Why You Should Treat Your Relationship With Clients Like a Partnership

John Giffen is the Director, Broker Services for Benchmark Realty, LLC in Franklin, Tennessee plus writer and podcaster.

He holds numerous industry designations and certifications including the Certified Real Estate Brokerage Manager (CRB) and Certified Residential Specialist (CRS) designations from the National Association of REALTORS® and the GRI (Graduate, REALTOR® Institute) designation from the Tennessee Association of REALTORS®. He also is a Certified Distance Education Instructor (CDEI).

As a real estate educator and proponent of professional development, John is a Tennessee Real Estate Commission (TREC) approved course instructor, as well as the author of several TREC, approved continuing education courses on real estate contracts, agency, licensing issues, buyer representation, property marketing, real estate ethics, and transaction behavior. He works closely with the Tennessee Association of REALTORS® and other TREC approved real estate providers in developing new courses for license renewal. He also has been called on by PSI, TREC’s approved testing vendor, to be a Subject Matter Expert.

John is a member of the National Association of REALTORS®, the Tennessee Association of REALTORS®, the Greater Nashville Association of REALTORS® and the Williamson County Association of REALTORS®. He serves on the Board of Directors of the Williamson County Association of REALTORS®. He was selected as the 2014 REALTOR® of the Year by the Williamson County Association of REALTORS®. He has membership in numerous real estate industry organizations including the Council of Real Estate Brokerage Managers, the Council of Residential Specialists and the Real Estate Educators Association (REAA).




Johnathan: Welcome back folks to the Mail-Right Show, this is episode 256. We’ve got a returning guest. We got John Griffin coming back on the show.

John: It’s Giffen. It’s okay. It’s Giffen.

Johnathan: Giffen Sorry.

John: Yeah, that’s alright.

Johnathan: Sorry, let’s just do it Giffen. Sorry, I apologize.

John: Don’t worry. I’ve gone many years with an R. [cross-talk 00:28].

Johnathan: Three, two, one. Welcome back folks to the Mail-Right Show. This is episode 256. We’ve got returning special guests. We’ve got John Giffen back. So, John, you were on last year and …

John: Yeah.

Johnathan: To say things have changed is a slightly understatement. Would you like to quickly give us a 20 second intro about yourself and your background, John?

John: I have been in the real estate business for about 20 years. It’s a second career for me. I was in the commercial printing and packaging business before I got into real estate, but I’ve owned 15 homes. Some of those have been investment, most of them are primary residence, but got licensed, became an affiliate broker, three years later I got my broker’s license, became a managing broker of an ERA franchise firm and I’ve been selling. I was rookie of the year, my first year in real estate. Sold multimillion dollars’ worth of business over the years. I was a managing broker during my sales career when I was managing 480 agents and selling… I’ve closed about 37 to 40 transactions my last year of really selling. Now, I just sell to close friends. I manage seven offices and seven principle brokers in the Greater Nashville area for Benchmark Realty as Director of Broker Operations.

Johnathan: There’s not much that John doesn’t know about the real estate industry. He also writes regularly for England and he also has his own great website, which is johngiffen.com. And we have all the links in the show notes. And on that site, John has also written a book, that’s really an extensive guide if you’re looking to enter the real estate industry, and you’re looking for a practical, but very detailed guide about all the factors that your initial training doesn’t give to you. And he’s very generous because he offers a number of the chapters of the book for free as downloadable PDF. So please go to the show notes because you’ll find all the links to the resources I’ve just mentioned and they’re fantastic. Also got my great co-host Robert Newman and I, after a year I called him Richard Newman, but he’s the only Robert Newman. Robert, would you like to quickly introduce yourself?

Robert: Yeah, I’d love to. So, I’m a lifetime salesperson and a convert to digital marketing. I, like John, I had two careers. My first was telemarketing and once I saw a three-person department out produce1500 people, I knew that the way of the world was the web and I transferred my career into real estate specifically and I’ve been doing ever since, that was 13 years ago. You can find out more information about me at inboundrem.com.

