Prior to getting into the condo business I was a freelance sales trainer, mostly for straight commission sales people like life insurance sales, Realtors, car salespeople, and pretty much anyone else who ended up in sales.
You see there are not many people who actually dream about becoming a salesman. I didn’t either. Prior to shattering my knee cap I had always thought that I would be a professional athlete (can you tell that I haven’t always been a realist).
The reality is that most sales people never dreamed that they would ‘end up’ in sales. Sales is kind of the place that you literally end up, after pursuing dreams that frequently don’t materialize.
I have always felt blessed to possess the selling skills that I developed at a very young age. The street is literally the only true training ground or school for sales people and I frequently still chuckle when I see companies looking for sales people “with university degrees“.
If you’ve followed my blogs over the past decade and a half (simplycondos.com, simplymansion.com and now, simplycharles.com) you will already know that I have been one of the top producing Realtors in Toronto over this time period.
Prior to that I was the top gun for condo developers who found themselves in trouble with sales at their sales sites. For the past decade or so, prospecting for these developers was a rather elusive dream, as a chimpanzee in a suit could sell condos in Toronto amidst the buying frenzy that is condos.
In sales, education (academic education that is) does not play a significant role. My lack of formal education never represented a stumbling block for me as I turned to selling at a very young age (right after high school actually when I got my first job selling typewriters for Olivetti Canada in Ottawa, my home town).
Without dating myself, I can tell you that this was an age where we still sold manual typewriters, electronics were not yet available. Olivetti’s calculators back then had hand cranks and they chugged and sputtered to come up with basic math calculations.
At the same time as I got my entry level sales job with Olivetti, IBM came out with the “Selectric” typewriter, a new state-of-the art electric typewriter with an interchangeable ball that enabled the user to interchange type faces (a revelation at the time).
All the other sales people in Olivetti were totally bummed out, as they saw the selectric as superior to our “clunkers”. If you don’t believe in your product you’ll never be successful.
Well, I don’t accept failure well, so the first thing I do when confronted with negatives is look around and find something unique with whatever it is/was that I was selling and then develop my presentation around these strengths. It’s kind of like ending up with lemons and making lemon aid.
I’m kind of like the kid who for his birthday got a room full of horse manure and instead of being disappointed I dug right in looking for my new pony!
Olivetti had a very expensive typewriter that could “justify a right hand margin” (no-one at the time knew what that meant but it was unique and I could tell the secretaries that I cold called that knowing how to do this would end up getting them a raise and job security) and I saw that unique feature as making my product superior to my competition’s. And sell typewriters I did!
Never mind that it was an albatross that really did have a tough time flying! You had to mathematically (one of my strong suits) calculate the spaces that would result in the right hand margins being aligned, but if you were talented enough to do that, you could electrically produce highly sophisticated documents and that was good enough for me and all I needed.
With this massive clunker, I could compete with “the ball” and with my conscious ability to close the sale, even “big blue” could not stand in my way.
Well, the rest is history. I shot up to the top of the organization as their top producing salesperson in Canada and was promoted to sell what was then considered a computer, which was really just a programable electronic calculator with punch cards designed for surveyors, engineers and people using large mathematical equations repetitively.
I moved on from there to a new start-up by a major Fortune 500 company (“Dun & Bradstreet“) hired to sell mailing lists from their massive database (every company needed credit and D&B was the major credit reporting agency at the time) of companies all logged by a coded number (sic code – “standard industrial classification“) which meant that you could buy a list of all widget manufactures in given postal codes and bombard them with junk mail (not really junk mail as selecting them by industry meant that you could target prospects that in theory needed your products and eliminate all those who would have no use for you wares).
I quickly became board with the concept of selling just mailing labels (much to the chagrin of management) and realized that every company out there was fearful of D&B as they were required to open up their books and share their most confidential accounting if they intended to get a solid credit report.
My logic led me to conclude that if they were so in awe of this company I worked for, they would answer questions and that one spark of opportunity led me to develop a market research division that is still in place today.
I started selling “confidential market research studies” (sure sounded impressive) where the target corporation did not know who they were answer. My thinking was that a company that built heavy off-road equipment (for example) that cost hundreds of thousands of dollars to build, would fear losing an existing client mores than worrying about finding new clients. At least that’s what I sold them.
Having D & B conducting a market survey on their own clients would deliver meaningful information that very well could save my client from losing one of those six figure sales.
I didn’t even ask my superiors about the idea. I just went out and sold it, and sell it I did! Today, if a company was going to hire someone to do this, the ad would open up with the requirement of a Master’s Degree in business (“MBA“) and miss hiring me. I’ve learned that the only jobs I qualified for are jobs that I invented myself, as I couldn’t even get an interview (let alone a job) without an M.B.A., B.S. or other accreditation behind my name.
Don’t get me wrong, I’ve envied education all of my life, I just didn’t get one and I’ve genuinely wished I had one but, for better or worse, that’s not the cards I was dealt and, to quote Aldous Huxley’s intro to Brave New World . . . . “rolling in the mud is not the best way of getting clean“.
