Matthew Ferrara, Philosopher
 

Recruiting and Retention: The Right Stuff

When an industry suffers from a problem for decades and still hasn’t figured it out, it’s likely focusing on the wrong issue.  ’s “ and ” problem has consumed millions, perhaps billions of dollars in wasted time, energy and effort. It’s apparent that all of the “symptom” solutions and snake oil in the universe won’t solve it. So let’s try something else: Challenge the premise.

What if there wasn’t a recruiting or retention problem in the future?

By now, you probably have guessed that our contrarian logic is back in action. Our starting point is the exact opposite of today’s industry standard. Recruiting isn’t something to be desired: it’s an indicator of systemic problems. Most likely poor performance within the existing force.

So too much recruiting, for real estate , is an indicator of a performance problem.

Retention is mostly a false concept – a problem that rarely exists. Does losing an agent matter? Only if they are a very top producer on a very equitable commission split. Therefore, the problem of retention doesn’t exist, because most aren’t top producers and most top producers have absurdly inequitable commission splits. The attempt to “retain” most top agents represents a bad business decision. Check your own P&Ls for proof.

Still, recruiting and retention remain  perennial problems, most because the activities to attract and keep agents focus on the wrong things.

Actually, the wrong “stuff.”

Most companies today compete for agents by offering an endless array of “stuff.” By now, we should realize that competing for agents on “stuff” is a no win game. You can’t buy enough chathkes to satisfy non-performing agents. Even when you invent new stuff all the time, most agents hardly use the stuff you already give them. They just complain that “someone else at another company” has better stuff.

The solution? Do the opposite: Stop the competition of stuff.

Brokers aren’t supposed to be giving agents any stuff in the first place, right? Aren’t these the same agents who refuse to do what you tell them because they are independent contractors? Then let them bring their own stuff with them! Brokers provide them the legal and market opportunity to ply their trade, upon their customers, since most agents service the customers generated by the broker’s dollar.

The first thing brokerages need to understand is that recruiting agents based upon the “give me more stuff or I won’t join/stay with your company” creates an unbalanced, no win relationship from day one. It’s bad strategy. The “we have most stuff than the other guy” strategy is a fantastically self-defeating business strategy. It can only lead to destructive, misplaced uses of funds, energy and brainpower. It’s a formula that tells your marketing, technology and training departments to develop tools focused on the wrong person: the agent, rather than exclusively on the consumer. Significant money and effort is siphoned into creating websites to assuage agent egos. Most of which remain incomplete – unless, of course, the company also provides a secretary to do it for the agents. More stuff.

There will be no satiating the beast. Each recruit will demand more stuff; every potentially-leaving agent ups the ante. Any hint of new “stuff” from a competitor increases the stakes. This week you have “more” tools; next week they have “more” training. Never ending expenses. And all focused internally, rather than on the consumer. Remember, the entire industry thinks it’s “all about the agent” – which is why the most prominent thing on an agent’s website is – the agent.

Never will there be enough money left over to focus on real performance. Why offer training – to use existing tools – when the focus will be on something new soon?

Of course there is a solution. It’s the exact reverse of today’s approach. In Real Estate, the , it’s not about the stuff the broker provides to the agent, it’s about the stuff – the right stuff – the agent brings to the broker’s table.

To get “hired” as a subcontractor – a vendor partner who will be presented opportunities to earn income servicing the broker’s customers – the agent of the future will be expected to come prepared. He will already have completed certifications in critical sales skills like marketing, pricing, negotiation and customer relationship management.

Do we mean agents should compete for slots at a brokerage? Yes we do. Do we mean brokers should make agents compete – based upon skills and experience – to get the opportunity to earn the work? Yes we do. Do we think agents should bring their own laptop, digital camera, MLS account and Blackberry with them before being allowed into the office? Yes we do.

Do we think any of this will really happen in today’s brokerages? No, we don’t.

Consider an analogous industry: Home Builders use subcontractors, just like brokers use agents. Does the home builder give the electrician tools when he hires him to wire the house? Does he provide the plumber with a wrench? Does he train the electrician before letting him work on the house, or does he expect the vendor to come pre-certified and equipped to do the work?

What we’re describing can’t possibly happen in today’s brokerages, who are still begging inexperienced people to join and experienced people to stay. Who throw money – and stuff – at both, at extreme expense and with ultimate futility – creating more problems than they solve. On the day when agents apply for their jobs – like the real world – is the day the recruiting and retention problem ends. Or at least changes, to the normal patterns of people coming prepared to interview for the job they are applying for.

