Matthew Ferrara, Philosopher

Are You Merely Selling or Building Your Career?

Building a career in requires as much sowing as harvesting. Yet too many techniques focus only on finding the “ripe and ready” deals today, with little planning for the future. Do you want a quick deal, or do you want a career?

Why do most salespeople wash out of their industries so quickly? For example, about 60% of new real estate agents don’t make it past the year and a half mark; nearly 90% never make it past five years. Some people blame the commission-only structure of most sales positions, yet the top producers in any industry seem to make that structure work just fine. Others blame the low barrier to entry, attracting people with little or no background in being their own boss or running their own business – yet every office has a manager and every industry association offers a plethora of sales courses.

Yet the fact remains, most salespeople simply don’t last.

In our experience, the turn-over rate isn’t because they can’t find a sale to make this month. With the amount of leads that companies can generate today for their new salespeople, getting going shouldn’t really be a challenge. But the lead generation angle offers us a very good vantage point to see the problem of why so many salespeople don’t last: Our research shows that more than 88% of leads assigned to salespeople are simply abandoned after a few short days, at most a couple of weeks. Which gives us a very good idea as to how salespeople who get going still don’t last. 

They don’t sow the seeds of their future harvests.

Marketing won’t do this for them, either. Marketing generates awareness, but its call to action is immediate; unless a customer is in the active consideration or evaluation stage, marketing isn’t a long-term sowing strategy. What long term sales viability requires is prospecting. Long-term relationship building with prospective new clients; and long-term relationship maintenance with past clients. To sow your future sales, you must work the harvest in multiple stages: fertilizing, seeding, nurturing and cultivating your future bounty.

Plenty of traditional prospecting methods exist: Anything that creates a conversational moment works – from a telephone call to a lunch meeting to a social gathering. Even online social networking will do it, because it requires you to interact with people as people, as relationships, not an immediate “hey-you-wanna-buy-a-watch?” moments.

But in the market of the foreseeable future, creating a solid foundation for a sales career requires more diligent effort over a longer period of time. Decision making has slowed down significantly, as consumers continue to de-leverage and delay purchases big and small. So you’ll need to adopt new long-term strategies that will pay off during your career – if you have a long-term strategy. For example:

  • First time home buyers aren’t going to “bounce back” any time soon. The numbers just don’t add up. With interest rates locked at nearly-nothing for the next two years, their parents and grandparents won’t earn enough on their savings or fixed-income investments to offer downpayment cash as readily as they once did. And today’s twenty-somethings continue to graduate with record sums of credit card and college tuition debt. If you’re interested in first-time buyers for your future business, you’re might consider working with them far in advance – years in advance – of their potential purchase date. Offering advice on managing their credit, financial planning and savings during their late teens and early 20s might be the kind of prospecting required to prepare them to be your customer and break the stay-at-home-until-thirty Gen Y trend.
  • People going through a foreclosure today are solid opportunities for the future. Even if they cannot afford their home today, owners in foreclosure represent consumers who bought a home before and will probably wish to do so again someday. Reaching out to offer them some assistance – not necessarily listing their home or even helping them find an apartment – would make a huge impact on someone going through a tough time. Simple things like putting them in contact with good movers, offering a postal-mail changing service, or ideas on rehabilitating their credit for their eventual return to the housing market in a few years position you as the person who reached out during tough times, not just when you needed an immediate sale.
  • Mentoring other agents can be a powerful long-term prospecting tool. Even new agents can mentor other agents by motivating each other, creating momentum and sharing ideas on topics like technology that don’t require a long sales record. But why limit yourself just to agents in your office? Why not reach out to an agent in another company who has lost a listing or had a sale fall through, and take them to lunch? Provide them some encouragement and support – you don’t have to recruit them – keeping in mind they will be an important source of buyers for your future listings.

