My relationships are not for sale – my service is…

Fireworks broke out these last few weeks with Chris Smith (Inman News Evangelist) publishing his Real Estate is no longer a relationship business piece.  As expected, not only did it start a conversation, but resulted in a few rebuttal posts, (which are linked to at the end of this blog), and a few comments that were downright nasty.  I was paying attention to the conversation as it developed, from the sidelines, mostly, and here are my takeaways, as a consumer of any good or service, not just real estate.

What Chris was saying, in essence, was that he, as a consumer, doesn’t care to follow his real estate pro on FB or Twitter, or to be taken out to lunch or be invited to your wedding.  He wants you, the professional, to handle his transaction brilliantly.  I am over-simplifying here, of course, so I suggest you read the post and the comments, and the rebuttal posts as well – all worthy of a read.

What struck me as odd in some of the comments on the many threads where this conversation progressed was the offense some took to the very idea that someone might look at their business as a ‘transaction’, and not a relationship.  Which leads me to these thoughts.

I think too many practitioners are still motivated by fear of being forgotten by those they serve and are willing to jump through all kinds of hoops so that they can keep their name “top of mind” of their past clients, so that, of course, they get referrals.  I don’t so much have an issue with the desire to remain top of mind, or even the cheesy signatures of “I appreciate your referrals” as much as I resent the idea that the folks who market that way are confusing staying in touch for the sake of future business with “relationships”.

honest realtor's manifesto

honest realtor's manifesto

Without going into the rather dull definitions battle, to me, receiving a series of postcards from my service provider is not having a relationship with them any more than getting a coupon book from Target is.  Strangely, as a consumer, I’d pay more attention to the coupon book from Target (if there is something I need to purchase in the nearest future) than I would to those SOI/touch marketing campaigns.  I don’t care how pretty and non-salesy you color it, I still view those things as a marketing tool, not a relationship building tool.  Frankly, I don’t think there is such a thing as a relationship building tool, and that includes the social media.  Relationships, while should not be confused with friendships, still involve obligations and liabilities on both sides.  And people, by and large, are rather protective of whom they’d like to obligate themselves to.

I think that as a consumer, I’d want the same thing from my real estate agent as Chris – save me the headaches of dealing with paperwork, listen to my needs, make the process as painless (for me) as possible and be there when I need you.  In short – handle my transaction seamlessly, brilliantly.  I don’t flip houses, so statistically, you probably won’t sell me another home, but if you handle my transaction brilliantly and I don’t hear from you again unless I have a problem with the home – I will recommend you to my friends and family.  I will even dig for your name if I’d forgotten it, even if I have to resurrect my HUD statement to do that.  What I know for a fact is that I will never refer business to someone just because they keep sending me cards or gifts or because they are my FB friends or twitter followers.  I will NEVER risk my reputation with people I actually do have a relationship with because of convenience.

All that said, it doesn’t mean that I can’t or won’t become a friend or develop a deep(er) relationship with any of my service providers, be they attorneys, accountants or real estate practitioners.  But these will (and do) happen as any other friendships.  We click on a human level.  We connect and enjoy each other’s company long past any transaction.  None of it is dependent on the practitioner staying in touch.

There is supposedly room in each of us for 150 or so meaningful connections over the course of our lives.  I don’t know if that number is accurate or even meaningful.  Suffice it to say that if our capacity for connecting with other human beings is finite, we are probably all somewhat protective of this finite space and whom we choose to share it with.  Let’s be honest and stop confusing customer follow up via any means with building or maintaining meaningful connections or relationships.  Your customers aren’t going to confuse the two, and there is nothing that turns off a consumer more nowadays than a fake friendship attempt.

Wouldn’t it be easier to provide remarkable service to all our clients and have enough trust in the fact that if you do a remarkable job, they will remember you, and will recommend you to their friends and family based on that, instead of 33 irrelevant likes/postcards/sets of cookies?

For any of my friends reading this, please DON”T recommend me to anyone based on our friendship.  Recommend my company based on the work we do if you genuinely believe we’re the best people to handle the needs of those you care about.  Anything less would be an insult to how we do business.

And finally, by way of a disclaimer, my business is currently almost entirely by referrals and recommendations.

Here are all the posts on the theme, in order, all worth reading.

Chris’s original post:

It Is No Longer A Relationship Business – Here’s Why

Rebuttals:

From Rob Hahn

If Real Estate Is Not In The Relationship Business, What Business Is It In?

From Bill Lublin

Being Without Relationships is Being Without Business

Your thoughts?

Related Posts:

16 Responses to My relationships are not for sale – my service is…
  1. Matthew Perren
    September 15, 2011 | 5:03 am

    This is great! I want a friendly working relationship with my clients and suppliers but, as a father of young kids and a busy man at work, I don’t have time to be “proper” friends with everyone I meet. It’s hard enough to remain friends with my friends!