Johnathan: Right. And we’re going to start off our discussion with John with a recent article that he wrote for Inman, and that’s why you should treat your relationships with clients like a partnership. So, let’s start off with that, John. So, why did you write the article? And secondly, what do you see as the key thing you were trying to provide to the readers about the article?

John: A couple of things. I think one, and I find this with a age… and I still have a lot of agents who come to my office on a regular basis and I may have shared this in the last episode that we did last year, but sometimes I feel like a therapist, a psychologist, a counselor because…

Johnathan: I know Robert feels that way.

John: I’d have to bill Robert, the agents are free, but Robert, I need to get his credit card to… because I’m sure he’s got a bunch. But no, seriously, I think what we’re seeing is over the years, a lot of agents will only look to the end of their nose and what I mean by that is they’re looking at that commission check. And because of that, they’re short sided in that relationship with the client. I’m not saying all agents are like that, I’m just saying that I’ve seen a trend to where in Tennessee we’ve had a tremendous number of people who have got licensed and they are… I think when I started in the business, we had probably 10, 11,000 licensees, maybe 15 at the most. Now we have almost 40,000 licensees in the state of Tennessee.

Getting a real estate license is pretty easy, it’s selling real estate that is the most difficult part. And so, when I talk to agents about the importance of what we’re doing, which is a client is entrusting us with their greatest asset. We’ve got to one, realize that we’re running a small business. Two, that we have a unique value proposition which allows us to sell their property or help them purchase a property and three, that I cannot do everything in this relationship in terms of making sure things take place and what I mean by that, that’s the reason I use the word partnership, is I’m not dragging the client along, I’m walking side by side with them. Good example for a seller and you list their property, I have certain expectations of that seller. That is, they’re going to be one…. hopefully they listen to me that when we walked through their house, that they understand that they’re going to have to be clutter, they’re going to have to stage the property, they’re going to have to be open to the possibility of professional staging which may require them to really make some major changes to the interior of the property, the same is true with the exterior. They’re going to listen to me, hopefully because I’ve had success, I know what I bring to the table and that expectation set and so we’re going to work together to make that happen.

I spend three to four weeks with a seller before we even put a sign in the yard. And because a home becomes a house which then becomes a commodity, and so you’re going to be competing against a lot of other homes so setting those expectations are important. So, we’re going to do it together as partners. For buyers, we’re going to do the same thing. In a buyer partnership, we’re going to work together to find their new home. And what I’m trying to do with buyers is at the very beginning of the relationship, I sit down with them for about an hour and I go through how I operate my buyer representation side of my business.

I have a property marketing side, which is my selling, my listing side, but also have a buyer representation side where I represent buyers. And there we’re going to set those expectations of one, I’m going to be the only agent, my company through designated agency who’s going to work for you. I’m going to protect you, I’m going to mediate for you, I’m going to negotiate for you, I’m going to advocate, use all those terms, but I am going to go to bat for you and make it happen. The other part of that is I have expectations of you, the buyer. You’re not going to go behind my back and buy a home without me involved. And the reason is after I’ve explained the importance of buyer representation and what I do bring to the table, then the buyer is more likely not to move forward with a transaction if they know I’ve got their back.

And I’ve had many agents walked them off as saying that their buyer went behind their back, and the first thing I asked is what did you say when you first with them? Do you set those expectations? Did you explain to them that you’re a small business owner? You know, our time is money, I mean, just go down the list and those some of the things I think I brought out in that article.

Johnathan: That’s great. Over to you Robert.

