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On September 3, 2008, John Featherston, president and CEO of RISMedia, gathered several of the real estate industry’s most influential leaders to discuss the future of real estate. Participating in the discussion were Better Homes and Gardens Mason-McDuffie Chairman Ed Krafchow (then president of Prudential CA/NV/TX Realty); Jim Sherry, president of Innovative Solutions; Allan Dalton, past CEO at®; Dottie Herman, president & CEO at Prudential Douglas Elliman; Alex Perriello, president & CEO of Realogy Franchise Group; and Dick Schlott, chairman of Gloria Nilson, REALTORS®, Real Living. The topic was “Redefining Differentiation in the Real Estate Industry.”

The result: RISMedia’s Top 5 in Real Estate Network® was born.

Three-and-a-half years later, the Top 5 in Real Estate membership network is alive and well. Since its launch in 2008, hundreds of the industry’s top agents have become members of the elite Top 5 network and are now successfully differentiating themselves from their marketplace competitors.

RISMedia is now ready to take Top 5 to even greater heights, recently announcing a strategic alliance with Pinnacle Quest Consulting, and the appointment of Verl Workman as the new president of Top 5. Pinnacle Quest, based in Salt Lake City, Utah, has been a real estate industry icon for more than a decade. Workman is a well-known and respected real estate speaker and coach, having educated tens of thousands of brokers and agents over the past 15 years.

In this exclusive interview, Featherston and Workman reveal why the alliance between RISMedia, Top 5 and Pinnacle Quest is such a perfect fit and how the “new” Top 5 in Real Estate will now benefit its members even more.

Maria Patterson: John, can you give us some background on how RISMedia’s Top 5 in Real Estate Network® came to be?

John Featherston: Top 5 was formed for a very specific reason. The leaders of our industry have long-recognized that consumers often viewed real estate agents as more or less generic, and that selecting an agent was often an ineffective and unrewarding process. The Top 5 in Real Estate Network® was created in response to the need to change the indifferent and sometimes negative perception that many consumers have regarding real estate agents. For the first time, agents are able to dramatically differentiate and distance themselves from others who are not as skilled, professional or dedicated to their clients.

MP: How are members chosen?

JF: Prospective members qualify on the basis of five criteria: experience, results, education, information technology, and commitment to community. There’s so much more to Top 5 than this, but those are the core requirements.

MP: The decision to partner with Pinnacle Quest had to be a significant one for RISMedia. What brought about that decision and how will it change or improve Top 5?

JF: Actually, the decision was quite natural. I’ve seen firsthand the impact Verl Workman and the rest of the Pinnacle Quest team have had on our industry for more than a decade. We’ve always considered them extraordinarily professional and competent in their approach to the real estate space. I know personally that their “Getting REAL Results in an eCrazy World” coaching program has helped literally thousands of men and women to become more professional, competent and successful real estate agents. And Verl is absolutely one of the best real estate speakers I have ever heard.

Additionally, we felt the Top 5 membership program was lacking an important component: coaching. And as good as our Top 5 members are, having someone to teach them, motivate them and hold them accountable to improve can be very beneficial. As we considered who might provide that missing coaching component in Top 5, Pinnacle Quest was our first choice. We believe that adding the coaching component for all of our Top 5 members increases the value proposition significantly. And we’re not going to charge a penny for it—coaching is now going to be included in the cost of membership. We’re extremely confident that Pinnacle Quest is the perfect partner to deliver a top-notch program to our members.

MP: Verl, Pinnacle Quest has been coaching and training real estate agents for years now. What is your perception of the industry today and why were you excited to embrace Top 5 and help take it to the next level?

Verl Workman: Well, first, we’re honored to have this opportunity to work so closely with John and the rest of the RISMedia team. We hold John and Darryl (RISMedia Executive Vice President Darryl MacPherson) and everyone on the RIS team in the highest regard and can’t think of a better partner to have.

