I have closed hundreds of deals in real estate, ranging from HDB to private properties. It came to me as a big surprise that I have been a practitioner of NLP, a.k.a "Neuro-Linguistic Programming", I was not aware that I have been using it unconsciously. It was a few years back when I met Mr Jacky Lim and Dr Elgin Ong who were both authors for "Increase Sales with NLP". They invited me for an interview to unveal the secrets of Psychology Selling.
Jacky: How did you get started in this industry?
Desmond: Even before I helped out my friend at the spectacles and Property Company, I joined once and hanged on for one month before I failed. At that point in time, I was only about 20 or 21, having just completed my National Service with no savings at all. So I borrowed $2,000 from my mum to start advertising. I told her what I wanted to do, which is real estate. She was totally against it as she was very traditional and had a corporate mindset. She said “Go get a stable job”, “Be down to earth”, “Don’t get rich so fast. Yes, there are people who made it but there are also thousand others who failed but you never see it”. But I insisted and promised I will return her the money.
So with the $2,000, I joined the company and started knocking on doors and giving it a try until I totally wiped out my savings and there was no way for me to continue or get any more money. At that point in time, I told myself I would need to work for other people. I would have to find a job and save up. Then one fine day, I would be back.
And that was how I started working at Property Management Company – Far East Organisation. It was a property management role, a routine job, and I had to ensure that the property is properly maintained. But somehow the boss didn’t like me. Or maybe I interpreted it differently. It’s not that she did not like me, but she was just very demanding. Still, I stayed on for 3 months. But I told myself that this is not something for me. I can’t do something very routine. It was a comfortable role but I wanted to achieve something different at my age.
That’s when I started helping my friend in the spectacle business at the old World Trade Centre. We then went on to set up a store at Heeren. But it was all his money so I just helped out in the business building process. I stayed on for one year or so and realized I needed to do something on my own.
So I went over to work for a bank but I was only a diploma holder and they needed a degree holder role. I was referred by my friend and got accepted on the job. It was a sales role, an accounts manager. Basically, you have to sell credit cards to companies. You are assigned a specific industry. I have 4 colleagues in total, one took up banks like Credit Suisse, one took up electronic, one took up delivery like DHL, Fed-Ex and I took the most difficult role whereby there were 3 people who came in and fail, which was the Government. Government has a lot of red tape and bureaucracy and you can’t penetrate it easily. Then again it was a results-oriented role. They basically hire you and when you fail, they basically will just fire you, usually around 2 to 3 months. But I remember on the first day when I went in, there was this award ceremony for American Express for the top sales in the previous year. It was this lady Susan who got the regional award – Centurion Award. Then and there, I told myself that I wanted to get this award when I’m in American Express. So I started to work very hard and took a lot of risks in how I approached the Government because I knew this was my only chance of making any breakthrough.
Jacky: What were some risks that you take?
Desmond: Basically they gave me a script to pitch their product to the company, like an employee privilege program. But I knew if I pitched it the same way to the government company, like the last 3 people who had failed terribly, I would never get the results I wanted. My manager gave me a lot of support and guided me but I still needed something different to penetrate into this government account.
I started writing my own script and focused on the first government account. I stayed very focus and targeted organizations like the Singapore Tourism Board, Spring Singapore and Ministry of Home Affairs. I told myself I just needed to penetrate into one of these accounts. The account is likely to give me the referrals to more accounts, and I would then have more credentials to close all the other accounts.
To penetrate the account though, I knew I needed to know everyone in the organization. If I knew everyone in the organization, for instance if I call you “Jacky” and you are the gate-keeper. If I call you today, you won’t know me but when I call you another day, you will remember me. So I went on to find out who the Director, Secretary, Manager is and I always start to call, “Hi Lynn, this is regarding some Employee Privilege Program and because I was being referred by Jonathan from that department etc.”
I told myself, in order to close a deal, I must get an appointment. You only have limited time to talk to that person, who may be very busy, so you have to make it convenient for him. Your tone of voice and script is going to make a huge difference. Knowing the people is important and closing your first account is very important.
I remember making my first call to this Deputy Director. He was actually at the top of the list and I needed to call almost everyone else in the list before I could reach him. But I knew if I succeeded in getting through to him, it would be a close deal. Desiring quick result, I decided to take a risk and called him directly. Moreover I was able to vary my tone of voice to create a positive impact.