Robert: Well, okay. So for the audience, I said a little bit of this in the preamble, I will circle back on and talk about this, but I want everybody to know, everybody that’s listening, everybody… because John and I fall on two separate sides, which John, you probably don’t even know, but John focuses his company and his efforts on learning more about Facebook and Facebook marketing and generating leads that way and I focus on inbound marketing, which is a combination of SEO search engine optimization, things like that. But the key element of inbound marketing is the value of informational content and do you take the time to put that online someplace for somebody to learn from or appreciate, and you, sir, whether you understand it or not, I consider you to be a world class inbound marketer. You may not have the SEO chops because I don’t know that you’ve taken the time to understand how the search engines work, but in terms of, do you produce valuable content for people that… I haven’t seen anybody do anything better, let me just put it that way. Like I’ve never…

Johnathan: Well, can I just slightly interrupt what you’ve just said? When you were saying is linked to the article and it’s linked to what John’s just said, because we do have a habit of thinking that people should just know about us and know what we’re going to be able to do for them. You know, it’s on the website or we’ve discussed it before numerous occasions, but it doesn’t really work that way John as a agent and it doesn’t work in most businesses. You really got to explain the value proposition to every new possible client that comes on your radar, don’t you?

John: You do and I call it in the book and I believe I wrote an article for Inman last year and I probably need to revisit it again, is that value proposition should be considered a unique value proposition. For example, for Robert in what he does and what he brings to the table from a technology standpoint is a unique value proposition. We all have value propositions as real estate professionals. We have access to the MLS, we have signs that we can put in the yard, we have lockboxes we can put on the door, we have access to Zillow, we have access to Trulia, realtor.com, all of that, but what makes us unique? What helps me stand out? And what helped me stand out as a real estate professional, I had all the tools, the technology tools, the marketing materials and things like that but it’s how I use those and it’s how I would bring those tools to the table.

And yet a few more things. I literally, my reputation as a professional realtor was built on the fact that I was a shepherd of the sheep. That is, I grabbed those clients by the hand and I didn’t let go of them and I prevented them from experiencing the bad and the ugly of real estate. You’ve heard of the good, the bad and the ugly. I wanted them to see the good, I did my best to keep the bad and the ugly away from them and I teach on this to our agents and other classes that you have got to keep what goes on behind the green curtain in this business, away from your client, so that you always look like the prince and not the crazy person that is trying to break down the castle door. Did that make sense?

Robert: Yes, but John probably… do we have to…? Do I have time to get my question out or…?

John: Sure.

Johnathan: No, we probably…

John: Oh, I’m sorry. Wrong John.

Johnathan: We’re coming to about the 13-minute mark so we go for a break, then we go over to you, Robert. And it was a really fantastic article and I strongly advise people to go and read that article, but I really… and also John’s got a great podcast. He’s joined the podcast tribe, and I haven’t… it’s on my list to listen to some of these podcasts, but if it’s anything like the documentation you provide and because you provide it to our podcast, it should be a real favorite for our listeners, as well as our show because John really does bring an enormous amount of clarity to a very confusing industry that I think there’s one of your great strengths, John. You bring a lot of clarity to a very confusing industry. So, we’re going to be back in a few moments and I am going to hand you over to Robert. We’ll see you in a few seconds folks.

We’re coming back. We’ve had a fabulous returning guest, John Giffen, over to you, Robert and over to your question.

Robert: Well, actually I was just going to follow up. So, I started off by my preamble was, hey, I was basically telling our audience, John, that I consider you to be an inbound marker worth checking out, which I’ve said countless times, you should go to his site, doyouhaveaminutebook.com. I’ve referenced it to at least a hundred agents individually on consultation calls because it contains assets on how to sell a home but right now, what we’re talking about to finally get to my question, is John is talking about doing value ads inside the initial qualification process. My original recollection, John was, you were also on our first show and I may be wrong, but I think that you were talking about using open houses too as a source to generate leads. So, I guess here’s my, my question.

Your approach is wildly informational, so is mine by the way. And I like to have a style inside my communication, where I take literally the biggest problems that I have inside the sales process and address them upfront. In other words, if I have a… I absolutely have big objections that come up with my services price and timeline, length of time, it takes to succeed, those are usually the first things I talk about. Not the last, not at the end. I’m kind of curious to know your philosophy in terms of coaching and training your large group of agents. Do you buy into that philosophy? Do you buy into something else? Where do you sit with that?

