A real estate team is only as good as its members, and brokers are constantly on the hunt for the best. The task of finding and recruiting those top agents can be a hit-and-miss process though, consuming time, energy and resources.
When I first sat down with AJ Plant, regional owner of Exit Realty Eastern Ontario, and Duncan MacDonald, a former Toronto Blue Jays scout hired to find franchise prospects and recruit agents for the region’s brokerages, I was eager to explore the connection between scouting for talent in the baseball world and seeking the best in the real estate industry.
Minutes into speaking with Duncan, his passion for discovering diamonds in the rough became clear. As he explained his process of seeking talent, his dynamic gestures and words made the room crackle with energy.
“The most exciting part,” he says, “was never knowing if I was assisting the next great.” He described with excitement how his role was essentially to be a treasure hunter, searching for the next champion whose raw talent he would help develop into professional-grade excellence.
Recognizing MacDonald’s unique talent and passion, Plant reached out, inviting MacDonald to train his eye for talent within the real estate industry instead. The two agree there are many similar characteristics found in top performers in both industries. Here they share five ways that brokers can focus their search for top talent for their own companies and identify good, coachable agents and make them great agents.
Plant says when scouting a salesperson who is already working in the industry, “we’re looking for certain characteristics.” In particular, “Work ethic, integrity and coachability” are the most important, he says.
1. Ask effective questions:
Much of what makes a person excel has less to do with financial resources, appearance or even their success in building up impressive sales statistics, and more to do with invisible qualities like integrity, empathy and their personal motivation for doing the work they do. A person’s potential is determined more by who they are than by what they do, and this is a key starting point for discovering excellent talent.
When asked how they discover these invisible aspects of a real estate agent, Plant says, “We ask effective questions.”
A critical element in sorting out what kind of person you’re dealing with is to explore their “why”. The most powerful “why,” he says, is rooted in a desire to help others. “That’s what we look for.”
Ask questions that get to the heart of the agent’s motivations, and then “you know if you have someone or you don’t.”
2. Evaluate statistics, yes, but more importantly, their context:
When wondering where to find top producers, many look to statistics. It’s a good place to start – the 20-80 per cent rule applies in both baseball and real estate to help identify top producers. Relying heavily on statistics, though, can be misleading as to true talent.
For example, if an agent claims to be a million-dollar producer, what does that mean? Do they mean they did $1 million worth of transactions in the last year, or that they made $1 million? And if it was $1 million worth of sales, was it from two $500,000 sales, or five $200,000 ones? And how does any of that compare with the region and economy in which they’re working?
Straight-up statistics don’t tell the whole story, regardless of their source, so it’s critical not only to look at the numbers, but to understand their context.
3. Look for these habits:
“Habits predict results,” says MacDonald. To find the best performers, or those who will likely become top performers, evaluate their habits. Are they developing their skills? Are they practicing the things they need to develop in order to be among the best?
In baseball, Duncan would look at whether or not a pitcher is doing things like honing his curveball, perfecting the spin, upping revolutions and spending hours each week developing his accuracy or strengthening his throwing arm. By that aspect alone, he says, “you can predict who will be in that line up.”
In real estate, the principle holds. If an agent is practicing – and what particular skill isn’t as important as that they are intentionally developing – you can predict the ones who will do well.
4. Look for leadership qualities:
The best agents to have on board contribute not just to the company’s bottom line, but also intentionally empower other agents in the firm who they see not as competition, but as their teammates. This is a leader, and a priceless asset to any company. “We believe leadership accelerates growth and enriches lives,” says Plant, “and who doesn’t want that?”
Everyone thinks they’re a leader, says MacDonald, “but they’re not.”
Often, when thinking of what makes a leader, we think of someone who excels, the best of the bunch. Both men would disagree, however.
“You don’t have to be the best player on the team to be the captain,” Plant says, speaking from experience as a baseball team captain. Sometimes it’s putting a smile on when you’re personally having a bad game and cheering others on so they can excel, he says.
Leadership is about having a mindset of a team goal, they agreed, and it’s one of the top qualities they seek in their agents.
5. Find people who smile in the face of failure:
“Successful hitters fail seven out of 10 times,” says MacDonald.
“That’s easy,” says Plant. “The failure rate (in real estate) is 10 times that.” He says it’s common to have to approach 49 different people to get one person who may buy or sell in the next 12 months. It takes someone able to handle rejection and failure to thrive in those conditions.
One of the ways Plant sets out to discover an agent’s fortitude in the face of failure is to take them door knocking. “If you get seven doors slammed in your face, one “maybe” and two requests to call back, you want the person who says, “Yay! We got a maybe!” The person who focuses on the seven hard no’s is the person who won’t likely do well.
Also, it’s a chance to evaluate the agent’s coachability. “If someone was grumpy at the door, I’ll say, ‘How did you feel about that?’ Then I’ll say, ‘You know what you did wrong that time? You didn’t smile!’ If they take that advice to heart and adapt their approach, he says, “I know they’re willing (to learn).”