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RISMEDIA, February 18, 2009-In this market, real estate agents are looking to you more than ever for training. With the order-taking days long gone, they certainly have the time for it and many are getting desperate for the “silver bullet” that will magically turn their dire situation around.

We all know that silver bullets don’t exist and real change requires hard work, dedication and commitment. Yet most training programs, even started with the most sincere intentions, are doomed to fail even before the very first lesson is taught. Here’s why and how you can make any training you provide totally effective and with a lot less stress.

First, let’s define what we mean by effective training. Effective sales associate training occurs when their behavior permanently changes to align with what is being taught. Based on this metric, most real estate sales associate training fails miserably. Either your training efforts are a frustrating exercise of “talking to a wall” or at best, you have information transfer but little or no implementation.

Kids Are Easy, Grownups Not So Much…

Training adults has never been easy. Unlike kids, most adults abhor change and long-term behavioral change is the very essence of effective training. And, the accelerating pace of technological innovation and procedural complexity within the real estate industry makes this task that much more formidable. Yet the increasingly competitive environment makes effective training a top strategic priority. Without it, your company is not likely to make it through the current tough market cycle intact.

There is a very powerful and proven way out of this mess. And to best understand how and why it consistently works requires that we first examine how most training is done today.

There are three basic categories of training for real estate sales people:

Licensing – for the purpose of obtaining or maintaining a license to help people buy and sell real estate for compensation. Real estate schools-brick and mortar as well as online-currently fulfill this need. It should be noted that the word “training” in this context is a bit of a stretch. As the purpose of this kind of instruction is not so much to change one’s behavior as it is to help them achieve the objective of becoming and remaining legally licensed.

Basic Skills – to help new sales people work effectively from a procedural standpoint (i.e. understanding listing and sales processes, forms, procedures, regulatory requirements, etc.) and develop fundamental sales skills that will enhance their ability to generate new business and see it to fruition.

Strategic Skills – to help experienced sales professionals develop attitudes, skills and behaviors that will maximize their long-term business growth and success. This kind of training can include team building, marketing, business planning, use of technology and the Internet, etc.

It is with this last category, strategic skills training, that the industry struggles with the most because it requires the greatest amount of behavioral change from the students.

Yet until a sales professional’s long-term strategic behavior changes in accordance with what is being taught, no training has occurred. It is the change of the sales person’s behavior, not the passing of tests that determines the efficacy of any training initiative. And most strategic skills training initiatives fall far short of this goal. The stakes are very high because effective training of strategic skills will also have the biggest impact on your company’s competitive positioning and bottom-line.

The Power of Collaborative Training

There are currently three approaches to training strategic skills being employed. Perhaps it is best to think of them as hierarchies, with each subsequent approach subsuming the previous one and adding something extra to enhance training results (i.e. long-term behavioral change).

Training 1.0 (Immersive Curriculum)

All training requires a well thought out curriculum with specific learning objectives. Many large sales organizations and franchises invest heavily in this type of strategic skills training. Delivery can be both in the classroom or online, synchronous (live instruction) or asynchronous (self-paced), or a combination of both. While this kind of instruction can measure whether a student understands what is being taught, it does not enforce the ongoing implementation of what was learned. Therefore, given most adults’ proclivity for avoiding change, the impact of this training model is very limited (just ask any trainer). It is akin to throwing information at a wall and seeing what sticks. What is sorely lacking here is ongoing accountability that will ensure what is being taught is also being used.

Training 1.5 (Immersive Curriculum + Accountability)

This is the model used by most of the coaching companies that work independently of the sales organizations. In addition to teaching strategic skills, these provide a means by which the student is held accountable for implementing their new strategic skills. While an effective means of achieving long-term behavioral change, this training model has some serious drawbacks. These include expense (often $400 – $1000 /mo or more) and lack of scalability. Even the largest of coaching organizations have been able to attract barely 1% of the Realtor population. And, in times of down-cycle markets, substantial student attrition occurs when high-cost coaching is one of the first things to be let go as budgets are squeezed.

