Relationship Selling in Real Estate

Customers are more empowered than ever before.

Armed with mountains of information, user reviews, and a healthy dose of skepticism—the role of the sales professional has transformed from that of a basic informer to one of partner and advisor, helping prospects prioritize their needs based on what they already know.

And for most sales reps, it’s a major switch up.

Selling in the 2020s is no longer about building trust by meeting the client’s every demand. It’s about showing your client you understand them, the market, and the options that lay before them, better than anyone else.

Sales reps who have a deep understanding of this shift will be the ones who futureproof their real estate commissions and become the top producers in their firm.

If you think that should be you, read on. We’re about to reveal the truth about modern sales and show you exactly what role relationship building will play.

Table of Contents

  1. What Is Relationship Selling?
  2. The Challenger Sale Approach
  3. Core Traits of Top Producers
  4. The Future of Relationship Selling

What Is Relationship Selling?

Building Relationships in Real Estate Relationship selling is the type of selling that most of us are most familiar with.

It embodies the principles espoused in Dale Carnegie’s timeless book How To Win Friends and Influence People. This book remains on countless shelves more than eight decades after its first publication because, by nature, humans want to feel important.

Relationship selling is all about the special connection you make with your customers and at Follow Up Boss, we serve hundreds of successful real estate teams that thrive on relationships. But there is evidence to suggest that the relationships you build must extend beyond remembering the names of your client’s pets or how they take their coffee.

The most successful sales reps take command of the sale in a way that pushes the customer to think differently.

This is what’s known as the Challenger Sale—a term coined by Matthew Dixon and Brent Adamson, directors with the Corporate Executive Board’s Sales Executive Council.

Let’s dig into where the idea of the challenger sale comes from, why these sales reps consistently come out on top, and how you can harness these skills even if they don’t come naturally to you.

Kris Lindahl runs one of the leading real estate teams in North America due in no small part to his bold branding and fearless sales approach.

The Challenger Sale Approach

According to a global study conducted by the Sales Executive Council, sales professionals fall into 1 of 5 categories, which include:

  • The Hard Worker
    • Self-motivated
    • Doesn’t give up easily
    • Interested in feedback
  • The Lone Wolf
    • Self-assured
    • Follows gut instinct
    • Hard to manage, but always delivers results
  • The Problem Solver
    • Detail-oriented
    • Reliable
    • Always solves the problem
  • The Relationship Builder
    • Classic consultant
    • Builds personal and professional advocates
    • Meets customers needs and extinguishes any conflict
  • The Challenger
    • Strong understanding of customer’s needs
    • Challenges customers to think differently
    • Assertive and not afraid to have a voice

The study concluded that 40% of high performers used the challenger approach to selling, while only 7% of high performers took the relationship builder approach.

It’s also important to note that the challenger sales approach worked best among high performers, but average performers saw an equal success rate in all 5 categories.

So, why does the challenger come out on top, while relationship builders struggle to get ahead?

According to the study’s authors, it’s all about the position of the relationship within the sales process.

In The Challenger Sale: Taking Control of the Customer Conversation by Dixon and Adamson, Professor Neil Rackman in his foreword remarked, “A customer relationship is the result and not the cause of successful selling.”

For many of us, and certainly, for those of us in real estate, this represents a BIG shift in thinking.

Top producers understand a strong customer relationship is a reward for providing customer value—not the other way around.

What does this mean for your relationships with clients?

According to a Gartner study, customers are typically 57% of the way through the buying process before their first meaningful interaction with a sales rep.

It might instinctively feel easier to let your clients dictate the terms of the sale based on the information they already have. But if you really want to build a solid client relationship, you must first challenge their beliefs about what their business needs. After all, how else can you ensure they’ll get the right deal for them?

Bottom line, if you don’t take control of the relationship at the beginning, it can be a slow, painful process that may or may not lead to a closed transaction.

With a minimum of seven touches to close a complex sale, that could prove to be a whole lot of wasted time.

According to Dixon and Adamson, “Challengers focus on pushing their customers out of their comfort zone, while relationship builders focus on being accepted into it.” It’s the difference between providing customer value and providing customer convenience.

Think about it. A sales rep who is agreeable is convenient. But clients don’t hire sales reps to tell them they’re right all the time. They want a sales rep who knows the market inside out and can educate and nurture them toward making a powerful purchasing decision that will have a positive impact on their business.

If you get this right, it’s the beginning of a great business relationship for years to come. Customers are more likely to give you repeat business and referrals when you prove you can deliver results, and not just because you’re likable.

Where does real estate fit into that picture today?

The challenger sales approach is usually applied to B2B sales, but it works just as well for professionals in the real estate industry.

Regardless of what’s on the other end of the transaction, the challenger sales approach is driven by a deep understanding of your customer’s needs while bringing forward pieces of the puzzle the customer hasn’t even thought about yet, like how to avoid risk or save money.

Real estate customers have ample databases at their disposal to show the market trends, what’s available, and what properties in their area are going for. Top producers who take the challenger approach will help customers prioritize this information while giving them key insights they couldn’t have found on Google, Zillow, or anywhere else.

In other words, they help make sense of all this information while tying it back into the customer’s unique needs. That kind of service is priceless.

Sometimes challengers are controversial. Take Grant Clayton, for example. His $100 million-dollar real estate business model bucks the industry status quo and follows the likes of tech disruptors like Amazon and Netflix.

Core Traits of Top Producers

The study also revealed a number of core traits embodied by top producers.

If you don’t have all of them yet, don’t worry. Few of us are born challengers, but with enough practice, you can master these skills to close more deals and serve your customers better.

Challengers teach their customers

Challengers help customers prioritize what they already know about the market while providing key insights that drive the sale forward. The goal is to educate customers into taking actions, while also showing them where inaction could lead them.

Challengers tailor their sales message to the customer

Challengers stay in tune with customer’s priorities and niche down so they can become the go-to expert for a specific market. They also rely on tools that help them stay organized and on top of communication, so the right message goes out at the right time.

Challengers take control of the sale

Challengers talk directly with the key decision-makers in a deal and aren’t afraid to take the wheel during negotiations. They realize that the transaction isn’t a money exchange, but an exchange of values and can articulate this in a way that makes the price talk seamless.

The Future of Relationship Selling

The old logic in relationship selling is to be responsive to your customer’s demands. However, the challenger sales rep understands that this can actually frustrate the client and make the decision-making process that much harder.

The challenger works to guide the client by providing clear explanations, using their deep insight to make the best recommendations regardless of how the client originally approached the sale.

And that’s how they cement lasting relationships with clients and earn endless repeat business.

Other Valuable Massachusetts Real Estate News Content

Get more hel[ful guidance in these previously published articles at Mass RE News.

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  • Attorney vs. real estate agent – in a real estate transaction it is possible you may use a real estate agent, lawyer, or both. See the circumstances in which you may have these options.


Dave Lawrence


About the author: The above article on relationship selling for real estate was written by Dave Lawrence. Dave is the Head of Marketing at Follow Up Boss. In his role he spends a lot of his time ‘under the hood’ of many of the highest performing real estate teams in North America, helping them grow their businesses and collaborating with them to share their learnings and experiences with other ambitious team leaders.