It’s been said that if you log 10,000 hours practicing anything, you’ll become a pro. If that’s the measure, then seasoned brokers are by definition pros at the cold call. And probably the proficiency level has risen so high that it’s all second nature to you, and you can swing from text to phone to social media to in-person meetings with the carefree dexterity of a juggler.
Not so for the new broker. In fact, SIOR members we spoke with tell us that for the newbie confronting a tap list for the first time, the experience can be downright intimidating. “Everybody is initially afraid of a cold call,” says Paul Kluck, SIOR, the Denver-based first vice president and head of industrial for CBRE. But then he adds a cryptic asterisk: “You should never have to make another cold call in your career.”
Kluck’s theory—one he teaches in SIOR’s “Building a Commercial Real Estate Business” course—is that all calls should be “warm,” and turning up the heat is something incoming brokers need to learn. And it starts with research: “With all the information out there these days, you should be able to find out about the company: the principals and the person you need to talk to before you make your first call. You just have to do your research.”
The research will end in the all-important prospect list. “You can’t work off of an old list,” he says, which will only lead to hang-ups and out-of-date contacts. While admitting that generating the list is tough, it’s literally for the broker’s own good: “This is your business. It’s not CBRE’s or whatever flag you’re flying. It’s yours, and you’re responsible for everything.”
That includes all the intel that will make you an expert in your submarket, things like “knowing who the top 100 owners and tenants are,” he continues. “That’s where the list comes from. And that’s what you use for your touch program, for your warm calls.” (Keep that word “touch” in mind. We’re getting back to it.)
The third thing that beginners should avoid is the tendency to sell. “The objective of a cold call is really to get an appointment,” he continues, “not to sell.” He encourages scripts to keep the messaging clear. But make it compelling, something more than, “‘Is your lease ready to expire soon?’ How about: ‘This is Paul, and did you know your neighbor just sold his building for $175 a foot?’ Create a script, tailor it for your target market and make it compelling.”
Bruce Wolfgram, SIOR, agrees. “You need to provide something if you want to get something ,” says the principal of Proveras Commercial Realty in Ottawa. “Rather than just calling and saying please meet me, you need to offer up information, locally specific market information, or what you’ve heard about the return-to-work strategies of other companies. There has to be an exchange of value, or no one will give you the time of day.”
No wonder the cold call can be intimidating. Adam Kaduce, SIOR, says it’s important to identify the food group or the submarket you’re interested in. “If you’re invested, you’re more likely to make the calls,” he says. “It’s a worthy investment in time because you’re the one doing that legwork. You’ll own it.”
Another aid to reducing the agita level is a support group, and the members we spoke with do not expect the newbie to go it alone. Getting over the intimidation factor is a matter of repetition and habit. To aid in that effort, “I like to pair a senior broker with a junior broker in those first few months,” reports Kaduce, who is senior vice president at R&R Realty Group in Des Moines, Iowa. “That’s another way to learn successful techniques.”
Kaduce says by partnering with different senior executives, new team members can be exposed to a range of strategies. They’ll even see first-hand what happens in those odd cases when a senior player will get snagged by a rebuff or an unexpected question. “They can feed off each other, compare notes and discuss issues that may need correction or further explanation.” He adds that when the new broker takes the lead, he’ll enjoy a commission split.
But if the choice is getting the split or getting an education, choose the latter. “That’s the key to getting totally on your own,” says Wolfgram. “Work with a more experienced broker, and don’t be overly concerned about the compensation for the first few months.”
"The successful broker is the broker that overcomes his/her fear and makes the call."
And, once the research is done, and you’ve partnered with a more experienced broker, “then pick up the phone and make the call,” says Kluck. “The successful broker is the broker that overcomes his/her fear and makes the call.”
How you reach out is as important as why. Kluck referred to touch programs, which essentially boil down to outreach, and not necessarily with a response from the prospect. You don’t need a response to stay top-of-mind, which is the point of all cold-calling. But it takes finesse.
“It’s always uncertain as to how many times a year you should ‘touch’ your prospect or customer,” he says, “but it’s easy to go overboard. Once a month is probably too much, but once a year isn’t enough. It could be once a quarter, but it depends on what you’re sending them.”
Birthdays and other celebrations are good reasons to reach out. So are quarterly market reports or other deals in the submarket that you want to alert your client to. Even if it’s just quarterly marketing reports, Wolfgram says he also likes to insert some humor in each. While a little can go a long way, he says clients tell him all the time that they often open his emails just for the cartoons. His is a savvy response: “Whatever works.”
Of course, “how” touches on a lot of communication choices. “In-person is always best,” says Wolfgram, who estimates his business is 75% office-based. “Naturally, that’s been a challenge with COVID.” He says the next best thing is a combination of phone and email. “We’ll generally find the right contact, phone them, and follow up with an email.” And unless there’s a matter at hand—a lease renewal, for instance—his tendency is to backburner that touch for six months or so.
The in-person meeting, even a virtual meeting if necessary, provides vital face-to-face interaction. As Kluck explains, there’s a diminishing return as you go from full visual contact (where you can read gestures and facial expressions) to phone (where at least there’s tonal inflection), to email or text, which is often the source of confusion. “If you’re not in person, you’re missing 55% of the communication,” he says. “That’s why you want the appointment.”
But how you communicate isn’t quite as important as how the prospect wants to be contacted. For that little piece of intel, “you simply ask,” says Kaduce. And as retro as it sounds, his shop will do an initial outreach via snail mail.
“Maybe it’s an SIOR Report article or online news report,” he says. “Our marketing coordinator will put it together on a one-pager, and I’ll add a handwritten note telling them I’ll reach out in a week or so. If I can do 15 or 20 of those and follow up later, it does warm up the call by giving some value. And it tells them we’re thinking about them. We found it leads to a more productive conversation.”
But snail mail? Today? “In this market snail mail really works. I'm always surprised how many people thank me for sending it.”
Clearly, Des Moines is an interesting market, and somewhat counter-cyclical. Kaduce says that, like Wolfgram, his book of business is mostly office. But unlike Ottawa, he describes Des Moines as a relatively small market populated mostly by local, smaller companies. As a result, “We’re on track to do the same number of office leases this year as we did in 2019. But the size has come way down.”
While the deals are smaller, the clients still want to know what’s happening in their market—and with their competitors—so the outreach has been pretty active. Ditto Kluck in the Denver industrial space. “Our clients are primarily essential businesses, so there was no impact from COVID on our activity,” he says.
Snail mail aside, don’t discount the value of social media either. LinkedIn, with its business-forward content, seems to be the site of choice. “I’ll post a couple of times a week,” says Kaduce. “We may not be talking directly with clients, but they’ll see the post, and I’m staying top of mind.”
Wolfgram leans to both LinkedIn and Twitter but admits, “Social media forms only a small part of our marketing toolbox. We expect, of course, that in the next decade, social media will play an increasingly larger role in marketing, especially as younger millennials move up the corporate ladder.” In the meantime, his focus is more on “touching through face-to-face contact, and direct customized emails and phone calls.”
At the end of the day, through all the phone calls, emails, and texts, the experts remind us to always focus on the long-term rather than the immediate goal. And what is that long-term goal?
“It’s to make sure that when the need arises, you’re the one they remember,” Paul Kluck concludes.
Adam Kaduce, SIOR
Paul Kluck, SIOR
Bruce Wolfgram, SIOR