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A top-ranked agent explains how refining his brand helped triple his GCI

By Tamikah Bretzke
12 June 2017 | 25 minute read
Marcus web

In this episode of Secrets of the Top 100 Agents, Tim Neary talks to Marcus Chiminello, the number-three ranked agent for two years running. Marcus reveals he’s had to make some critical decisions to further his career. Tune in to hear why specialising in the industry helped establish his name as a brand, and how refining his client database helped triple his gross commissionable income.

In this episode, hear about:

  • Why agents can’t be everything to everyone
  • How culling your database can help improve business
  • How Marcus achieves a work/life balance


Make sure you never miss an episode by subscribing to us now on iTunes!

Full transcript

Tim: G'day everyone, it's Tim Neary here. I am editor of Real Estate Business and host of The Secrets of the Top 100 Agents podcast. Thanks for tuning in. This is the show where we bring in and chat to the very best agents in Australia. Look, I'm really excited about our guest on the show today. It's a top three ranked agent two years running – ranked number three in REB Top 100 Agents ranking for 2017, Marcus Chiminello. Marcus is with Marshall White in Melbourne. Hello, Marcus, and welcome to the show.

Marcus: Hello, Tim.

Tim: You're a top three-ranked agent in Australia for two years running, Marcus. That's a very impressive result.

Marcus: Thank you.

Tim: It's a highly competitive environment, so tell us, how do you do it? How have you done it two years in a row?

Marcus: That's a good question. I hadn't really thought about how I do it. In all reality, a lot of it is the momentum that's been built from years past and making some critical decisions about my career in terms of where I want to specialise in. I think a lot of it has come back to the way in ... Look, an observation that I've made recently is how real estate agents progress in their career. Where a lot of them, primarily, when they first start it's all about income, it's all about actually surviving and creating an income and really lasting from month to month. Then, once you've got some level of momentum, you start really focusing in and giving really true thought to your career. Then beyond that, I think you then look into areas of specialisation because, I think, generally speaking in most industries, specialists will always make more than a generalist.

I think it's really important that at some point in time in an agent's career they specialise, whether it be suburb-specific, price-specific, style of home-specific, that they're the go-to person. That's one thing that I really directed my career, particularly from around seven or eight years ago, to really specialise in a particular market and particular price points. I say no to business that doesn't represent my brand appropriately, which in turn has enhanced my business to actually, as Tom Panos talks about, an attraction business where I get a lot of people calling me, feeling as though they need to use me because I've got the rungs on the board more than anyone in a particular market. That really just keeps compounding and keep compounding. The more I say no to particular business that doesn't suit my brand, the most business that I want comes to me.

Tim: That makes a lot of sense to me. As you're speaking, I get this idea of a pyramid where you build your base and then you hone it as you ... And you used the words, direct your own career over the years. I'd like to just take a step back and maybe go through those stages with you as you went through. I guess when you start out, you start off with a blank piece of paper and a pencil, and you go like, "This is what I want to do." The starting point is probably to build a database. Would you see it the same way?

Marcus: A hundred per cent. I could not agree with you more, that's what it's about. I think to start off with, it's about volume, it's about getting deal exposure, building your skillset, getting more exposure to different style of real estate. And really, it is, and that's why I refer to income, you are chasing income. You literally, you're taking listings wherever you can get them to ensure that you've got money dropping through into your account every month. But after a period of time, once you've built the database, and what if that database ... A big database to someone might be 500, the next person, it might be 5,000, but once you've got to a point of building that database is about refining it.

That's where I think a lot of people don't transition out of focusing on income to then focusing on career and specialisation. A lot of them are absent in that and they become, I don't know, they become general, they can be great riverside agents, but they're everything to everybody, and I think that's where a lot of people, a lot of agents, can become unstuck and treating with ... Probably, they don't necessarily want to be selling but they feel like they're obliged to sell it because it's a listing, rather than being really focused and honed in on a particular market.

Tim: I want to get that, and I like the way that you put it in terms of refining the database because we talk a lot about, "What is the optimum number in the database?" Is it 500 or is it 5,000? What's been your experience around the number that you want to get to, the most effective number, and then how do you refine it? How do you trim your numbers down?

