During that painfully boring beginning period of the pandemic when many of us were lonely and starved for entertainment, I found myself answering unsolicited calls with a renewed fervor. Instead of just hanging up, mischievously replying to telemarketers and shady spammers became a sport. Anyone who wanted to contact me about my car’s extended warranty (I don’t own a car) was met with, “Oh, I don’t have a car, but what I do have is a lot of feelings!” I responded to suspicious threats from the IRS with “What’s your favorite dog breed, and why is it a Labradoodle?” I even kept one Nigerian prince who desperately needed me to hold his life savings on the phone for an hour as I explained why Downton Abbey had a weak script. The worst offenders, though, were the squall of real estate cold callers who were under the impression I was selling an apartment complex in Arizona (I was not). It turns out none of those callers were spammers. Instead, they were legitimate real estate brokers who were, to put it politely, terrible at cold-calling.
Not only did none of them do any research prior to contacting me (mistake number one), every one of them, without fail, had the same preamble: “Hi, my name is so-and-so, and I have years of experience in the real estate industry. No other broker can compare to me, so you should pay attention to what I have to say!” The collective arrogance was what convinced me that these callers were spammers and not legitimate brokers who had discovered a listing with a wrong number, my number, attached to it.
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 all that time since it prompts potential clients to just hang up. “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,” says Andrew Bermudez, co-founder and CEO of Digsy. Digsy is an online platform where commercial real estate professionals can list their properties and outsource services—and of those services just so happens to be cold-calling.
If deals aren’t getting made, brokers aren’t getting paid, so getting that first point-of-contact for a potential client right is crucial.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, the likelihood of closing a deal jumps to 13.51 percent after simply meeting a client face-to-face.
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 finds 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.”
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 a painful process at times, but the results will pay off in the long run.
If Martinez or Bermudez ever contacted me during that impish phase of mine, I doubt I would’ve hijacked the conversation to talk about how Louge should be renamed “Extreme Tube-Sledding” (another one of my anti-spammer tirades). For one thing, both brokers would’ve discerned pretty quickly that I wasn’t the person selling that Arizona property. For another, I wouldn’t have been tempted to waste their time as they upheld the number one rule of successful real estate cold-callers: Being a delight to chat with in the first place.