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After thousands of events, webinars and coaching sessions with agents all across North America, I have come to recognize that there is one obstacle in our industry that is a common thread: the challenge of differentiation.

Simply stated, the real estate consumer struggles to understand the difference between the true real estate professional and those who are, unfortunately, something less than that. To reveal this difference to consumers before they make the all-important decision of selecting the right real estate agent is the primary purpose of RISMedia’s Top 5 in Real Estate Network®.

For as long as I have been practicing real estate, I have seen agents try to stand out.

Big hair, big car, photos from years prior and many other tactics that may or may not have provided that competitive edge. However, today’s consumer is savvy and wired and they yearn for true professionals that can produce real results. They’re looking for the substance behind the image. The members of the Top 5 in Real Estate Network® are professionals who deliver a clear statement of truth that resonates and rings correct with consumers.

When my partners at Pinnacle Quest and I were approached by RISMedia to lead the next evolution of Top 5, we were excited about the opportunity, but also cautiously optimistic. Our first goal quickly became clear: Identify the needs of today’s top agents and establish whether or not there was a real opportunity in the industry for the type of membership organization we felt needed to be built. We learned there was—and last month the new Top 5 was launched.

We began by interviewing top agents around the country, both current Top 5 members, as well as agents with whom we have had long-standing relationships. Here are a few examples of what we learned.

Nate Martinez, a top-producing agent and broker/owner from Glendale, Ariz., quickly discovered that the transition back to traditional real estate is a reality that must be dealt with now.

According to Martinez, “Given the conditions in today’s market, we have built a machine to run our high-volume business. With the increase in the total number of REOs and the way they are put on the market, combined with much greater demand for homes in our area, we knew we were at a crossroads and had to reinvent ourselves again.”

Rob Levy, a top producer in Portland, Ore., says that consumers’ expectations of their agents have changed the way agents do business. He said he learned the hard way that old-school thinking just doesn’t work today.

To prove the point, Levy tells of this painful experience, “Recently, after coming out of a short sale listing, my seller walked me out of the home they were being forced to sell and, standing in the driveway, looked at my four-year-old Mercedes and asked me when I bought the car. I told him it was about four years ago, when things were much different than they are today. He paused, asked for my listing agreement back, and then proceeded to tear it up, saying, “Rob, I think you bought that car with the money you made when you sold me this house. It doesn’t seem fair that I am the only one losing in this situation.” I humbly agreed and for the first time ever, got in my car feeling self-conscious about what I was driving. I went out the next day, sold the Mercedes and bought a Chevy Volt. The result has been so overwhelming that this story is now part of my 22,000 subscriber newsletter that goes out monthly and gets numerous positive comments.”

Michael Bjorkman, a top agent in Valencia, Calif., turned from REO and short sales to building a property management division that now covers 100 percent of his overhead and generates an ongoing influx of buyers, investors and repeat clients. I know Mike personally and his systems and processes are absolutely top notch.

“The majority of our marketing is now to our own property owners and tenants, as well as anyone else who has a real estate need,” says Bjorkman. Because we handle 100 percent of the market, including bank-owned property, traditional real estate, short sales and rentals, our goal is to find out what solutions will work best for our client’s family and help them with the best solution for them, not for us.”

Bjorkman’s biggest business problem today is finding quality people to follow up with all of the leads his company is generating. This lead management, tracking and conversion issue is a consistent issue facing many top agents today.

These three top-producing agents are in different markets, serving different needs, and each has a different approach to the business, yet all have several things in common:

First, they are Top 5 agents. They are also part of our Top 5 Advisory Council that drives the conversations, coaching and ideas for the direction of Top 5 as a company. Time management, life balance and building a business that continues to produce without their own day-to-day involvement were topics many had in common. But the one thing that links them all together is that they are all givers. What I mean is that each of these leaders gives freely to each other and to others in the industry. They exemplify what it means to proudly wear the brand of Top 5 in Real Estate.

As the new president and face of Top 5, I see my role very clearly: It is to bring together the top agents in North America and provide them with the tools, the training and the trade secrets of the best producers, and then help them incorporate those practices into their business such that they maintain their place as an elite agent, while adding balance to their lives.

Whether it’s redefining the company strategy, marketing and messaging, working in the luxury markets or simply building systems that allow top agents to have greater balance in their lives, we are focused on finding best practices and sharing them with our Top 5 network. Agents at every level are looking for the next wave to ride. With short sales decreasing, REOs on the decline and a lack of great inventory, some agents wonder if going back to geographic farming and working expireds and FSBOs is the right thing to do. Many are just not sure which way to turn. I know for certain that I don’t have all the answers, but I am pretty good at finding those who do—and then building programs and processes to duplicate those efforts to share with our Top 5 members.

As part of the new Top 5 in Real Estate, we are also adopting the new TOP 5 CREED, which represents five critical attributes of the professional real estate agent: Community, Results, Experience, Education and being Digitally or technologically enabled. Thus, Top 5 members are held to a higher standard than the average real estate agent. Top 5 in Real Estate delivers to consumers a brand promise that the agent you are dealing with is a top performer and true professional.

And with the ongoing support and leadership of RISMedia, we continue to provide exceptional consumer-facing content that allows our members to not only stay front of mind with their clients, but also proactively send Top 5-branded news, articles and videos with only a few keystrokes. Like Ron Popeil’s Chicken Roaster, with the “set it and forget it” feature, Top 5 provides turnkey communication and marketing for our members. These communication tools provide automated content to be systematically posted on social sites and blogs, and include the all-important consumer-facing news, videos, posts and articles that separate the average agent from the exceptional.

The new Top 5 coaching programs and community are probably our most significant additions to the network. We have added Pinnacle Quest’s very popular Getting REAL Results in an eCrazy World coaching program for our members, as well as a monthly “This Way to the Top” best-practices coaching call. These monthly webinars not only share great ideas from our Top 5 top performers, but we also build a complete coaching session around that content. This allows us to take great ideas and then dive into the processes, marketing and systems to execute on those ideas. This practical application of best practices is designed to help keep top agents at the top.

The fact is, not all real estate agents have the same skills or dedication in common, but all consumers have the desire for the best possible results in common. This incongruency creates a huge demand for agent differentiation in the real estate industry today and Top 5 is leading the charge. As our membership grows, Top 5 agents across North America will share the Top 5 message and deliver Top 5 quality service to their clients. The confusion that exists today and the feeling that all agents are all the same will diminish and the lives of our members and their clients will be enriched. In the end, Top 5 not only establishes the difference between beginners and real professionals, but the difference between simply competing and dominating.

For more information, visit www.top5inrealestate.com.