Marcus: Okay, great question. I love explaining this because I've done it to, with intent, it's worked with great success. I think what the magic number for the normal agent out there is no more than 1,000. If you think about how you're going to service those people, if you've got a database of 2,000 or 3,000 people, and if you are not an absolutely disciplined prospecting machine and somewhat of a machine like my business partner, James Tostevin, and he thrives on being on the phone all the time, I don't. Don't get me wrong, I love being on the phone, but I think if you think can manage any database any greater than 1,000, the reality is your database probably doesn't really know you and you're diluting yourself across 1,000 rather than really focusing on what counts.

What I did, I had a database that was near 1,000, a little over 900, and even I found that was, at the time, a little overwhelming to really build good relationships and connect with people. About eight or nine years ago, I decided to absolutely cull it. My checklist at the time ... It was a big risk. At the time, I was riding four or $500,000, but I refined it down to the people that had the best homes that would represent my brand moving forward, the best people in my market that would represent me or be great advocate of me, and then the most influential people in my market. I culled my database down to 390 people. The following year, I tripled my GCI.

Tim: Okay.

Marcus: The whole Pareto principle, the 80/20 rule?

Tim: Yeah.

Marcus: I really focused on the best people, not ... And it was quality database not a quantity database, and I reaped benefits almost instantaneously.

Tim: Yeah, and that comes back to what you were saying earlier also about specialising. I want to go there a little bit now, sort of in my mind's eye, on building that pyramid again. You started out the business, you were looking for volume. You built it, you got to a number, you got to 1,000 on the database, and then you decided, "This is the time for me to become a little bit more specialist, a little bit more refined in terms of what I'm doing." I guess at that point, that's when you start to want to make a name for yourself in the geography that you're representing, you want to build your brand in that area.

Marcus: Correct.

Tim: How did you go about doing that?

Marcus: Yeah, it's interesting. It's very topical and I ran a session on this with the team here at Marshall White on Wednesday, that yeah, as you said, first and foremost it's about just getting out there and getting those numbers and getting those deals through the line and then surviving. Then really building a brand is about building your name that is actually greater than your organisation that you want to be known as. Whether you're working for ABC real estate or XYZ real estate, you want your brand ... The people, why they go to you, is not because of your brand but it's because of you.

Tim: So there's almost a double branding in there, the brand of the company you represent and then your own personal brand as well

Marcus: Correct. It's almost all about, I mean, the best agents in Australia actually have brands that are stronger than the company they work for.

Tim: That's an interesting point, yeah.

Marcus: I think that that's why ... And that is it's not necessarily it's something that's challenging to achieve, but exceptionally effective when you get there. I've had exposure to all the trainers in Australia, whether they're good, bad or indifferent. I remember Glen Twiddle saying to me years ago, you know, "You want to become the rockstar of your market, or the most famous agent in your market." That resonated with me, and famous for the right reasons, not for the wrong reasons.

Tim: Yes, exactly.

Marcus: And getting out there and ensuring that my name was positioned appropriately. I really up-skilled on my ability to sell advertising. I think the ability to sell advertising actually promotes your brand as well as enhances your client's property in the market and makes that stand on the pedestal, and there's a great correlation to those who have the ability to sell advertising, also have the ability to draw customers.

Tim: Right.

Marcus: That's one thing I really focused on. Certainly not by abusing client's investment in the marketing but really in, as I said before, enhancing the position of their property in the market.

Tim: That sort of comes back to what you said earlier, you've got to be famous for the right reasons. If you're going out there and selling advertising and abusing the privilege, if I can put it that way, you're going to kind of get a name for yourself but for all the wrong reason, aren't you?

Marcus: Absolutely, 100 per cent.

Tim: Yeah.

Marcus: A hundred per cent. Then I went about actually building good relationships with and servicing those who were the most influential in my market. Every market is different, so you've got to think, you've got to network, you've got to position yourself in a market, and the way you do it relative to your market. Here in Melbourne it's about property people, architects, developers, influential people in the social set, where there'll be some other areas where it's best to be down at the local football club and really, not necessarily donating, but donating time and being present and being known and being around. Or, it might be down at the local surf club, being present at the local surf club where you're going to get this concentration of local community. I think a face-to-face and even standing bar-side with a group of people is far more powerful than 100 phone calls because you're in front of them all the time and you're creating leverage for yourself.