I’ve spoken to thousands of real estate agents over the past several years and every time I speak, I like to gauge their level of enthusiasm for their chosen career. I love real estate and I want the agents I coach and the audiences to which I speak to love it, too. It’s not news that this is a tough market and it’s going to stay that way for a while, but there are so many opportunities out there. If agents could just see that, they would have huge enthusiasm to be in this business.

When I first heard about Top 5 three years ago, I loved the premise of the program. There is a serious need for consumers to be able to identify highly-qualified, results-oriented, consumer-focused real estate professionals. As John mentioned, Top 5 members are the best of the best. They’ve met the stringent qualifications required by Top 5 and are committed to the future development of their professional skills and also the services they provide to the consumers and communities they serve. I’ve been teaching the exact same thing to my coaching students for 14 years; it is absolutely critical that you differentiate yourself from your competition. I always ask my students, “What is your unfair competitive advantage?” Top 5 is one of the most “unfair” competitive advantages I have ever seen.

MP: You mentioned that you first heard about Top 5 roughly three years ago. What was it about Top 5 that grabbed your attention then, and why do you think it is important now?

VW: First and foremost, I loved that its purpose was to differentiate agents. About 20 years ago, before I was in real estate, I sold my first home—and unfortunately it was not a good experience. My agent was—I hate to say it—lazy. She would hold open houses and not even stand up to show buyers around the house. The property eventually sold, but without much work by my agent—and her share of the commission was about $6,000. I swore I would never again hire an agent who was not the kind of professional I deserved to have representing me.

The second thing I immediately appreciated about Top 5 is all of the real estate content that Top 5 makes available to the very real estate agents who have the most contact and influence with consumers. As an information-based media company, RISMedia is able to provide Top 5 members with a steady flow of informational and educational consumer material. Top 5 members are also able to place a link on their website to their personalized Top 5 Media Center, which provides visitors with daily consumer real estate news and a weekly consumer real estate video update. There are also several exclusive Top 5 consumer-facing print publications that members can use. There’s a lot more than this, but all in all, I recognized very early on that the value proposition of Top 5 was very high.

One more thing regarding what John said about the negative perception some people have of real estate agents. Regrettably, it’s true; many consumers perceive that real estate agents are only transaction oriented. And there have been surveys that have shown that consumers think many real estate agents are more into personal promotion than informational promotion. It is to the benefit of our entire industry that these perceptions begin to change and this can only take place by strengthening our profession and our commitment to meeting the informational demands of consumers.

MP: John, you mentioned that Verl is one of the best speakers you have ever heard. How does that play into your vision for Top 5?

JF: If you’ve ever watched Verl on stage, you wouldn’t even ask that question! One of the realities of most professions is that ongoing training and motivation is not only desirable, but absolutely necessary. Real estate is no exception. I don’t know of any franchises or regions or brokers that do not want to put on high-quality events that will truly benefit their agents. Here at RISMedia we work very hard to assure that our events are top-notch in every way and that agents and brokers really profit from attending them. The value of a good speaker cannot be understated, and as we take the message of Top 5 on the road, we want every agent who attends an event to come away energized and empowered to become a better agent. Verl Workman is extraordinary when it comes to delivering his message in a way that changes lives. His motto is to engage, enlighten and empower his audiences. I’d add “entertain” to that list. As we take Top 5 to the next level, that is exactly what we’d like to accomplish.

MP: John, it’s evident that Verl will be a great asset to Top 5 as a speaker, coach and visionary, but you’ve also appointed him as the new president of Top 5, a position formerly held by Allan Dalton. What other responsibilities will Verl take on now as president?

JF: First of all, we owe a debt of gratitude to Allan for his role as the president and co-founder of Top 5. Allan is a true visionary and was instrumental in conceiving, building and launching Top 5. His influence on Top 5 will always be felt.

