Leadership CCIM Feature

You're Not The Hero

To successfully prospect to sustain your business, write a story that lets your clients take center stage.

When it comes to building and sustaining your business, storytelling is a crucial aspect of successful prospecting. But in these narratives, you are not the hero — here to save the day for clients desperately in need of your superpowers. Rather, you want to position your potential new clients in the center of their stories, while you fulfill the role of an empathetic, authoritative, understanding guide capable of helping them achieve a happy ending.

First, let’s define prospecting, a term that’s thrown around often to describe various networking activities. I used to think about it literally, imagining the old prospectors from the gold rush. But prospecting, simply put, is the act of finding and winning new business. Think of it this way: If you’re good at prospecting, you’re continuously filling your pipeline with new opportunities, increasing the sustainability of your business, and, to some extent, preparing to pick up market share when competition fades. If you’re not prospecting, the inverse is true. The next recession should scare you to death. You should wake up every morning with the realization that you are leaving money on the table.

Scripting Your Story

Any good movie will have the hero start in one place and end in another. This is the story arc, a transformative process that captures our attention. But in many respects, the hero isn’t always the big, tough guy like Arnold Schwarzenegger. In many cases, the weakest character becomes the hero by overcoming various challenges. Take Luke Skywalker from “Star Wars,” for example, who we meet as a whiny, snarling little knucklehead from the middle of nowhere. But over the course of a few movies, he goes on an epic journey and grows into an incredible Jedi along the way.

Here’s the thing about commercial real estate: Your clients need to be the heroes of the story. You aren’t. You are the hero of your story — but not your prospect’s. In approaching potential clients, aim to frame the conversation in a way to address three major areas of conflict, including your plans to address these solutions.

Win business by solving internal problems. You’ll be worth more to them than any cost savings from a broker who focuses solely on price.

External Conflict: The external conflict is straightforward and usually can be quickly identified. It can be an immediate threat or the primary obstacle facing the hero. Back to “Star Wars,” for instance, the Death Star provides a heck of an external conflict for Luke and his buddies with the Rebel Alliance. All your prospects have similar problems, albeit maybe not a planet-destroying super weapon. In multifamily, it’s property management issues. In self-storage, vacancy rates can be a clear and present conflict.

Internal Conflict: The internal conflict is a struggle inside the hero or among those on one side. What must the hero overcome in order to prevail in the external conflict? Luke Skywalker’s internal conflict involved accepting his family’s history, growing into a great fighter, and finding the courage to undertake the mission that eventually blew up the Death Star. (Spoiler alert!) For your prospects, internal conflicts can come in different shapes and sizes. It’s not just about getting the highest selling price. It could be about achieving stability for retirement or supporting another business venture. This information will present itself after you position a client as the hero of the story and ask the pertinent questions.

Philosophical Conflict: Finally, we have a conflict that is more touchy-feely or abstract. The philosophical conflict is what gives the movie its heft and depth. “Star Wars” is a great example because it’s so direct — Darth Vader’s on the dark side, and Luke, Obi-Wan, and Yoda are on the light side. It’s a battle of good versus evil. In commercial real estate, most issues aren’t so black and white, but philosophical conflicts can be heady. In speaking with clients, frame the conversation in terms of achieving ultimate goals, like financial independence or increased free time to spend with children. Philosophical conflict addresses these larger concepts.

Targeting Your Audience

For the most part, your competition will try to outperform you in addressing external conflicts. The emphasis is often on saving a potential client time and money. Those are important factors, and you want the competition to stay focused solely on these external issues. That’s good for you, because people make decisions based on other criteria, as well. That’s your secret weapon. You will win business if you can show how to solve internal conflicts.  

Let’s look at an example to see how these concepts are put into practice. I worked with a woman named Ellen in my hometown of Owensboro, Ky., a beautiful little town of 100,000 on the Ohio River. She had a portfolio of single-family rentals that her husband had assembled over 30 years until he passed away. Ellen had been managing these properties for seven years when she met me and said she wanted to sell them. That was her external issue.

You're Not The Hero - Stock1

When prospecting to build your business, keep the spotlight on your potential clients — they are the heroes of the story.

My competition, who had helped her and her husband buy all these properties over the years, said he could sell them faster and for more money than I. Maybe that was true — but in talking with Ellen, I uncovered her internal issue. She hated not knowing her income from month to month, because these were residential rentals. A hot water heater could go out, vacancies are always an issue, roofs need fixing, etc. Because of this instability, Ellen felt like she couldn’t plan for the future as much as she wanted. She had grandkids and needed to travel to see them. This issue presented a philosophical question: What good are money and investments if they don’t allow you to live the life you want?

