Gaining the Advantage: There’s No Substitute for Boots on the Ground

In our previous post, “3 Old School Tactics For the Arsenal of Modern CRE Tools,” we talked about characteristics of a successful agent that transcend the philosophical chasm between Millennials and Boomers.  Now, let’s look at their approach to business.

At its core, brokerage is a grassroots business. We can take advantage of every high-tech tool on the market, but ultimately, commercial real estate is a business of human networking and connections. This inescapable duality of our industry means that abandoning traditional methods in a full-court press to harness Big Data and be Modern Brokers isn’t an automatic guarantee of success.

Most brokers agree, we’re looking at a paradigm shift in the industry.  Technology is bringing profound changes to commercial real estate. But it doesn’t mean everything that came before is obsolete. In fact, time-tested methods, enhanced by the data-rich tools at our fingertips, have the potential to yield the best results of all.

Ultimately, success in commercial real estate comes down to what you know and how you leverage that knowledge. Veteran San Francisco broker Cal Nakanishi views it as a process, transforming intellectual property into prosperity. “This is the essential foundation of credibility in the brokerage world, whether you’re talking to prospective clients or industry colleagues,” he said.

“Brokerage is a huge business and the best way to establish yourself is to choose a single path and stick with it. Learn all the ins-and-outs. Find your niche and become an expert, don’t flounder,” he added. If you’re tired of constantly chasing deals, you need to create a business plan, build a foundation of first-hand knowledge in every aspect of your target market and actively use that knowledge to build a competitive advantage.

Agents distinguish themselves by the quality of the information and analysis they provide. “Always know more about a building than your client does. If there’s something you don’t know, be honest about it. Do the research, find the answer and deliver it to them,” Cal said. It’s easy to think you’ll have broader opportunities as a generalist, but people gravitate to expertise. Take a slice of the market and immerse yourself in it, find out everything you can about it. There’s no substitute for true expertise.

On the flip-side, there’s one important caveat to this rule, Cal notes. Never try to make yourself seem bigger than you are. “Reputations are everything in this business and they follow you everywhere,” he said. This is one area where there’s little to be gained from the Fake-it-Till-You-Make-it approach.

Once you identify your particular market segment, study every submarket in the region. Become conversant in the nuances. “You want to be able to speak to your clients confidently, even if the conversation strays beyond the scope of the transaction at hand.” Your goal is to be able to provide context and help your client see more than just what opportunities are available, but also why and how each one matters to the success of their business.

These same rules apply to the task of expanding your business. Utilize the perks of being an agent in a brokerage firm. Get comps for buildings, then cold call all the tenants. Get to know who they are and what they need. Learn everything you can about their building.  Then package it all up and offer them a detailed report.  They may not need your services at that moment, but keep following up. Give them a call every few months.  They’ll think of you when they need representation.

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