Jacky: So what was the tone of voice you used?
Desmond: The tone of voice should not resemble that of a typical salesperson who sounds as if he is reading from a script. Your prospect can sense it and will reject you. It has to sound as if you are calling a friend or calling someone whom you have worked with for a very long time. As a friend, you are out to give him a special offer. He can sense your sincerity.
First and foremost, I drafted my script, anticipating all the possible objections I might face. I would say, “I have the employee privilege program, but all I need is one minute. Allow me to pass some proposals to you personally because there is so much more to share. I can email you as well but this hardcopy is for you and you will understand better and it won’t take so long. May I know whether you will be in office tomorrow morning or afternoon?”
In this manner, I led her to give me a positive response “Ok, afternoon”. That’s it; I knew I had already closed the deal. Because when I eventually met her, I had another script and portrayed myself differently, being confident and natural. Subsequently, she would know me and pick up my call.
From then on, I’ll just say “I’m referred from Singapore Tourism Board” so on and so forth. The breakthrough will come when you get your first account.
However there was another hurdle. We needed to set up a roadshow at the company and there wasn’t any response. So on the actual day itself, we had to send out an email blast to inform people about the event. We hope people would come down and sign for the credit cards. That was our KPI.
Suddenly I remembered attending one roadshow in IRAS and they had this bazaar. They got people from Royce chocolate to set up a counter. It enticed more employees to participate and more people ended up signing up for the cards.
So instead of waiting for that opportunity to see which company has a bazaar, I thought to myself “Why not I create my own bazaar? I can probably sign up to 150 credit cards!”
Indeed, I managed to sign up 150 cards on that day.
Thus moving forward, she wanted everyone to replicate the successful model and start a bazaar. In the very same year, I also attained the Centurion award. But then, I decided to leave the organization. Because once you penetrate into an account, there is only this number of people who can sign up for credit cards. There’s a ceiling to my earnings if I were to remain in this industry. So I decided to make a bang and left for the Property industry again.
Jacky: So why the property industry?
Desmond: I knew friends from different industries and the industry that seems to pay the most for the amount of work you put in is Property. I told myself that my life will change when I become a millionaire. My parents’ life will change, and my wife’s life will change. And that’s when I set my mind to succeed at all costs.
Jacky: Talking about your success, do you actually have role models?
Desmond: I think role models are very important. For me, everywhere I go, I must find a role model. It started off when I was doing a holiday job at Giordano when I was about 15. His name is Say Siong. He was very good with people and everyone respected him and was willing to fight for him. I found that amazing. In terms of leadership, he is still my role model. He also joined real estate. When I was in American Express, my role model was my boss. She was always dedicated and had lots of passion. When I came into real estate, I found out who the top producer is and paid a visit to the show flat and found out where she is. I wanted to study her body language. The top producer was dynamic and extremely focused. When others were chatting, she was always doing her own work and constantly on the phone.
Jacky: Many people know it is important to stay focused. Why is it that most people do not stay focused? What’s your strategy?
Desmond: Before I do anything, I would know what I want by writing it down. After determining what I want, I will spend the time and ask myself whether I believe I can achieve it. A lot of people lose focus along the way because they have unmotivated goals. They don’t believe they can achieve the goals and when they think of the goals, it is just another goal. For me to stay focused, I will always visualize myself achieving my goal. I always remind myself, “What if I have $1 million dollar in the bank right now? I would go on a holiday; I would buy myself a nice car etc. Let’s say I have already achieved it, how nice would it be?”
Then I’ll come back to reality and tell myself to get focused. I have an end in mind. In my office, I have this big board that I will write down what I intend to achieve.
Jacky: There are so many stages in the sales process. What do you think is the most important stage in the sales process?
Desmond: There are two things that are very important. First thing is you have to tell yourself how bad you want it because I believe if you let me sell anything, the approach can always be crafted and you can always have a standard approach. But whether you believe you can close a sale or not is important, so belief to me is important. As for the sales process, I feel presentation is the most important. Let’s say we are serving in a show flat selling a new development and there are many different walk-ins, you could have an average of 10 walk-ins per day in a good market. However in a very bad market, there can only be one walk-in. So what’s going to happen in the one walk-in? Your presentation skill is the key to success then. Even as of now, I am still constantly improving my presentation skills- my delivery, my script and understanding what the customers want and how I deliver value to them. This helps me to close the deal. Of course, without prospecting, there won’t be anyone for me to present to.
