but it centers the salesperson on their own selfish goals (the basic plotline in Glengarry Glen Ross) when the reality is that being more prospect-centered delivers more success! The more we make it about them, the more we get what we want.
- “Customers prefer to buy from people they like.” I understand why it's easy to believe this, but it gets to the heart of the Challenger Sale research. Only 7% of high-performing salespeople were "Relationship Builders" who focused on being likable. The largest cohort of high performers (37%) were "Challengers" who enjoyed discussing, debating and challenging prospects on what was most important to them. It sounds counter-intuitive until you realize that prospects prefer salespeople they TRUST to help them as opposed to salespeople they simply like. Gaining trust requires adding real value, not being likable. I've bought from many salespeople I didn't particularly like, but I trusted they were giving me good advice.
- "Always be closing." This old saw really needs a decent burial. Prospects don't want to be closed, and they sense when a salesperson is "always closing." The research today supports Daniel Pink's "Always be helping" as a better alternative.
- “Develop the ‘Yes’ habit.” Another remnant of the past, we advocate more of a "go for the no." That doesn't mean that we want people to not lease. It means that we should be upfront and honest about the key things that separate those prospects for which our homes are a great fit and those who are not. The sooner we know someone won't buy, the sooner we save time we can dedicate to helping prospects who will.
Some common ground
All of that said, the article was not without its good points - here are some points with which I found myself in agreement:
- “The goal of most phone conversations should be to get the prospect to visit, while the goal of in-person visits is to secure the lease.” We agree that the goals are typically different. For example, agents sometimes say too much on the phone, leaving less to talk about in person. We would sound a note of caution: this characterization of a "goal" risks focusing on the needs of salespeople rather than prospects. (Yes, it's a nit, but we are trying to overcome decades of bad sales models!)
- “The close is not an end but also the start of a new relationship.” We couldn't agree more. All the more reason to base the relationship on having helped the person rather than having "closed the prospect." Here, Dixon and Adamson's "teach, tailor, take control" is out-performs the hunter-like approach of "always be closing."
- “Closing is not simply providing a rental application, waiting for the prospect to say "yes," giving a business card with an invitation to call back or being overly cautious for fear of being pushy.” The first three should be self-evident and the last is a good example of the concept of "taking control." The key is to know when to be assertive to help the prospect make a decision without being aggressive.
- “Know when to shut up!” I particularly like this one as many salespeople introduce new objections by talking too much. If the prospect has decided, the best way to help them is to get all the paperwork (hopefully e-paperwork) done as efficiently as possible.
My point in writing this rebuttal is not to be overly critical of one blog but rather to encourage a deep discussion of the biases in much of the conventional wisdom taught by many sales consultants, coaches and trainers. We live in an age of data, and there is plenty of data about what really works and what doesn't. Do you have the courage and discipline to replace "conventional wisdom" with "known facts?" Improving your sales performance will depend on it!