Despite all of the technology at our disposal, cold-calling is still one of the most important activities any property broker can do. Oftentimes it’s the main avenue for new agents to find clients. Although there is obvious utility, cold-calling can be a soul-crushing task. It often takes hundreds of no’s in order to get one yes. But those yeses add up to a lucrative career in commercial real estate. I wanted to learn more about what it takes to be good at cold-calling so I talked to a few experts about the often vilified practice.
The primary goal of a cold call is to transition from an interruption to a scheduled encounter where you will have the prospect’s full attention. According to a webinar from Digsy, an online platform where commercial real estate professionals can list their properties and outsource services (and one of those services just so happens to be cold-calling), the likelihood of closing a deal jumps to 13.51 percent after simply meeting a client face-to-face.
Typically, real estate professionals can spend hours a day dialing one number after another in the hunt for a lead, but starting each call with a cocky sales pitch is a surefire method to waste time since it prompts potential clients to just hang up. Andrew Bermudez, co-founder and CEO of Digsy, explained that “the biggest mistake for a broker to make in a cold call is to say ‘Hi my name is blankety-blank and I have X amount of experience.’” Instead of boasting about your own credentials, beginning a conversation with the other person’s name is critical to the success of the call.
Bermudez knows this for a fact. “Whenever I make a call, I always check the person’s email so I know what name to use, then I do a little digging to see if we might have anything in common that we can talk about.” For example, Bermudez found a potential client, let’s call him “John,” who graduated from his alma mater. If Bermudez were to then call John, he’d open the conversation with something like “Hey John! I saw that you went to Cal State too! What year did you graduate?” in a cheerful tone. No sales pitch, no flouting of credentials, just a friendly associate looking to say “hi.”
But don’t beat around the bush for too long. “When you’re looking for a needle in the haystack, you have to talk about the needle,” Bermudez continued. “After the person is loosened up, that’s when I bring up the reason that I’m calling. But the trick here is to always have something to offer, so I ask the person if they’d like to have exclusive access to our real estate comparables when I ask them if they’re open to selling.”
But Bermudez’s principle of always having something to offer isn’t his juiciest trick. If Bermudez cold calls someone, and that call goes to voicemail, which happens 60 percent of the time according to XANT, do you know what he does? “I immediately send that person an email that says ‘voicemail’ in the subject heading. That yields a 30-40 percent increase in response rate.” There’s power in a follow-up email, as less than 1 percent of sales calls get returned. Bermudez maintains that that pivotal follow-up email should be no more than 3 lines and only 1-2 sentences for each line. Bermudez finds success in automated email follow-ups if the “voicemail” subject line yielded no response after three days, then one final follow-up email if the recipient failed to respond seven days after that email.
Again, the goal of cold-calling is to garner a positive enough experience from the cold-call that a recipient would welcome the idea of an in-person meeting, whether it be dinner or, right up Conrad Joey Martinez’s wheelhouse, a game of golf. Martinez is a Multifamily and Investment Sales Broker with PICOR Commercial Real Estate Services, and dedicates a chunk of each workday to cold-calling.
“No matter what, you need to be personable,” says Martinez. Social charm is a skill he unwittingly honed from playing professional golf prior to entering the industry. The golf course is the business deal playground, where players can build a network of business relationships with ample time and without the formal constraints of an office environment. It’s a casual setting where salesy rhetoric only serves to dampen the fun, something that successful real estate cold-callers need to emulate. “When it comes to real estate, you’re not looking for short-term transactions, you’re trying to forge long-term relationships with clients. We want them to like us and we want them to trust us, so ultimately a lot of that comes down to how we engage them on the call.”
After thousands of cold calls, Martinez has developed a sixth sense of understanding which recipients would make potential clients and which ones are dead ends. As counter-intuitive as it may seem, hearing a grumpy “hello” on the line actually holds promise. “If I get the sense that a person is fed up with sales calls, I’ll throw in some charm by making a joke, but I always end with ‘I’m sure you’re getting bugged a lot with people calling and asking you to sell your property, would you like me to tell you why they’re calling you?’” It’s at that point Martinez can talk to them about the state of the market in order to earn their trust.
So the gist is: Have a sixth sense and make people like you. Simple, right? Well these are skills honed from hard work and dedication, precisely what cold calling, literally, calls for. If I learned anything from the people I talked to about this topic it’s that putting in that little extra effort is worth it. Any extra personalization, like sending a poignant follow-up email, will always lead to a better outcome than if you forewent the extra mile. So, if you are tasked with cold calling get comfy, do your research, and get ready to chat up lead after lead. It might be at times a painful process but the results will pay off in the long run.