    I love my lawyer, my doctor and the vet we use but I don’t go drinking with them…

  2. Ron Jesser
    September 14, 2011 | 4:23 pm

    Inna- great post and I did comment to Chris Smith about his post- I loved it. My take is this: I take each one as it comes be it a virtual client (and we’ve had them) or a belly to belly client. And I’m now more aware about the need for website tools gered to those who want to deal at arms length.

    We do not send out the touchy-feely notes, cards, nothing. And no closing gifts either unless something was truly exceptional about that client or the deal. The way we DO stay in touch is with a small monthly or bi-monthly newsletter and we send out a weekly RSS News summary from our blog. Our feeling is this: we do a great job when we do it and our clients grow to love us. We’ve had a lot of referrals without all the crap.

    Thanks again!

  3. Kelley Skar
    September 13, 2011 | 10:43 pm

    I could not agree more with Matt Stigliano on this subject, “It’s not as black and white as it has been made out to be…”. A truer statement has not been said on this subject.

    Each ‘relationship'(I think this term has been taken out of context more often than naught in these conversations btw) is completely different in every situation. I think most Agents would agree that they give exceptional service and do their job ‘brilliantly’. How that relationship(for lack of a better term) develops during and after the transaction is going to be different for each client and each agent.

    I do not agree with the notion that just because you gave exceptional service your client will “never forget” you or the experience. If you give incredible service and never ‘touch’ that client again do you expect that they would call, refer, or use you again? Do you think they would remember 5 or 10 years later? I would think not.

    Just because a few do not subscribe to one ‘system’ or another be it, Facebook or a Touch 33 system, Twitter, Email Newsletter or post cards, does not make it wrong for everyone. Just you the end user, the one writing the blog, the one commenting on the post.

    At the end of the day…each situation is different, each client is different and I think we should be careful about blanket statements about the industry when there are a TON of grey areas…it is not always just black and white.

    • Jon Hardison
      September 14, 2011 | 9:24 am

      Hey Kelley: I think you’re touching on some great points, and I’ll let Inna answer them as it’s her post, but I wanted to jump in an just say that from my standpoint, the industry contradicts itself constantly. In one breath it’s about cultivating or incubating leads and in the next is about maintaining a relationship, but I think the point is that the need or desire to do both of these things are rooted in the old adage that real estate, at its core, is a numbers game. You said, “At the end of the day…each situation is different, each client is different and I think we should be careful about blanket statements about the industry when there are a TON of grey areas…it is not always just black and white.”, and I agree fully. I just think those clients and situations should be subject to the same courtesy.

      I have clients that I have no real relationship with, and then I have clients that have become great friends. Every situation is different. What I think is a more healthy approach, and the point I think Inna and so many others are trying to make is that calling each what they are and treating them appropriately may be far more valuable than attempting to be in a ‘relationship’ with everyone that ever crosses your path. There are people I work with / for every day that I wouldn’t be caught dead with in a bar or social situation. Am I in a relationship with them? No. They know it and I know it, but they’ll still refer business where appropriate and we still work well together.

      I don’t want to know about your kids or wife or new car, nor do I want you knowing about mine. I just want you to do your job, and I promise you, if I didn’t hand pick you deliberately or we didn’t click right away, there’s no amount of mail that’s going to score you a referral. Is this true for all people? Probably not. As you said, every situation is different, but the more inorganic these interactions become, the more agents stand to lose. “Focus on what’s important.”

  4. jmac
    September 13, 2011 | 8:00 pm

    Inna…I have believed for a long time that Brian Buffini, Joe Stumf, and Mike Ferry have gotten rich off of systems they sell to real estate agents. If they systems truly worked, there would be a great deal more successful agents.
    I can remember sharing with the “Selling with Soul” group that the only way I believe you can be successful is to treat people the way you want to be treated. I have never met anyone that is glad they receive all the JUNK mail agents send. (The success rate on direct mail is quoted to be around 2%…that would indicate you have pissed off or wasted your effort on 98% of the people you mail). I have never met anyone that enjoys answering the phone during dinner to chat with a realtor. (this does not include those that were in the middle of a transaction). I have never met anyone that has been glad that their Saturday morning was interrupted by their neighborhood expert.
    People like to control who is in their life.
    I agree that relationships can develop when working with clients. ( I have not invited any to my wedding ).
    I like to get referrals but I never want to be the person calling when the former client looks at the phone, sees the number and just lets it go to voice mail.
    I am here if they need me. If more agents realized being in the people business does not mean being in the pest business, they might survive the market and avoid handing how smiley faces at walmart or asking folks if they want to supersize the meal.
    but i am just a grumpy old man and maybe the younger generation has no problem lining the pockets of the system sellers.