Jacky: In the first place, how do you get the leads?
Desmond: I think networking is very important. To get leads, one word: Having a very good system. A lot of salespeople run their sales by doing the things they do but without a system. I have a good system that says if do this, I will get X results. If I don’t get X results, I will use a different approach. So every day, for everything that I do, I craft a very good customer relationship management system and that helps me to churn out high number of leads and convert the warm to hot leads. I have listed down all the possible avenues of getting leads, such as through emails, SMS, media, advertisement, the newspapers, through referrals etc. All these are written down in the system.
Jacky: So what are your main challenges? What would be the No. 1 challenge?
Desmond: I think the Number 1 challenge is when you run out of ideas or when you don’t get your desired response. Sometimes you get zero response even though you have given your best. You see everyone producing and you are not. So there is a lot of peer pressure but that is because I have a high expectation for myself.
Jacky: How did you overcome that?
Desmond: Always mix with positive people. When you’re in that situation, call and meet up with all the people who are doing well and they will pull you up. Don’t mix with the negative people as they will pull you down.
Jacky: People dread of getting sales in the initial place due to the fear of handling objections. What is your recommendation? Do you agree that selling effectively is usually more of a psychological barrier?
Desmond: Many times in our line, before we even present to the prospect, we will just think that the prospect is coming down to take a look and not ready to buy. My strategy is to regard each prospect as a highly potential customer.
In terms of prospecting, you really need a good mentor to guide you and share with you the secrets on what works and what doesn’t. Also, there are times where you will just have to do it. You do not always get “yes” and get the best results. In prospecting, there’s always a high chance you will get rejected. But do not get paralyzed by your thoughts. Instead, I will focus on how I may earn a potential $10,000 commission for every call made.
At the end of the day, take lots of action. The problem is that many people keep doing the same things but they don’t review their results. They keep using the same strategy even though things are not working. You will need to change your approach at times. Find a good mentor to show you the way and then take massive actions.
Jacky: Do you work 7 days a week?
Desmond: I used to but now I’m enjoying the fruits of success. Sometimes even though I’m not physically working, I’m always working up here (pointing to his brain). I’m always thinking of ways to generate more leads. There are no specific working hours for me. But if you were to ask me, my “working hours” is from 10am to 10pm. Monday is usually my family day because weekends are precious to us (in real estate). I’m very target-oriented. I think consistency is important. I’d rather be consistent in my sales efforts than to make irregular income throughout the year. I love consistency. If I hit my target for the specific month, I would give myself a good break!
Jacky: What are the top 3 reasons why people may not make it big in your industry?
Desmond: Actually this is simple. The first reason is that they are not hungry enough. Often, people who join us come with little money and zero database. I tell them that hunger is their best asset. They have to be committed to their decision. It is not just something that you say you want. You need to make a strong decision to say “YES. This is what I want. I’m very hungry. I must get it!”
Then the second reason I think is…. I wanted to say finding a mentor is very important. However I feel that everyone should be 100% responsible for his own actions and not push the responsibility to his mentor.
Perhaps the lack of focus is another key reason why many people fail in the industry. Frequently, we meet people who know what they want and they are very hungry. However they lack the focus to accomplish things. They want to do this and they want to do that… They want to do too many things simultaneously.
In Huttons, we have to sell different projects. An agent may take on a particular project and is determined to make his mark there. However when he starts to face some obstacles in selling and learns that other people are closing more sales elsewhere, he may be tempted to make a switch. And this will go on and on, and he will never persist long enough to reap the results he desire.
Personally, I will give what it takes to succeed in any project that I undertake. So no matter how much obstacles or hurdles I have to face, I will find ways to overcome them. I’ll be focused and not give up.
Finally, I think the third reason why many people fail in the industry is that they do not take enough action. Many times they say they did a lot of planning but they didn’t follow up with actions. I think taking action is one of the most important keys to success. Sometimes if we don’t think that much and just follow Nike’s advice “Just do it”, we will get the result. It’s just how soon you get it. So the question here is, “Are you taking the right action?”
Jacky: What do you think is unique about modern selling?