There are so many opportunities related to the Top 5 concept. Allan always said—and we believe that it is still true—Top 5 has the potential to be a game-changer in the real estate industry. I once predicted that more and more real estate agents would leave behind many of the traditional—and in some cases, outdated—strategies they currently employ, such as ineffective farming, prospecting and personal promotion…and it is now happening. Those older strategies are often simply counter-productive and they unwittingly trivialize the importance of real estate and, subsequently, the agent. Forward-thinking real estate agents will instead turn to an opportunity to become associated with vital, vibrant and consumer-riveting real estate content.

We’ve appointed Verl as the new president because he understands all of that; he’s essentially been preaching that for more than 15 years, even before the Internet completely changed the way agents do business. But understanding the changing nature of our industry is not enough; you also have to get the word out—and then empower agents to accept and embrace the changes. Verl is the perfect person to lead that charge.

MP: Verl, that sounds like a big job! Is there anything specific that you plan to do differently with Top 5?

VW: Well, thanks to John, Darryl, Allan and others, Top 5 already offers an amazing array of services. In today’s Internet age, the public’s need for relevant information is insatiable and the agent who figures out how to get that information to the hungry public in a timely and relevant way will do very, very well in this business. Unfortunately, until now, there were few, if any, effective and efficient methods by which a top-producing agent or their team could keep pace with the consumers’ insatiable desire for real estate information. It is unrealistic and would be unfair to expect real estate agents, or most brokerages for that matter, to employ the staff of full-time real estate writers, editors and producers that would be necessary to provide the personalized, relevant, print, online and video content that is available to them through the Top 5 in Real Estate program. Top 5 is like the glue that bonds information availability with information distribution.

However, there’s even more that we can do to help agents in this process. Top 5 was launched a little over three years ago. In that short time, social media has literally exploded; you just can’t ignore it and pretend it’s not important anymore. We can do more with social media as it relates to Top 5. We’ve already hired a community manager whose responsibility it is to oversee our social media strategy and figure out new ways we can help our members. This is huge and can make a significant difference in how our members are able to utilize the information provided by RISMedia.

Top 5 members are a community unto themselves. These agents are the best at what they do, which is why they recognized Top 5 as a valuable tool to add to their arsenal. I’d like to bring them together as a “community” of experts, to help each other, to share their wisdom, ideas and techniques with each other. I’ve always believed that the more you give, the more you get. I’d like that to be one of our missions at Top 5.

MP: You didn’t mention coaching. John mentioned that coaching was something Top 5 was lacking and, as a coach yourself, I would assume that’s pretty important to you, too.

VW: Yeah, I guess I didn’t mention it because it’s so important that I just take for granted that it simply must be an integral part of Top 5. I’m a big advocate of coaching, especially if it’s the right kind of coaching. I have seen it make a huge difference in the careers and lives of hundreds of agents. I’ve worked with career agents who are the top producers in their markets and I’ve worked with agents who just got their licenses, and coaching has made a big difference in their success. Some people misunderstand what coaching is all about; it’s not about learning something new—we call that training. It’s about doing something new. It’s all about results. So yes, coaching is going to be an integral part of Top 5 because I’m all about doing…and getting real results.

MP: John, is there anything else you would like to add?

JF: Only that we’re excited about this next phase for Top 5. And we’re thrilled to partner with Verl and Pinnacle Quest to help us make Top 5 a real game-changer for the top agents of our industry who deserve to be recognized as such. Of course, the real beneficiaries of Top 5 are the consumers. As agents evolve to become what their customers expect them to be, everyone wins. We are confident that the more leading real estate agents come to learn of the Top 5 in Real Estate value offering, the more they will enthusiastically shift the means by which they engage the consumer.

MP: Verl, any parting thoughts?

VW: Yes. I would say directly to the amazing agents out there all across North America, take a closer look at Top 5; you’ll be impressed with what you see. And if you catch the vision for our industry that John and I have, you’ll want to join us in changing things for the better.