Fire Up Your Business

A hot client list requires more than just cold calling.

For commercial real estate brokers, the cycle of finding new clients, maintaining clients, and gaining referrals sustains their business every day. But there's no easy process that works every time.

Many successful CCIM designees combine multiple methods and customize techniques to match their specific skills, as well as their industry and geographic niches. With a growing arsenal of tools for communicating with prospects and clients, constant adaptability makes CCIMs more relevant in their markets.

“It's important to connect with clients and prospects frequently, so you and your business are top of mind,” says Joseph Larkin, CCIM, president of First Realty in Denver and CCIM senior instructor. “Commercial real estate is a contact sport, and you need to connect with people through many touch points and arrange face-to-face interactions as often as possible.”

Connecting with Clients

Larkin creates an overall strategic plan that involves a large database of prospects and clients and detailed plans that he follows and adjusts as clients, markets, and the economy change. For his multitiered marketing campaign, he uses direct mail postcards and his company's website, ramps up connections through LinkedIn, and sends relevant Twitter posts to connect to prospective tenants and current clients. Publicizing his transactions in business journals - locally, regionally, and nationally - helps to establish his name and firm in the marketplace.

Every morning, Danny Zelonker, CCIM, a broker/partner at Real Miami Commercial Real Estate in Coral Gables, Fla., skims 13 real estate trade magazines and general newspapers, such as the New York Times, looking for three to four relevant articles to post to LinkedIn and on his blog that goes to his clients and prospects. Zelonker specializes in retail and industrial properties, particularly in Wynwood, a Miami neighborhood that  he compares to SoHo in New York City in desirability and rising cost of properties.

Periodically, he appears on “The Biz,” a Miami AM radio program, to discuss commercial real estate issues relevant to consumers. His attention to media and social media builds his credibility to wider audiences.

For networking in his community, Zelonker is actively involved in the Miami and Broward districts of the Florida CCIM Chapter, Commercial Real Estate for Women, and the Cuban-American CPA Association.

“I figured most brokers would not belong to

CACPAA, and accountants have many clients who are looking for investments,” says Zelonker, who speaks Spanish fluently. “It has been an excellent source of business for me.”

Three-Step Approaches

Based in the booming Seattle market, Chad Gleason, CCIM, estimates that 15 to 20 percent of his business clients comes from social media.

“I have established expertise in the Seattle marketplace through my insights and contact information built into links to industry articles,” says Gleason, principal at Sperry Van Ness/Raven in Kent, Wash., and president-elect of the Seattle CCIM Chapter. “I build on those online conversations first through direct mail and then by face-to-face meetings.”

He mails seasonal cards - not property listings - to social media prospects in other markets. Gleason doesn't overload prospects on either social media or direct mail but uses a strategic mix of each. His final step is to schedule personal meetings, even just for coffee and conversation, if he is visiting a prospect's city. His number of flights to other markets has increased at the same pace as the boost in his Twitter followers and LinkedIn connections.

For example, Gleason connected with Karen Hurd, vice president at Sperry Van Ness in Boston, through Twitter in February 2014. They held many email conversations about Gleason's company joining Sperry Van Ness until their first face-to-face meeting at a training seminar in December 2014 in Los Angeles. By their second meeting in February, Gleason had signed a franchise agreement.

“I believe if you go out of your way to meet these connections, you get five times back in return,” he says.

Rod N. Santomassimo, CCIM, has a similar three-step approach for expanding the clients for his coaching firm, the Massimo Group, headquartered in Cary, N.C. His method to reach prospects includes a one-on-one meeting, which is most effective; video conferences, which are second best because it's quasi-personal; and presentations or talks to groups in the vicinity.

“Clients tell us that the reasons they reached out to us were our website and social media campaigns (digital), the book that I wrote called Brokers Who Dominate (physical), and referrals from clients (personal),” says Santomassimo, who employs 11 part-time coaches who are all CCIM designees. “This three-tiered approach has proven to be the key to our success and to our clients' success as well.”