Desmond: Maybe I think traditional selling places much emphasis on prospecting, cold calling, meeting up with your prospects and closing the deal. But I think it’s a bit more sophisticated nowadays. You have to be much more innovative in prospecting, tapping into the internet, media, technology. You have to keep yourself very updated because consumers nowadays are very IT savvy. You really have to catch up with them so that you do not miss the opportunity. So this is what I can think of now.
Jacky: What are your plans ahead? What measures are you taking to deal with a highly possible economic downturn?
Desmond: I’m quite happy for that because the latest measures that the government implemented make many agents and competitors feel that the market will go down. And when they feel negative, they will take less action. So it gives me the opportunity to take more action. Previously if I take the same amount of action, I get only this piece of the pie. Can you imagine if I am more hardworking this round, how much of the pie will I take? I’ll be richer, isn’t it? So that’s why I am very happy and want to educate the team too. But moving into the future, I feel that we have to be very customer-focused. Gone were the days whereby you do only a one-time business. Nowadays, you have to keep the customers near you. Integrity is very important. The way you follow up with customers is very important.
I have been the top producer for the past few years and my aim is to continue to be the top producer, while at the same time grow my team to a thousand people. At the same time, there are many team managers out there with thousands and hundreds of people but only 10% or 20% are producing. So I want to make a commitment that if I were to have 1000 agents, every one of them will be an achiever. That’s when I know I have made a difference as a leader.
Jacky: You were mentioning earlier about choosing to be on the ground as well, instead of just getting others to work for you?
Desmond: My philosophy in life is that you must always make a difference. I always want to be different from the rest and do things differently. What the industry practices now is that all the managers who have big teams tend to just manage their team members. They are hardly on the ground themselves. Even if they are, they are never the top producers. So why not lead by example and continue to be the top producer while managing my people well and grooming more top producers? I will create a revolution in the industry and then I will make a difference. So that is why I choose to be on the ground. The best leaders don’t just manage; they simply inspire. So this is my direction.
Jacky: Any inspiring story to share?
Desmond: Most of the people in my team are top producing agents. I have a student who had no sales experience who came in and earned $360,000 a year! Can you imagine that?
Jacky: In terms of managing people, the point that you gave was inspiring which I think is applicable to the service industry as a whole. So what do you think is the kind of service that people today expect from a salesperson?
Desmond: In terms of customer service, I believe that the client must first feel that the service provider has his best interest at heart. You care for the customer. Down to the details- what he can see and hear. Always appear interested and at least put on a smile. People who are working in customer service don’t even put on a smile nowadays. I’m quite disappointed that the service industry today is not as good as the past. I feel that they are lagging behind, especially in Singapore. Little details like saying “thank you”… you do not hear it often.
Jacky: When approaching different types of audience, do you employ different selling strategies?
Desmond: Of course. Whenever I do my presentations, I will use various approaches. If I feel that this customer is a very straightforward person, I will just get straight to the point. Still you have to do it from the bottom of your heart. However if I sense that my client is a very outspoken person, I will try to be a bit more flamboyant, selling more at the emotional level. I think what’s most important is to make the customer feel good, regardless the way I deliver the presentation to him.
In our industry, I believe customers also look for agents who are trustworthy. They need to trust that the agent is giving them truthful and reliable information.
At the same time, do you make them feel as though you are just trying to sell them something or do you actually make them feel valued? Customers want to know that you always have their interests at heart. In real estate, there are primarily 2 concerns you need to address: helping your client to make money through the investment or helping your client to find the house of their dreams.
Jacky: Do you think there are people who are not cut out for sales?
Desmond: Some people say that sales are inborn skills. Yes I do have to agree but it can also be developed. I think everyone can do sales. It’s just that some people may have an advantage because they get the sales concept right. So first, get the sales concept right, and you are likely to do excellent. You must also be willing and open to change because human beings are not accustomed to change. Whenever change is needed, people are not usually receptive to it.
Secondly, one must learn to develop his EQ. He must be able to handle his emotions well and the customers’ emotions well. If the customer says “No”, do not get angry. EQ determines the way you deliver your presentations as well.
Thirdly, you must be an action taker and don’t give up easily. These 3 things are crucial for your success. So be hungry and be willing to change. Make an effort to develop your EQ. Then if you take a lot of action and don’t give up, sooner or later you will be there!
Jacky: So as long as people have these few qualities, you think they can succeed?
Desmond: I think they can make it!
Jacky: Any final words?
Desmond: Nothing is impossible. Just do it!
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