I was the youngest corporate superstar that D & B ever had! The only problem was that they paid so poorly that I simply could not enjoy the lifestyle that I was interested in. We fought over compensation frequently and I even proposed to them that I simply get a price for my market studies from them, and then tag on my income over and above that amount, something that visually scared them.
The one good thing that they did do for me was enrol me in every sophisticated psychological selling course in existence!
We parted ways after a few years due to my desire to be able to afford to drive my Mercedes Benz (I still drive one to this day) and wear beautiful suites, neither of which was doable on the meagre compensation that they insisted on paying me. Their carrot was that “one day I could be president“!
I’m a person that lives more in the moment and I concluded to take all this sales training education that they had bought for me (and God given talent) and simply become a sales trainer, which I did with resounding success.
And then in 1979/80 while conducting a sales training seminar, I was approached by a marketing manager for a Toronto real estate Developer (actually the biggest in Canada and infamous at the time, Toronto’s Reichmann Family’s Olympia & York).
She was so impressed with my seminar that she approached me after it and invited me to meet the Reichmann’s (whom I did not have any awareness of at the time) on the following Monday morning.
They had just completed building First Canadian Place, among other noteworthy landmarks and had ventured into a new area of residential condominiums. Condos were unheard of before this and as I sat rather starry-eyed in the penthouse boardroom of First Canadian Place I really got my first glimpse at true wealth.
We sat at the longest board room table I had ever seen, surrounded by a panorama of the city that was mesmerizing! At the head of the table was the patriarchs of the Reichmann Family (Albert and Paul Reichmann) with their full management team lining both sides of the table. I was given the other-end throne seat and could hardly make out the quiet, bearded character facing me way down at the other end.
I was cocky and self-assured and gave them my usual flamboyant sales pitch about how I could train a chimpanzee in a suit to sell, when all of a sudden one of them interrupted me with a simple question: “If you are so good at sales and training people to sell, why wouldn’t you just sell these luxury homes yourself“?
I knew nothing about condominiums (actually very few people did at that time as laws had just been changed to allow multi-unit ownership in one parcel of real estate with the insertion of a few small words . . . “an the air above the real property“).
I immediately quipped back that “getting me to do that is nothing that a good compensation package wouldn’t take care of“. He came back at me with a compensation package and I’ve been involved in selling Toronto condos, one way or the other pretty much ever since.
The first thing that the marketing woman who brought me into the meeting did was start explaining to me “how different and unique selling a six figure condo was” and that “buyers don’t just buy on the spot but require time and effective follow-up” and a whole bunch of other gibberish brought on by her intellectual limitations on selling and by her academic perspective on sales (never having actually been a salesperson).
She was not impressed with my opposition to her logic and my recommendation that we just let me do my thing the way I do my thing, and I wouldn’t try to tell her how to market to get the prospects that I would turn into clients.
On my first day on the job I sold two units with all paperwork completed and deposit cheques attached. They had been selling for almost a year and had only one prospective purchase and it was faltering (I later went back to this prospective buyer and resold them).
I continued selling for developers like 1001 Bay, 300 Bloor East (where I sold the most expensive piece of residential property in Toronto’s history) and others when they got into trouble (they would try hiring their own sales reps first and they would fail and then call on me).
And then the real estate crash of 1989 hit and Minto called me in to save their flagship building at 38 Elm Street when the Delta Chelsea Hotel allowed them to pour the foundation and parking levels for their proposed condo hotel only to then introduce the site restriction that limited the building of another hotel in that area which limited 38 Elm to only residential.
Having been designed as a hotel condo and with no dens, it would be quite a challenge to sell these hotel units as homes! And besides the market was literally in free-fall! Again, thanks to my subtle (and many times not so subtle) “strong arm sales tactics” I managed to pull off a resounding sales success. You see, selling isn’t about showing and hoping people buy . . . . there is a psychology and structure that has to be followed, respected and executed.
Every sale has to be “closed“. It’s kind of like going to the bathroom “nothing is ever finished until the paper work is done“. Asking someone to buy is not the way to achieve consistent results in selling.
Most salespeople I meet don’t even know what a “close” is or how, when or why, to do it! It is amazing to me to see so many people even today so dependent on selling to earn their living but lacking a conscious understanding of what they are doing and/or what is required of them. Fortunately for most Toronto Realtors over the last decade and a half or so, the Toronto condo market has been so hot that, as I’ve said many times, “a chimpanzee in a suit could sell one (given adequate sales training).
I’ve kept my sales training proficiency up over the years by doing freelance work. I accepted a challenge from the owner of the Paymaster Corporation (“Bob Warner”) to completely revamp his sales/distributor network by bringing in my own recruited salesforce and training them, which turned around his faltering company within months!
And, despite the successes I’ve enjoyed and the financial rewards derived from decades of real estate selling, I’m now returning to where it all started for me and, quite frankly what I enjoyed the most, sculpting professional sellers out of amateurs that proliferate the profession.
If you are looking to elevate your game, email me at [email protected] and we can talk about educating your sales force.