Anyone who has ever dared attempt to make a reservation at Manhattan’s single most elusive and notoriously difficult restaurant to get into, Rao’s, will attest to the acid-like sting of the resounding “NO” coming from the owner, Mr. Pellegrino. His nickname is “Frankie No” because that’s what you get when you call for an appointment.
After years of hearing Frankie No’s negative response, I persisted until I finally got my “yes.” For real estate brokers and many other professionals, the word “no” is par for the course. Sometimes it’s the main and only course. What separates a great broker from an average one is how they go about turning nos into yeses. Turning rejection into acceptance is a highly skilled trait that is worth fine-tuning.
The mother of all rejection sits in the nest of cold calling. Every broker has had to begin in this cold, dark, door-slamming chapter of sales. Eventually most brokers get so numb to the rejection that they give up or become immune. Immunity is good if it turns those nos into yeses. Success is bestowed on those who learn the techniques of positive persistence and relentless tenacity.
A principal in a successful leasing firm once told me that she channels her bad commute days into a motivator to make her “yes” calls. Since nothing could be worse than her two-hour train ride and mass transit tussling, she jumps on the phone and views every “no” as getting closer to a “yes,” believing that every negative contains a positive.
Callers make the mistake of letting their emotions control their outcomes. Fear of rejection is one of the top challenges that must be overcome. If you realize that most of the people who hang up on you won’t remember your name or even know who you are, it’s easier to keep going back for more. It’s not personal.
A young, very aggressive broker would keep calling an owner until he finally got his target on the phone only to be cursed and screamed at. After hanging up for the fifth time, the owner finally took his call and gave him the listing on the condition that he would not call more than once a day. Another persistent broker simply told an owner that if he hired a broker who wasn’t as insistent as himself, he was not getting his money’s worth. How aggressive as he was with the seller was just a sample of how he would tackle the assignment and advocate on the owner’s behalf.
Recipients of a cold call are most inclined to say no, just because they know it’s a cold call. You have less than 10 seconds to capture their attention, dispel their negative attitude toward the call and say something tantalizing enough to keep them on the line.
One broker I spoke with told me that every time he cold-called, he would begin with a joke of the day. If the seller was grouchy or gruff, he would ask him if he was in the mood for a funny story. Luckily, he had the gift of gab, and his success rate was amazingly high. While telling jokes is not a skill set everyone can master with ease, finding some nugget of information that will capture an owner’s attention is critical to getting the positive response you are striving for.
Some owners will respond best to newsworthy information. Try starting a call with, “Have you heard about the recent sale on your block?” or “Did you hear about the record rental just set by X?” If you present it as a question, the owner usually feels compelled to respond.
Another broker I spoke with suggested a conversation starter such as a listing nearby, a rental in the owner’s building or a coupon for something that he might be interested in. Breaking down the barrier of a formal cold call also works. If you happen to know that the owner is an avid wine collector, offering a tip about a wine that you just tried and loved may start up his engine. Sports are also a great inroad to opening up the dialogue and warming up that cold call. Finding a great conversation starter can be as simple as reading the cover of the daily newspapers or news blogs.
A word of advice: be super-careful when discussing the three taboo topics: politics, sex and religion. Unless you are 100 percent certain your intel is accurate, this could be the kiss of death.
One broker I worked with sent a client a Hanukkah card, only to learn that he was actually Korean. The owner took it in stride, but it didn’t make the broker look like he knew anything about the client whom he had been speaking with for the past two years.
If you can get yourself past the gatekeeper and to the actual owner, try to find out something about that person’s daily life and suggest a meeting over coffee or the owner’s office. Remember, most people are busy, so be sure to convince them that you have something of value to impart, or you will not gain their trust when you need it down the road.
So how exactly did I get a yes out of Frankie No?
I did what any good broker would do. I initiated strategic alliances that provided value to both sides, creating the perfect deal!
Adelaide Polsinelli is Senior Director at Eastern Consolidated, an investment services firm in New York. She is a veteran real estate professional with more than 25 years of real estate brokerage experience.