Sotto Voce: Broker Recruiting and Retention Lessons from the Streets of Brooklyn

by Victor Lund on May 11, 2016

One of my favorite people in rphone dialeal estate is John Reinhardt of Fillmore Real Estate based in Brooklyn, New York. I am not sure why, but everything competitive in the New York City area seems amplified. Like his peers, John is always building his business, one great agent at a time. Among John’s favorite recruiting lessons is the spot. In John’s case, his spot is Peter Luger’s Steakhouse. “It is the one place that agents cannot deny a free meal.” John is a recruiting machine – among the best in the business.

The last time I sat down with John, I shared a story about a phone call that I received from an agent. In this case, the agent shared that her brokerage of 20 years had just been taken over. She was very uncomfortable with the new owners, so she split out with some other agents that started a new firm. The one thing that she did not contemplate in the transition was the loss of the transaction manager, the loss of the broker website, the loss of her listing presentation, and so on. And, although she did not mention it, probably a loss of her office friends.

My sixth sense told me that this agent was having a case of buyer’s remorse. The decision to join the new brokerage was emotional. Now that reality has set in, the agent was rethinking her decision. It occurred to me that if her old broker had called her back that day, she would have promptly returned to her old office, back to that familiar group of friends, and back to the tools that she knew how to use to service her customers. The soft call back – Sotto Voce.

Change is Hard

Real Estate agents hate change. They love new things, but they hate change. Change is hard work. Change is disruptive. And, whenever you change something for the better, you wind up losing something in the process. This agent lost everything that she had “set up” and was facing the consequences of rebuilding and relearning.

WAV Group has researched the productivity results of agents who switch firms. Our methodology for this research is to use BrokerMetrics by Terradatum. When a firm is under a recruiting attack or on a recruiting mission, we look for data points that that help tell a story. Unfortunately, the data rarely supports the cause. As it turns out, when agents switch firms, their productivity goes down. In truth, it is rarely true that an agent will make a switch and grow sales.

Case in point: when Keller Williams did their massive expansion, they quickly hit the high water mark in most areas for agent count, but production lagged. Guess what? If you look at the RealTrends or RIS Media rankings this year, you see that has changed. Now that Keller Williams has agents who have been there for years, productivity by agent has risen sharply over time. Agents find their groove after the initial disruption of a new situation. But it takes a while.

The Soft Call Back – “Sotto Voce”

Brokers lose agents all of the time for a long list of reasons. A good lesson is for you and your managers to remember that the decision to switch firms is typically emotional, and the heat of the moment is never a good time to make life choices. In Italian, they refer to a soft whisper as Sotto Voce. I suggested to John that he start making soft call backs to lost agents. It is a personal call. Ask how they are doing. Tell them you care about them as a person. Express that you miss them. In a soft voice, welcome them back.

I reached out to John to ask him if he had put the Sotto Voce technique to use. Here is what he had to say: “I made the first call, and she was delighted to hear from me. We are having lunch this week. She’ll be back. I can feel it.”

Share this story with your managers. Invite them to call back any agents who have left the firm. In a Sotto Voce, tell them you miss them and invite them back.

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