John: Well, here’s where… Robert, that’s a great question. And this is my belief. The book that I wrote, the podcast that I do, which is called Broker Insights, the Broker Insights Podcast, which I was considering writing another book this year, but I decided to get into the podcast world and I’m loving it. It is absolutely… and it’s getting a lot of good response too and I’ve got some interviews coming up with some folks like you guys are doing that I’m really excited about, but the underlying fabric of what we do as a small business and I think the consumer needs to understand that as real estate professionals, we are small business people. So, let’s take buyers for example, and I teach this to my agents, do not put a buyer in a car until you have sat down with them and explain the buying process they need to understand.

And in my book, and also on the website that you referenced, doyouhaveaminutebook.com, I have a flow chart that I created, and one is called the buying process, the other is called the home selling process. And I use that flow chart as my talking points of this is the way this is going to work. It’s going to happen this way if you work with me. And of course, you got to build rapport and you got to make sure that things are working out well. But I also talk to them about how I get paid from a buyer representative representation standpoint. I talked to them about the fact that as a small business, I have expenses and I don’t get paid for reimbursement of those expenses until we close on the house. Now I don’t dwell on that, but I have bullet points that I go through so they understand how I operate the business and I find that to be very educating to the consumer.

And I adapted a philosophy and if you listened to this last podcast, I tell a story about a client who went behind my back and I lost $17,450 worth of sales commission. And this was many, many, many years, it was like my first year of selling. And that was the last time that ever happened. And that was a hard lesson. It was trust me, it was harder going home to my wife, telling her what had happened. And so that’s when I began and I had a great mentor at the time who told me, John, you’ve got to sit down with these people. They got to understand this process. They have to understand how this business works.

And so with the tools that… Robert that you talked about, and some of the tools that we have, then I share those and how we can make their life easier with a mobile app, with Real Scout which is a new platform that we’re using at Benchmark, a lot of brokerages are using that, but we’ve had great success with that, we’re moving into using a MoxiWorks and I mean, these are things that don’t replace me, but help me do what I do. And I don’t know if that answered your question, but I do the same thing with, with sellers too, so.

Robert: John, do I have time to take a tangent real quick?

John: Sure.

Johnathan: You got a good…

John: Oh, I’m sorry.

Johnathan: 10 to 12 minutes so off you go.

Robert: Okay. Well, I want to hit my question that I cleared with everybody at the beginning of the show before we went live, but you brought something up that I’ve never heard of and I always like to ask a couple of questions when a professional, like yourself mentioned something to me that I’ve literally never heard of. So, I’m looking at Real Scout right now, which is the first time I’ve ever looked at it. And it’s saying on the homepage where agents and home buyers search for a home together, can you explain to me how you’re using this tool as a brokerage?

John: Yeah. A Real Scout is a platform that utilizes artificial intelligence. It learns the behavior of the buyer. So, we register them, we set up an account or they can set their own account up with them and the agent… for example, Robert you are my buyer client.

Robert: Right.

John: And so, what I’m going to do is send you a link to where you can register with Real Scout and that link allows me to always be your agent in that account. But it’s a search engine, it’s a platform that is tied into our MOS and it provides us with opportunities for them to search for properties. It learns the behavior of the buyer from the standpoint of how they’re searching. If they’re spending more time looking at kitchens, pictures of kitchens or looking more at backyards, they’re looking more at maybe master bedrooms then it’s going start bringing up houses that are going probably be closer to what they want. The other thing that it does, it automatically notifies them of new listings based on their behavior, based on their search and they put search criteria and so it’s not right there is science behind all this.