Of course, each of these examples focuses on people who are in some sort of troubled waters. Certainly, long-term prospecting doesn’t mean only finding distressed situations, but arguably such moments are opportunities when you can be of great value to people without much more than a handshake or a hug. Reposition these examples in your mind for good times, too: Congratulating a seller on moving into a new home (even if it wasn’t your listing or sale!) or mentoring agents whose careers are on an upward trend represent equally smart ways to build long-term relationships.

All that’s required is a small shift in focus away from simply making a sale with every activity, to building a career for the long term.


  • Johnchambers

    So what are you suggesting?  This is a great perspective and a thought provoking article.  But with so many options, how does a new agent or the manager that manages that agent, choose a track to run on for that agent thereby giving that agent a chance to beat the odds?

  • John:

    Good question, but I don’t see it as a matter of beating any odds. I see it as changing one’s focus, and contributing to one’s career in a way other than simply advertising and processing leads. Why not pick one of the ideas I suggested, or something similar, and put a few months of effort into it. From my experience, the payoffs will start to show quickly, and in more than just your sales numbers, in your career… Does that make sense?
    — Matthew

  • Johnchambers

    Matthew, thanks for the quick feedback.  Yes it does make sense.  As a manager for a Century 21 office here in Birmingham, Alabama, I am seeing an uptick in new recruits getting their licenses and joining the industry.  My challenge is to make sure that I have the skill to direct their path and make available to them every opportunity to succeed at least from a training standpoint.  I am with a national firm that has so much training available but I still struggle with if it is the Right program and not sure how I make that choice.  I am grateful for your help and direction Mathew and have been inpressed with the consistency and quality of your messages although I am a fairly new subscriber.

  • John:

    I know your brand very well – we used to teach Create21 for every new agent nationwide for over 2 years. There is a lot of good skill training and tools you can offer them. But you’re also asking the right question: How should you guide them on their path to success? Here’s a question you might want to ask them: Other than “earning a living” why did you choose to do real estate? When they discover this, and can articulate it, you will understand how to directly coach and mentor them towards their goals. A paycheck is not a goal; but it can be the evidence of people dedicated to achieving them.
    Find out why they chose to be a real estate professional, and then you can help them pick the best pathway towards their success.
    – Matthew

  • Johnchambers

    Thanks Matthew.  Good information and great question to ask them.  I look forward to working with your firm and appreciate your advice. 
    John Chambers 

  • Matthew,

    Timely and appropriate as ever.  We’ve been generating a quality lead a day (average) through our company website, and that combined with the abundance of leads disseminated through LeadRouter (which you helped develop), prompted me to design a “Lead Conversion System” which requires all eligible sales-people to bcc me with their correspondence over the subsequent 10 days.  Yes, I “borrowed and adapted” Ben Kinney’s plan.  It works!

    As for sowing the seeds of the future, your numbers told us “most sellers had been in their current home for 9 years”.  We’re “prospecting those “potential sellers” today!

    Thanks again,


  • Sounds like you’re really taking your leads management system very seriously! Excellent!
    – MF

  • Great post Matthew. The biggest challenge with most “lead generation” activities for sales associates is that there is no “silver bullet” to immediate results. So many leads go unfulfilled because agents expect the consumer to buy today or they use the ratioinale that “they must not be serious” and I don’t want to waste my time.

    Other than possibly lucking into a FSBO or Expired who was just waiting for the “White Knight” agent to show up on their door, most successful lead generating strategies involves multiple conversations, follow ups and visits. It’s the agent who has the systems in place and the dedication to trying more than once that will prove to be “in the right place at the right time” when the client is ready.

    I have found that having a balanced mix of patience and luck with a dash of confidence and a pinch of market knowledge will lead to success all the time.

  • Thanks, Sean!

    You make some great points. I’m still astonished, after so much attention has been paid to leads management issues and prospecting training that agents have such short term horizons and give up so easily… Or just go cherry picking. Success starts by treating your efforts with long term respect, not stabbing everywhere in the hopes of an easy fish!