I presented options to address all three types of conflict. She could sell her portfolio, reinvest into 1031s, triple-net leases, etc. These possibilities ditched the headaches of management, and she’d have a regular flow of income from month to month. At this point, Ellen wasn’t hung up on the exact price of a house, because we were addressing her internal problems. This solution resolved her philosophical conflict. The underlying message behind the solution was that she deserves this process to be easy and understandable; she deserves to see her grandkids as much as possible. Win business by solving internal problems. You’ll be worth more to them than any cost savings from a broker who focuses solely on price. 

Guide the Hero

Returning to our narrative that puts the client as the hero, where does that leave you? Like I said, every hero undergoes a transformation, overcoming external, internal, and philosophical conflict to become the person you see when the final credits roll. Your role is to be the guide, mentor, sensei, or teacher. Think of “Star Wars.” Who helps Luke become the greatest Jedi by the end of the trilogy? Yoda — perhaps the strongest character in the movies. These people are consistent, they are knowledgeable, and they facilitate change rather than undergo it. 

To succeed in this role, the guide needs two things in proper quantities: empathy and authority. Putting your client in the center of the story, you need to show an understanding of what they’re going through — the fears, frustrations, excitement, and other emotions involved in the selling process. 

As for authority, this can be in conflict with empathy if improperly presented. The most common mistake is overcooking it — if you spend all your time telling a client how great you are, guess what? You’re placing yourself as the hero. You want to check a box; show you are capable, knowledgeable, experienced, and trustworthy, but don’t overdo it.

You're Not The Hero - Feature

Bo Barron, CCIM, presented his tips for advanced prospecting at the 2019 CCIM Global Conference in San Diego.

Pitching Yourself

Your client has been cast as the hero and you’re the wise person to guide them to success, but let’s back up a moment. How can you pitch this movie to a potential client? After all, it’s no use to reframe this relationship unless you can engage with prospects. The value proposition is essential in building relationships and cultivating leads. 

Think of the conversations you have during networking events or professional gatherings. When someone asks, “What do you do?” you can quickly have them looking for an exit if you launch into your life story or a long history of your company. Rather, you want to express a value proposition in the way you describe exactly what it is you do.

There is a simple three-step approach that is unbelievably effective when pitching yourself and your business to potential clients.

Step 1: Set Your Hook

First, identify the problem faced by a prospect. If you specialize in multifamily, for instance, focus on common obstacles that get in the way of your best clients. In this conversation, just like any other, you want to get the person to nod their head, to engage potential clients by describing a shared understanding of challenges they face.

To effectively do this, you need to be clear, concise, and direct. This is the hook to identify your best prospects, so ask yourself some basic questions. What do you specialize in? What are the core problems faced by my best prospects and my best clients?

These answers will sharpen your hook. It may not be a one-liner you can use in all situations, but you want to have an effective message that will attract prospects, while keeping you from pursuing clients who wouldn’t be a good fit.

Step 2: Show Solutions

Your hook positions you as the guide, so here’s where you want to share the solution to common problems.

Say you’re talking with an investor, for example. You hook the investor by identifying the stress associated with what to buy after selling near the top of the market, which is where we are in the market currently. Talk about finding off-market value deals. Discuss impressive returns in 1031s. This is when the real estate jargon will start popping up, but that’s OK because your prospect knows these are solutions to common problems.

Step 3: Resolve the Issues

Finally, you want to show how you can provide solutions. You’ve identified external and internal conflicts. You’ve described potential ways to overcome these challenges. Now, talk to them about their ideal future. Discuss how you can help them achieve their ultimate goals.

You want to close the story loop in a way that gives everyone a happy ending. This doesn’t mean being unrealistic — it means delivering your value proposition in a way that leads to a prospect becoming a client.

Successful prospecting requires work to become the best guide for various heroes on their different journeys. You don’t need to have a heart-to-heart conversation with every prospect the minute you shake hands, but changing your perspective on the broker-client relationship will do wonders for building your business. You may not be Luke Skywalker, but Yoda isn’t so bad when it comes right down to it.

Editor's note: This article was adapted from “Advanced Prospecting: Learn How to Leverage Storytelling to Win More Business,” Barron’s presentation at the 2019 CCIM Global Conference in San Diego.

Bo Barron, CCIM

Bo Barron, CCIM, is the CEO and managing director of Barron Commercial Group in Owensboro, Ky. and a workshop leader at CCIM Institute. Contact him at bo@wgbarron.com.

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