The other thing that it does in our own company, for example, if I was listing a house in Nashville that met the needs of some of my colleague’s buyers, then it will alert those buyers of my listing and also vice versa. So, we have a lot of interaction so that it helps sellers too, because it helps get the listing sold. We started Real Scout about six months ago and we have had I think about 75, 80% conversion within our 1,250 agents.

Robert: So, when you see a 75 to 85% conversion, does that mean that these agents are using it? Is that your defining as conversion?

John: Yes, they’re using it…

Robert: Okay, so they have the opportunity to use the tool…

John: Right.

Robert: And 85 out of a hundred agents are choosing to use it and if I remember correctly, you’ve got about 1200 agents in your…

John: Yeah. We have 1,250 right now so we’re over seven offices.

Robert: Okay, so you’ve grown. So, which leads me segues really nicely into my next question. And this is probably a Robert Newman question. I just realized that after we got off the call, I obviously have a preconceived notion, A Director of Broker Operations does, but the more I looked at you and the more I looked at your stuff, you operate like you’re an independent contractor and the way I started to view you in my head was this guy feels to me like he’s like an internal coach, like Tom Fairy, but a lot more information. He’s probably coaching up all of these brokers who are then going out and running the office. Well, that whole dialogue made me go, I kind of wonder what it is you exactly you do at the Brokerage and if I had the chance, I wanted to ask the question.

John: Sure. Well, I wake up every morning asking that question, Robert. No. In this business and I’m very blessed because I work for a company… I started with the company 10 years ago and we were very small Phillip Cantrell, who’s our CEO, the owner, he and his wife, Amanda owned the company. And we were a very small company when he started in 2006, he started with about five or six agents. And it has grown to what it is now and it’s through his vision. He’s one of the smartest people. My father, who was my mentor will never be replaced by anyone but Phillip’s right under my dad. And he has a master’s in economics. He’s really good at what he does. He’s an incredible entrepreneur but he came from the printing industry too. And so, we use systems and processes. So long story short to get to the answer to your question.

He made it, he started out he was the principal broker of Benchmark. We have one office. I had moved my license. I was a principal broker for another franchise firm and I moved my license to Benchmark. And I thought, well, you know, and I’m going take a break from being a principal broker, a managing broker and I will just sell, I’ll just be full-time sales. And then over about a three or four month period Philip harassed me quite a bit and said, I want to step down, I’ve got to be the CEO, I want to grow this company and I want you to be the principal broker and I said, what part no, do you not understand? And I eventually said, okay, I will. And so, I became the principal broker. We had probably when I took over maybe about a hundred agents, maybe 150, and then we took off, it was like throttles on a jet aircraft.

We just went full throttle. And we grew and grew to the point where we opened a one office here. we open another office there and before we knew it, we had about six offices. Well I had made a transition from selling and being a principal broker to just being a full-time employee of being a broker. He made me… he said you know, you know your stuff and I’d like for you to consider being manager broker services, which would be an overseer of the principal brokers and be an advisor and consultant and making sure everything is happening in terms of the mechanics of real estate, making sure that we’re staying in compliant. And then about three years ago I was promoted to Director of Broker Operations where all the principal brokers report to me I’m their boss and I oversee all the offices.

So, I’m sort of like a Chief Operating Officer, but not really because you look at real estate, we have two parts, we have the mechanics and we have the business side. My specialty is the mechanics. I know how this thing works, what we call real estate. I know how to get things from point A to point Z and to do it well, I’m not bragging, but I’ve been beat up enough over the years. I can get you through a process. I know the legal side, I know the regulatory side, the federal side, the RESPA, HUD, the whole bit. And so, I’m considered the Chief Principal broker of Benchmark.

Robert: Got you.

