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If you’re a new agent, or an agent who’s been around a while but hasn’t closed as many sales as you’d hoped, you might think the words operational excellence aren’t meant for you. I felt the same way when I first got into sales, but I learned that operational excellence—a classy way of saying systems that deliver consistent results—is necessary for significant success.

Selling vacuum cleaners was my first sales job, not real estate. I worked for Electrolux. One of their executives thought I’d make a good salesperson, and I agreed, so I moved to Indianapolis to run the local branch store and learn the business. My initial experience was total crap.

The little song and dance I did for my prospects and my amazing Southern charm didn’t work on anyone. Not even a little. Maybe I wasn’t a good salesperson after all. My stomach would churn during every demonstration. All I could think about was what I was supposed to do and say next. I was so nervous that I actually excused myself to the restroom several times during presentations to prevent what I thought might have been embarrassing accidents. If there were awards for asking the wrong questions at the worst times, I would have won a gold medal.

I needed help, and I needed it right away. I dragged myself back to the office late one night after several weeks in Loserville, what I was affectionately calling “Indy” at the time, looking for anything that would help me improve. What I found was a 20-year-old document that changed everything. I found the 10-Step Demonstration.

A simple, two-page outline on musty old paper, the 10-Step Demonstration included detailed descriptions of the “perfect” sales presentation. It’s been 27 years and I still remember those 10 steps today. I read the steps over and over. I memorized them. I practiced them again and again. I was determined to make the next opportunity I had to present a shiny, new Electrolux to an Indianapolis homeowner go quite differently.

Mrs. Franklin was her name. She wore a green dress with a white apron and had her hair up in a bun. She was different than all the rest. She never stopped watching me, and she asked a lot of questions. I couldn’t believe it when she wanted to try the cleaner herself—first in the hallway and then on the living room curtains. Why was Mrs. Franklin different, I wondered? She wasn’t, but I was. I had followed a simple system for my presentation. It didn’t matter if it was the perfect system or not, because following it allowed me to focus totally on Mrs. Franklin instead of what was next. It was September 12, 1989—the day Mrs. Franklin used her American Express to pay for my first sale ever. I’ve been hooked on systems ever since.

Cleve Gaddis of Gaddis Partners, RE/MAX Center learned sales the hard way, and now his real estate team closes $60 million in sales annually in Atlanta, Ga. He’s the host of the Call Cleve Atlanta Real Estate Show, which can be heard on NewsTalk 1160 WCFO. Contact him at

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