Networking Resources

For her specialty niche in corporate real estate consulting, Patricia Lynn, CCIM, spends time identifying the individuals that she wants to know as clients or resources. She has specific criteria: for example, firms with five to 10 locations, annual revenue of $100 million, appearing on the fastest-growing local firms list, and headquartered in San Francisco. Once Lynn has identified those companies, she makes personal phone calls to key executives.

For those who don't respond to her calls, she obtains attendee lists prior to conferences, identifies the potential clients she wants to see, and introduces herself to them at trade shows such as ICSC RECon.           

“Also, CCIM meetings - chapter and national committees - are great places for networking,” says Lynn, president of Lynn & Associates in San Francisco, and CCIM instructor. “I ask questions such as 'How's your business?' 'What are you working on?' It's amazing how often asking those extra questions of CCIMs lead to new business opportunities.”

Other CCIM networking resources help CCIM designees generate business. For example, Brent Sears, CCIM, vice president of Equity in Cincinnati, sends out messages every four weeks on CCIM Connect that discuss his service in developing an investment proformas using Argus software. Each time, he receives 10 to 15 replies and has obtained assignments from clients nationwide, including Alaska, New York, and South Carolina.

“The contacts made through CCIM Connect are providing 70 to 80 percent of the business for my Argus services,” says Sears. “Sometimes, the business is not immediate. Three or four months ago, Tim Blair, CCIM, told me that he didn't have any business now but would keep me in mind. Later, he contacted me to do work for some clients. Recently, when Tim commended my services on CCIM Connect, his recommendation generated another business referral, as well as increased my trustworthiness.”

The side roads to success work for many CCIMs. For example, Larkin has found that teaching CCIM courses hones his CRE skills, as well as providing a new source of contacts in every class. “I encourage all CCIMs to teach because it makes you a better transaction manager and broker,” he says.

Even tried and true methods, such as cold calling, get a new spin in today's market. Robert Kost, CCIM, enlists college interns to cold call. The prospects for new retail and office listings are researched on websites such as LoopNet, CoStar, STDB, and CCIM DealShare.

“It is so easy to see quantifiable results from cold calling that's combined with technology,” says Kost, vice president of commercial properties at Sherman Associates, in Minneapolis. “We are very methodical about who we call and how we keep track of the information. We test out our scripts first. Once we have a warm lead, we email the prospects detailed information immediately.”

Successful CCIMs mine different communication methods to find and keep their clients. Frequent communications in a variety of traditional and social media combined with phone calls and in-person meetings keep CCIMs top of mind with their clients and improve the bottom line of their businesses.


Sara S. Patterson is senior editor at Commercial Investment Real Estate.


Working the Local Angle

While social media opportunities often widen the list of client prospects, sometimes the best way to expand your client list is networking in your own backyard. CCIMs share a few “close to home” recommendations.

Local civic programs. Jerry Fiume, CCIM, senior account executive at NAI Cummins Real Estate in Akron, Ohio, recommends becoming involved in community leadership programs that are offered in many U.S. cities. Recently, he completed a nine-month program called Leadership Akron, which focuses on one aspect of the community per month. Activities include riding with police officers, shadowing social workers, and meetings with the mayor, judges, and presidents of local universities. “This has been a great networking experience because major decision makers in our area are involved in this leadership program,” Fiume says.

Local advertising. Russell Webb, CCIM, advertises through digital media with the Claremont, Texas, Chamber of Commerce, North Texas CCIM Chapter, and local high schools. To build his brand, his firm, Silver Oak Commercial Realty in Southlake, Texas, also sponsors the CCIM chapter events such as CCIM courses, skeet shooting, and golfing.

Client surveys. At the end of every transaction, Joseph Larkin, CCIM, president of First Realty in Denver, sends his client an online survey with an incentive such as restaurant gift certificate. “Surveying is a gut check because you may think you did a wonderful job, but the client may think otherwise,” Larkin says. “And the client is always right.”

Client networks. “Word-of-mouth referrals have always been strongest for my business,” says Sheryl Vickers Horting, CCIM, senior vice president at Merrill Cos. in Overland Park, Kan. “When there's an opportunity, I socialize with my clients, which allows me to meet their networks.”

Sara S. Patterson

Sara S. Patterson is former executive editor of Commercial Investment Real Estate.