In the next generation of real estate. You know: The one in which the broker finally makes a profit?

In the meantime – and because this blog is getting too long – what can today’s broker’s do while drowning in the competition of “stuff against stuff”? Change the rules. Stop competing on commodities. Compete on something that can’t easily be overcome by a competitor.

Management.

Modern business runs on brainpower. Most stuff like marketing, technology, even marketing dollar, is cheap to come by. Only management knowledge and skills make people better performers. That represents a unique competitive advantage that can’t be easily duplicated by competitors. Management coaching, oversight, training and accountability make performance happen. Top agents do this for themselves, so managers must do this for the rest of the agents. Not stuff. Only applied management makes companies competitive, productive.

And that’s the only value to sales people: Will your management team make them more productive than the other company’s team?

Compete on your people – your managers – for now. It’s a step in the right direction – out of the endless war of stuff, and toward a vision of your company where eventually, you’ll subcontract to vendors who show up with the right stuff (their stuff) in the first place.

  • Ninah Hunter

    Matthew, I totally agree with you that we broker/owner/managers need to provide value beyond “stuff” but I also agree that it is not yet a value proposition that most agents/broker associates will appreciate and feel they need to compete for. The real estate industry will be much improved and the consumer much better served once that happens. I’m trying.

  • Ninah Hunter

    Matthew, I totally agree with you that we broker/owner/managers need to provide value beyond “stuff” but I also agree that it is not yet a value proposition that most agents/broker associates will appreciate and feel they need to compete for. The real estate industry will be much improved and the consumer much better served once that happens. I’m trying.

  • Matthew Ferrara

    Ninah:
    Here’s the answer to your riddle: Don’t pay ANY attention to how the other brokers are recruiting. It’s irrelevant – and you shouldn’t design your strategy “to compete” against a broken strategy. Focus on your strategy – a consumer oriented, broker-centric, standard-based approach. Recruits will find you; you won’t have to find them. There’s plenty of evidence that the good agents are getting tired of being surrounded by the “wrong stuff” filling their offices as well.

    Interesting………

  • Matthew Ferrara

    Ninah:
    Here’s the answer to your riddle: Don’t pay ANY attention to how the other brokers are recruiting. It’s irrelevant – and you shouldn’t design your strategy “to compete” against a broken strategy. Focus on your strategy – a consumer oriented, broker-centric, standard-based approach. Recruits will find you; you won’t have to find them. There’s plenty of evidence that the good agents are getting tired of being surrounded by the “wrong stuff” filling their offices as well.

    Interesting………

  • Matthew,

    I could not agree more with your article on recruiting and retention. Recently I had my first qtr reviews with agents in my office. Answers to the following questions can open the eyes of any manager.Try so of the following questions: what do you have planned for the rest of the day, what did you do last week, what do you have planned for the rest of the week, how many houses are you going to show tomorrow, when is your next listing appointment, when was your last listing appointment? We did not talk about “stuff” but we did talk about the lack of their “stuff”. Julie

  • Matthew,

    I could not agree more with your article on recruiting and retention. Recently I had my first qtr reviews with agents in my office. Answers to the following questions can open the eyes of any manager.Try so of the following questions: what do you have planned for the rest of the day, what did you do last week, what do you have planned for the rest of the week, how many houses are you going to show tomorrow, when is your next listing appointment, when was your last listing appointment? We did not talk about “stuff” but we did talk about the lack of their “stuff”. Julie

  • Don

    30 years, millions of dollars, uncountable hours, incalculable risk, for what? So that we can try to please every agent that comes down the pike. I realize now, and I hope its not to late, that it’s absurdity at it’s finest. You can’t do enough, give enough, care enough, or help enough. A total misconception is constantly perpetrated buy an entire industry. They do it that way, we are going to do it that way. Look out the cliff is but a few feet away.

    You response to Ninah is spot on. “Focus on your strategy – a consumer oriented, broker-centric, standard-based approach”. I’m In!

    I did’nt like what I saw in the mirror.

  • Don

    30 years, millions of dollars, uncountable hours, incalculable risk, for what? So that we can try to please every agent that comes down the pike. I realize now, and I hope its not to late, that it’s absurdity at it’s finest. You can’t do enough, give enough, care enough, or help enough. A total misconception is constantly perpetrated buy an entire industry. They do it that way, we are going to do it that way. Look out the cliff is but a few feet away.

    You response to Ninah is spot on. “Focus on your strategy – a consumer oriented, broker-centric, standard-based approach”. I’m In!