    • Inna Hardison
      September 14, 2011 | 7:13 pm

      My dear JMac – i’ve nothing to add to your comment.

      So very glad that I’ve run into you in the interwebs:-) And so very proud to call you my friend.

  5. Matt Stigliano
    September 13, 2011 | 5:35 pm

    Inna – I just wanted to add a thought to your last paragraph. I think that friends can recommend friends without a complete view of how they do business. I’ve known you via ActiveRain and although you’ve never done a bit of work for me, I wouldn’t have a problem putting my faith into a referral for you. Why? Because I know you. I’ve followed you, read your stuff, commented back and forth with you. I’m friendly enough with you to trust you. I know you and I believe that what I know about you would be put into the work you do should I refer someone to you.

    I’m kind of in between on the whole transaction vs. relationship conversation. It’s not as black and white as it has been made out to be in my opinion. I get marketing/relationship stuff all time from people. I throw some of it out and pay attention to others. Even if it’s a simple marketing piece I still feel that some people mean more to me than others. Someone I have take. A direct interest in gets more attention when they send me a promotional postcard. I want my real estate agent to do the transaction, but spending time with someone, I’m bound to learn enough about them to form some sort of relationship. Does it continue post-transaction? That depends on what kinds of bonds were formed. Do I care about them enough to be their friend on Facebook and see what their kids are doing in school? Again, it depends.

    • Jon Hardison
      September 13, 2011 | 10:34 pm

      Hey Matt – Jon here.

      Thanx a lot for the comment and sentiment. Speaking for myself, there’s certainly a bit of ‘glee’ in hearing that you think that highly of us. Now for the ‘horse’s mouth’ part of the reply. But I’m sure there would be other considerations that came into play when considering referring someone to us. I’m the first one to admit that we’re not a fit for everyone, just as I don’t think any real estate professional can serve any client… well, wait a second. What I mean to say is that specific people are simply better suited to work with other specific people. While we ‘can’ build a site for anyone, technically, we prefer to only work with those clients we can truly help… Clients that understand what our motivation is, and who’s motivation we understand.

      I guess what I’m saying is that I’d hope not to be the recipient of every potential referral, rather the ones you thought we could help, for whatever reason. You might love what we put out there, but would you knowingly refer someone that wanted the same product based on a different set of principles? I hope not.

      To be clear, I’m not speaking on behalf of Inna, and she may disagree with me on this, but I don’t want to get all or even most of the business out there. I want to build things that help specific people accomplish specific goals and I believe I’m ideally suited to do that in specific situations.

      A short example: My Father-in-Law is a Reator, but I wouldn’t refer everyone that I know that wanted to buy or sell real estate to him, just because he’s my family. He is VERY GOOD at what he does, granted, but value, quality and like aren’t attributes you, as a service provider, don’t have much to say about. Those are all assigned by the client. My Dad is great, but he’d jump out of a window before allowing a person to make what he deemed a financially stupid decision. Hence, he’s not the best choice for a person that’s buying a home they need to ‘love’. These are generalizations, but in that situation, I’d refer the client to someone else, (probably my Mother-in-Law. LOL).

      We’re individuals and the amazing web of things that ultimately cause us to be attracted to or repelled by one another are as infinite as the stars, but casting these large, vague, general nets in the hopes of ‘establishing a relationship’ strikes me as one of the more anti-social things anyone can do. It forces you, in many cases, to make yourself as ‘acceptable’ as possible, and who have you ever been impressed by that was simply, ‘acceptable’? I’d love to see folks simply be who they are and be great at what they do. I know from experience that when it’s done right, everyone’s clients will find them.

    • Inna Hardison
      September 14, 2011 | 7:16 pm

      Matt you make some very good points, and I believe Jon addressed it pretty well, but just to add a bit – I sincerely hope that you don’t refer clients to us based on ‘knowing’ me a bit via socials. What we do isn’t for everyone and it needs to be a fit – sometimes it isn’t, as in any business. I would also hope that if you don’t think the quality of our work is great, you would seek to send your friends elsewhere – as would only be prudent:-)

      Thanks for dropping by and sharing your thoughts. They are always appreciated.

      • Teri Conrad
        November 6, 2011 | 1:51 pm

        I’ve always equated relationships with life and my time here in this life is finite….SO I choose to spend my time with quality people whether that is business or pleasure (sometimes both). Surrounding myself with amazing people has always been my goal…to learn, to love and yes to even close deals.

        I take a rather BIG PICTURE view and operate from a basic faith that all things are meant to be and that ultimately it is a journey of growth and all of us have a purpose. When someone needs my help they will show up. (I’ll qualify this statement by saying that indeed I am not rich… in dollars that is 🙂 I can tell you this….I would refer to you and John without hesitation. Respect.

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