Saleswoman for the 21st Century

For seven years, Marty Rodriguez has been the top U.S. salesperson for Century 21. What's her secret? "Just because the transaction is done, that doesn't mean the relationship is over."

Marty Rodriguez knows how to sell. Last year, she was the top broker worldwide for Century 21, a residential real-estate giant with 110,000 professionals in 25 countries. For seven years running, her seven-broker office in Glendora, California, a middle-income suburb 25 miles east of Los Angeles, has been first in the United States in both unit sales and gross commissions. Rodriguez herself has single-handedly outperformed larger offices in wealthier neighborhoods around the country.

Rodriguez, 48, also knows that the way to stay first is to stay fast — and to stay connected. She competes in a market that today features more clients than houses — and she works for clients who don't have much money or much time. "Not only do I have to work faster," she says, "I also need to get my clients to react faster. But just because the transaction is done, that doesn't mean the relationship is over. I want people to think of me as the Nordstrom of real estate."

Rodriguez has been standing out from the crowd all of her life. She grew up as the 4th of 11 children in a two-bedroom, one-bathroom house just outside of LA. "We took care of each other and helped to put each other through school," she says. "We couldn't just sit back." And she has always had a knack for closing a sale. "When I was in Catholic school," she says, "I always sold the most Christmas cards. My dad used to discipline me because I'd come home late — after selling candy to my friends on the way home. Now I tell him that I'm doing the same thing — only now I get paid instead of getting spanked."

In an interview with Fast Company, Rodriguez explains the art of the sale.

Make a name for yourself.

When people think of real estate in my region, they think, "Marty Rodriguez." I have created an identity. I know what people believe about me. When my name pops up, they think, "hard worker, knows the market better than anybody else, fights for her clients, honest." Identity — what other people believe about you — comes down to what you believe. In my case, it really goes back to what I learned in Catholic school about the difference between right and wrong. I have a simple test for every transaction: If it's good for you and good for the client, then it's a good deal. If it's not good for either of you, then don't do it. Doing the right thing — even when that means letting a sale go — means caring more about the relationship than about the deal.

The more you know, the more you sell.

Real estate is an incredibly unforgiving and competitive world. Today a good house appears on the computer one minute, and you'd better be there with the client the next minute. Then you must quickly move the client through a series of tough decisions. How do you get clients to react faster than they're used to reacting? Not with tricks or technique, but by knowing more than your competitor. And the best way to learn more is to increase your chances at bat. In my office, each person specializes in one aspect of the transaction. The mantra is, Do what you do best. I list, sell, and negotiate. My buyer's agents only sell. Our head escrow coordinator closes more escrows in one year than most people close in an entire career.

The whole team benefits from each individual's expertise. For example, our head broker studies the lending industry to stay on top of all of the new programs for first-time home buyers. Not only can our agents describe housing inventory, school ratings, and community features off the top of their heads, but they also know exactly what the lending industry has to offer each consumer. We're constantly getting clients who come in from other offices — offices where agents don't know how to get people into various home-loan programs. Our knowledge base has dramatically increased the pace at which we can do business.

Never expect to do business as usual.

Staying ahead isn't just about how fast we do transactions — it's about how fast we change the way we do business. And once you start changing how business gets done, you've got to keep changing it — especially in the real-estate field. I don't do business today in the same way that I did business even 12 months ago.

We were one of the first brokerages in the area to offer a full range of services on-site. We have our own escrow company and our own mortgage company. When buyers come in, we can get them prequalified on the spot — and we can write up a mortgage immediately after closing a deal. Now we're asking, How can we use our relationships with banks and other lending institutions to create even better service?

Sell values, not value.

Real-estate brokers have almost as bad a rap as used-car salesmen. That's mainly because even good salespeople tend to work harder at making deals than at being believable. But we sell values, not just value. I want people to believe that their transaction with me was a truly positive experience — and not just to believe it, but to know that it's true.

We hired a man several years ago. He was a great salesman, but he tended to see real estate as a dog-eat-dog business. All he wanted was to close the deal. That meant he couldn't be honest with people. With him, everything was gray, everything was vague.

But this business isn't about wheeling and dealing. It's black-and-white — there's no gray. If the roof on a house has structural problems, I tell the potential buyer. If I think a buyer is making a decision that involves living beyond his means, I tell him. When you treat people that way, they're not only happy to give you a commission — they become raving fans. Many customers leave a transaction feeling confused, fuzzy, and vaguely uncomfortable about what just happened to them. My clients not only walk away with a positive feeling — they know exactly what happened to them.

For more information about Century 21, visit the Web (www.century21.com). You can reach Marty Rodriguez by email (cmarty21@aol.com).

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