    I did’nt like what I saw in the mirror.

  • David Horowitz

    Matthew, the proof of your argument is that after pursuing the same wrong minded course for over fifty years our industry is still pursuing the same wrong minded course! If it worked why would brokers still be in the same position.

    In my work with brokers and office managers I will often have them sit knees to knees (please forgive me for saying the unspeakable) “Role Playing a manager and a potential recruit. The manager is to look directly at the candidate and say (as most managers do) “When you join my office I’ll help you get your career to the next level.” The candidate replies with “Great, how exactly and specifically will you do that?” The manager response is almost always, “Well we’ve got … STUFF.” The wide eyed candidate responds with, “Wow, I’ve spoken with …(a major competitor) and they have great stuff that seems the same as yours. What exactly are you going to do to help me serve my customers and then earn more money?” The manager response is almost always a “Deer in the head light look followed by stuttering, muttering, and B.S.”

    We’vew had this all wrong for many years and it doesn’t seem to be getting better. Just look at all the recruiters and recruiting courses. Who out there is teaching something different and who is willing to implement?

    Keep ranting and someone will listen. The mold changer will succeed and others will follow.

    Then they’ll look for the genius who started the “Thought Ball” rolling down the hill.

    David

  • David Horowitz

    Matthew, the proof of your argument is that after pursuing the same wrong minded course for over fifty years our industry is still pursuing the same wrong minded course! If it worked why would brokers still be in the same position.

    In my work with brokers and office managers I will often have them sit knees to knees (please forgive me for saying the unspeakable) “Role Playing a manager and a potential recruit. The manager is to look directly at the candidate and say (as most managers do) “When you join my office I’ll help you get your career to the next level.” The candidate replies with “Great, how exactly and specifically will you do that?” The manager response is almost always, “Well we’ve got … STUFF.” The wide eyed candidate responds with, “Wow, I’ve spoken with …(a major competitor) and they have great stuff that seems the same as yours. What exactly are you going to do to help me serve my customers and then earn more money?” The manager response is almost always a “Deer in the head light look followed by stuttering, muttering, and B.S.”

    We’vew had this all wrong for many years and it doesn’t seem to be getting better. Just look at all the recruiters and recruiting courses. Who out there is teaching something different and who is willing to implement?

    Keep ranting and someone will listen. The mold changer will succeed and others will follow.

    Then they’ll look for the genius who started the “Thought Ball” rolling down the hill.

    David

  • Matthew Ferrara

    David:
    Absolutely right on with your comments. I have always said that any industry that has such high turn-over, burn-out and need to constantly recruit is showing all of the signs of a fully DYSfunctional business model. Even using the term “manager” is stretching it in so many cases, since essentially they are recruiters, entertainers, babysitters and firemen. Rarely do they actually manage the process or the people; look at their inability to fire NON-producing people. As if asking someone who contributes nothing to the company’s success is “a challenge”?

    The good news is that some of our clients are showing signs of moving beyond this old model. And mostly, it’s because consumers are fed-up with it. Alas, I’m still saddened to see some companies still don’t get it: At NAR’s conference this year, all of the ads trying to attract agents were “it’s all about YOU!” themed; rather than it’s about joining a company, contributing to its success, satisfying customers – oh, and having the career that YOU have to contribute to. My favorite book in a while is: It’s called Work for a Reason by Larry Winget. It’s the ULTIMATE solution/attitude to this “always recruiting” poison that’s killing the industry.

  • Matthew Ferrara

    David:
    Absolutely right on with your comments. I have always said that any industry that has such high turn-over, burn-out and need to constantly recruit is showing all of the signs of a fully DYSfunctional business model. Even using the term “manager” is stretching it in so many cases, since essentially they are recruiters, entertainers, babysitters and firemen. Rarely do they actually manage the process or the people; look at their inability to fire NON-producing people. As if asking someone who contributes nothing to the company’s success is “a challenge”?

    The good news is that some of our clients are showing signs of moving beyond this old model. And mostly, it’s because consumers are fed-up with it. Alas, I’m still saddened to see some companies still don’t get it: At NAR’s conference this year, all of the ads trying to attract agents were “it’s all about YOU!” themed; rather than it’s about joining a company, contributing to its success, satisfying customers – oh, and having the career that YOU have to contribute to. My favorite book in a while is: It’s called Work for a Reason by Larry Winget. It’s the ULTIMATE solution/attitude to this “always recruiting” poison that’s killing the industry.