Training 2.0 (Immersive Curriculum + Accountability + Exclusivity + Collaboration)

This emerging training model addresses all the limitations of earlier ones by leveraging typical sales person behavior rather than fighting it. It accomplishes this by incorporating the following:

Exclusivity – Not all sales people are ready to be trained. There are three kinds of “cats” in any sales organization…

Cool Cats – these are the ones that see today’s challenges as opportunities, are committed, coachable and willing to collaborate and share ideas with others. They are much more interested in having a career selling real estate rather than just a job (represent only 5% – 10% of the sales force);

Tom Cats – these are the “fence sitters” who tend to blame everything and everyone for their problems. They are not coachable or committed to a real career and think of their business as simply going from one transaction to another (represent about 85% – 93% of the sales force);

Fat Cats – these are the “old-timers” who are typically very successful but not at all coachable and probably will retire within 3 to 5 years (represent 2% – 5% of the sales force).

The key to success in the Training 2.0 model is to work only with an organization’s elite group of “Cool Cats.” Sales people want what they can’t have and this type of exclusivity leverages that behavior.

Collaboration – This is where all the “Cool Cats” collaborate, brainstorm and support each other to succeed in the implementation of what is being learned. This innovative approach allows each individual to tap into the collective IQ and creativity of the entire group. What emerges is an esprit‘d corps that powerfully enhances the ability to change student long-term strategic behavior. It is also a way to quickly generate and implement strategic solutions that simply would not have emerged from any one individual.

Accountability – Each “Cool Cat” signs an Accountability Agreement that stipulates the special privileges, responsibilities and accountabilities (including specific consequences) as being part of the elite group. Any member that fails to hold themselves accountable is removed from the group without hesitation.

Immersive Curriculum – To achieve true scalability, training must be provided online both in synchronous (live group coaching) and asynchronous (self-paced video lessons) formats. It must also provide a way for students to prove that they have implemented what they learned in each lesson. Implementation is the first step toward long-term behavioral change. This approach also allows the curriculum to be disseminated for far less per person than a typical coaching program.

My company has used variations of this Training 2.0 model for the benefit of many real estate sales organizations since 2000. I developed an “eTEAM” training protocol that involves forming elite groups of sales professionals that are the “Navy Seals” of doing business online within the brokerage environment. A company’s “Cool Cats” are given a chance to self-identify and apply to join the eTEAM. Each application is scored by measuring the commitment level of the applicant and their willingness to work with others. Accepted applicants must then sign the eTEAM Accountability Agreement and pay for their own training. Once formed, a broker’s eTEAM meets once a week and is facilitated by an eTEAM Leader whose job is to make sure the group works collaboratively and each member is held accountable for implementing what they learn.

The eTEAMS grow over time since some of the “Tom Cats” within the organization that see the success and benefits of being an eTEAM member will eventually seek to join. Perhaps most importantly however, this Training 2.0 approach turns the typical sales person entitlement mentality into one of commitment and responsibility resulting in long-term positive behavioral changes in a highly scalable manner.

Traditional methods of strategic skills training clearly do not work well if at all. And, there are no silver bullets. The industry needs a model that addresses these issues and leverages the power of collaborative networks (both online and off), enforceable accountability and use of the latest online training platforms. This emergent Training 2.0 approach incorporates these capabilities and provides a proven way to get sales people to change their long-term strategic behavior (for any kind of training) while adapting to rapidly changing competitive environments.

Then again, you could stick with the way you are doing training now and expect different results -but we all know where that leads to.

Michael J. Russer (a.k.a. Mr. Internet®) is the CEO of RUSSER Communications. He is an internationally recognized speaker, trainer, author, and strategic consultant to the real estate industry. For a free copy of his White Paper: Why Sales Associates Fail Miserably Online -And What to Do About It! just send your request to or call 805-882-1170.