John: I’m the one who basically is the conduit for our real estate commission, the conduit to the federal, side the whole bit. But the other thing I do in the background is I write. I write the licensing it’s called the Tennessee Residential Core which is required for license renewal. I write that for Tennessee Realtors, which used to be Tennessee Association Realtors. I also write for two distance online education providers and I write for Inman and now the podcast. But the reason I do all of this though, Robert is I don’t do it for me, I don’t do it to make money, trust me, I’m not becoming a millionaire since I wrote that book, I get to go to Outback once in a while when it’s open, you know pre COVID. But I’m getting to the point, I’m approaching 60. I’m not there yet, but I’m getting close. And what I want to do is I want to finish, well, I want to give back to this industry because I really believe what we do in real estate is noble. And there’s still a place for us in the economy of this country and North America. Does that make sense?

Robert: You are my hero for the day man. It makes sense. I couldn’t have said it better myself. I’ve been approaching this from a different angle, the digital marketing angle, but my approach is it resonates deeply with yours in the sense that I don’t feel like digital marketing needs to be as complicated as everybody is making it. And I feel like people that have the power inside the real estate industry is actually the individual realtor. It’s just whether or not you decide to claim that power because the expertise still lies with the guys and the gals that have their boots on the ground. And that’s where all the digital marketing gravy is. If people would just use it. They just don’t.

John: I know. [cross-talk 29:22]. Digital marketing is one way you can stay in front of your clients and your prospects and that’s what’s important.

Johnathan: We need to wrap the podcast part of the show. We like to keep it around the 30 min mark but hopefully John can stay on for some bonus content. Can you stay on John for…?

John: Most definitely.

Johnathan: I just want to ask you about how you see how the pandemic will affect real estate in the next 18 to two years and cover some other quick topics. Which you can watch the whole interview, plus the bonus content on the Mail-Right YouTube channel. So, go to YouTube, put Mail Right in, and it’s the quickest and easiest way to see it where interviews. And also, if you subscribe to the show, it tells you when the next show is live so it’s a great service. So, I suggest you go over to YouTube and search for Mail Right and subscribe to our show. There must be over 200 interviews on the Mail Right YouTube channel right now experts like the quality of John’s so well worth listening to, and all three as well. So, John now, how can people, find out… I mentioned your podcast…

John: Oh yeah, most definitely.

Johnathan: And also mention how to find your book because I think as somebody in their first year, or probably in their second year, they should really buy your book because I read some of it and I if I was going get a license. I would buy your book.

John: Well, yeah, it’s designed for those who… it really is good for those who just get into the business. You can purchase the book on Amazon and paperback, Kindle, and also in audio version through audible and that link is on the Amazon book page. You can go to audible.com and purchase it too. It’s also available through national bookseller, any bookseller you can order it through any bookseller and Ingram here in Nashville prints the book for me. The podcast, which I’m really excited about is a broker insights podcast. It’s on every major podcast platform from Apple podcasts, Spotify to iHeart Radio. And you also need to listen to it on my website, its johngiffen.com, just click on broker insights podcast.

Johnathan (31:59) That’s great. And you have to come back on the show at the beginning of next year, [cross-talk 32:04] John. Robert, how can people find out more about you and your business?

Robert: Well, I gave this huge preamble, so I’m not going to do that again. I’m going to say, hey, you want to learn more about me? Go to inboundrem.com. That’s the word inbound, rabbit, Edward, Michael.com

Johnathan: And you want to find out more about Mail-Right, and we’ve been busy in these months of COVID and the pandemic in building out our Facebook campaigns and making sure they get results. We’re now actively looking for agents and to become part of the Mail-Right tribe. I think it’s the most value for money, most effective platform in real estate at the present moment. So, if that’s interesting to you, you can go to Mail-Right site and sign up for me to show you a free demo and discuss all your real estate problems and how Mail-Right can help you with that. And that’s totally free folks so I would take that up. We’ll be back next week with another great guest, like John or an internal discussion between me and Robert.

Robert: Which isn’t so great.

Johnathan: It’s great [cross-talk 33:17]. Last one was pretty good.

Robert: Move on to the bonus, I’m just joking.

Johnathan: Yeah, he’s just teasing me. I’m shocked by that intervention. We’ll see you next week. Bye.

Robert: Bye.

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