Taking care of business: Top producers share winning strategies

by Melanie Kalmar

Agents who consistently top the lists in terms of production will tell you that winning in any market, up or down, requires an insatiable drive to succeed, a strong desire to help people and skills that can only be gained outside of a classroom.  Most of them shy away from talking about volume and transactions, choosing instead to focus on the strategies that help them uphold the title year after year in a highly competitive field.  Atlanta Agent magazine spoke with three long-standing top producers—Jonathan Rich, Robin Blass and Natalie Gregory—to find out how they maintain the title in good times and bad, and the advice they have for rookie agents looking to replicate their successes.

The importance of being local

Walking the walk is especially important in real estate. Jonathan Rich, team leader with Keller Knapp, is a proponent of living in the community where you work. He said this “geo-centric philosophy” will help agents learn firsthand everything a potential buyer will want to know. Rich lives with his wife and six children in the East Lake neighborhood of Atlanta where he works.

If living in the area is not possible, Rich suggests agents gain an understanding of the neighborhood they’re working in by doing as much business in one place as they can. “Try to understand who you are and where you fit, as far as your brand and relational presence in that community,” he said.

Natalie Gregory of Compass also takes a hyperlocal approach by conducting business mostly within a 4-mile radius of her home. “I know all of the comparable properties because I’ve either shown them or sold them,” she said.

It’s also important to be involved in the community outside of selling homes. Gregory became well-known in the area she serves by founding a community magazine and sponsoring hometown events, such as The Decatur Arts Festival, The Decatur Books Festival, Druid Hills Tour of Homes, Decatur Tour of Homes and Amplify Decatur, a fundraiser that supports homeless shelters. “Community involvement is one of the best ways to advertise and give back at the same time,” she said.  “It demonstrates that you believe in the community and are doing everything you can to help.”

A tough climb

After one full year of working in the business, Robin Blass made the Million Dollar Club at Coldwell Banker.  But it wasn’t easy; she had to earn extra money waitressing during the first two years of her career. Blass remembers, early on, writing 13 contracts and not one going through. Her career started to take off after she gained negotiating experience by selling new homes in about half a dozen subdivisions, which also helped her establish credibility at a young age and build a listing business.

Blass often advises up-and-coming real estate professionals to hustle like she did. “Farm your sphere of influence, start your own database with everyone you know and try to find buyers as soon as you can so you can have a sale, which will turn you into an expert in that neighborhood,” she said.

In her first year as a real estate professional, Gregory earned the title “Rookie of the Year” by the Dekalb Association of Realtors, an honor she attributed to her efforts around creating a brand, sending out letters of introduction, working open houses every weekend and getting in front of people in her sphere of influence. “I believe you have to spend money to make money,” she said. “You’ve got to make your listings look as good as they possibly can, and package the product with the right advertising, descriptions and photos.”

Now, after thirteen years in the industry, Gregory has learned to handle rejection and not take it personally if a client chooses another agent. She has also learned to deliver bad news early. “Rip off the Band-Aid and let someone know if they are not going to sell their house for what they think they are or buy their dream house for what their budget is — and work to find a solution,” she said.

Gregory’s advice for new agents was all about making the right connections, both with people and information. “Set your mind to it, find a good mentor that can show you the ropes and teach you and always be open to learning,” she said.

View from the top

The only thing that changes when you become a top producer is more people request to work with you, because they see your name and accolades, Blass said. Naturally, after 38 years in the industry — and  achieving Million Dollar Club status 37 of those 38 years — she gathers a lot of repeat business. But she also works hard to stay in touch with all of her clients through email and mailings, to make sure they remember her.

The possibility of losing their coveted titles does not keep any of these top producers up at night.  “If we’re doing the right thing, taking care of our clients, all of that will work itself out,” Rich said.

Now in his ninth year in the industry, Rich was quick to note that his status as a top producer is not something he promotes in any way, and it doesn’t affect how he does business. “We let our relationships with our clients and our brand do the talking for us,” he said. “We just try to honor our clients, make sure we put their interests first.”

Rich, Gregory and Blass all agree the top producer title causes some prospective clients to assume that they are too busy or that they only take on high-end deals. But all three said they are available to assist all levels of buyers and sellers because they have teams supporting their efforts.  And despite her top producer status, Gregory said she never feels like she has actually made it.  “There’s always so much to do,” she said.  “Every year brings more clients to satisfy.”

And though they’ve found something that works for them, even successful agents need to be ready to pivot when necessary. Blass said she’s enjoying today’s relatively good market and interest rates, but that she also managed to sell 30 to 50 houses a year when interest rates were 19 percent by going after relocation business because companies were providing interest differentials.  “You have to adjust your business plan with market conditions,” she said.

Marketing yourself as available

Gregory’s Facebook page reads “open 24/7” and she means it. Whereas some agents specify in their outgoing voicemail messages the limited hours during which they return phone calls, she is available to clients whenever they need her. “I realize this business is personal and emotional,” she said. “You have to be there for people to negotiate whenever they are ready.”

Blass has a 10-minute rule, returning all calls from new prospects for listings within that timeframe.  “I respond quickly to any lead, even if I cannot talk to them, to let them know a better time of day to talk,” she said. “It has a huge impact on people to know that you are excited about their call.”

Agents’ personal marketing techniques can also be bolstered by their efforts to get the word out about properties they’re representing. Blass is always searching for clever ways to market listings to other agents, such as bringing food trucks to showings and hosting drawings for Yeti coolers. But she also knows that all these efforts mean little if she doesn’t do her due diligence in the valuation process: “If it’s not selling, it’s not priced right.”

Taking the time

Top agents often attribute their successes to proper time blocking. On a typical morning, Blass wakes up at 5:30 a.m., returns emails, organizes her schedule and that of her staff’s and exercises before 7:30 a.m.  She’s usually not in the office for more than an hour each day. Instead she might be out in the field on appointments, visiting a listing to make sure it’s priced right or previewing a property for a buyer to make sure it’s a good fit.  Blass admits she works seven days a week and other real estate professionals have probably figured out a better way.  Still, she makes time for regular family dinners on Sundays and relaxing vacations.

A successful day for Gregory is one where she’s gotten everything done that she committed to do. She often advises agents starting out to avoid letting anything go to the next day.

Rich agreed that taking care of oneself is also critical to business success. “It’s a great idea to exercise regularly, block your schedule and manage time well,” he said.  “It’s imperative to have good balance. If you have a family, take care of them first.”