One critical thing is a lot of people try, and this is interesting initiative, a lot of people try and separate real estate, their career and their life. I think they'll always struggle with the challenge to do so. I think if you embrace it, real estate is unlike many of other careers because it's so topical at dinner parties, it's topical at functions, et cetera, because people talk about property. I think if you embrace it and say, "You know what? I'm a real estate agent, it's a part of my life, and there's opportunity, whether I'm in the office or at a party," there's opportunity everywhere for you.

I think if you just don't get defensive about it, because a lot of people do, saying, "Well, I don't want to talk about work." But if you embrace it and say, "Well, opportunity's everywhere, you've just got to find and discover where it's hiding." It's hiding right under your nose. I think if you have that attitude when you're out and about, business actually just literally lands in front of you all the time. It's the difference between seeing it and not seeing it.

Tim: I really get that. It depends on how you approach it. The fact that it is such a topical subject and the fact that everybody wants to talk property at every opportunity could be seen by people as being a bit of a down-side, but if you see it as an opportunity and you see it as a gift...

Marcus: It is a mindset change. If you remain open-minded to it, as I said, the opportunities will be in abundance. I remember my first five or six years of career, of my career, that I used to hate going out and talking about property and people will always be peppering with questions about property and I really struggled with it. I end up here, I mean, you almost don't the career for a period of time, but then just embraced it. Embraced it and everything changed.

Tim: Yeah, we talk a lot to top agents like yourself in the business and one of the things that always comes up is this issue of balance and getting work-life balance. It seems like getting work-life balance in real estate might be completely different to getting work-life balance in any other industry that you might be in.

Marcus: Yeah, agreed.

Tim: Because when you're on, you're on, and you almost just want to have some time when you book yourself out. Is that how you do it, or how do you do it?

Marcus: Absolutely. I think Kate Strickland, who's another one of my business partners here – she spoke with Eric last year and she's a big advocate about balance and also mindfulness as a real estate agent – she mentioned something that a few of my other business partners mentioned, that work will expand to the time that you give it. If you give it 40 hours, it will take up 40 hours. If you give work 80 hours, it will take up 80 hours. My level of balance is that, in our market, I'm really fortunate in some respects that we are very cyclical in the eastern suburbs of Melbourne around school holidays. I know from the 1st of July to around the 15th of July, nothing happens in my market. Literally, there are tumbleweeds rolling down the street because everyone's in Europe and the U.S and Hawaii having holidays.

That's my time to disconnect because my clients are away, so I do exactly the same. I follow the school holiday routine, so I get away. Those blocks in between school holidays, whether it's seven to eight, nine weeks, my family understand that I'm going to run relatively hard. Yes, I'll have some great quality time with them, but the moment those ... And we always book holidays, we always get out of Melbourne every holiday period. I'm fortunate enough to take eight, nine weeks a year, at least, in holidays that that's the quality time. So Dad may be working later, harder, earlier than most, and may miss an opportunity or two along the way to share with them, but they know the moment ... And we all had buy-in on this that we are where we are planning our next holiday. My wife gets involved, the kids get involved, everyone has their say, so I get a lot of buy-in from my team at home.

Tim: Right.

Marcus: We have then two or three really great weeks away together where there's no work. They don't see me working in that time frame, they only see me in relaxation mode. I do do work, I assure you, but I do it before the sun comes up and make sure that everything's still on track here. To me, that's my balance. I run hard, then stop.

Tim: Yeah, and I guess that that fulfils two functions, or it ticks two boxes. One is that you get to get that time with your family, and it also gives you the time where you restore yourself as well, because I would imagine that in this business, at the point end of this business where you are, burn out has got to be an issue that's top of mind all the time, or can present itself. Do you ever find yourself getting into that position where you feel like you're getting a little tired, you're getting a little stale?

Marcus: There are many, many of those times, Tim.

Tim: Really? Yeah.

Marcus: A few times I remember, well only three years ago, three or four years ago, I got to November and thinking, "You know what? I'm actually ready to walk away from the industry."

Tim: Wow.

Marcus: Not that I don't love it, but it's really taking its toll on me. I sat down with the CEO of Marshall White who is a great business mentor of mine, and he just reminded me of a few things. He reminded me of a few things that, you know, work does expand to the time that you give it and you've got to be a bit more ruthless with your time. At that point in time, two weeks later, I picked up the family and we moved to California for six weeks. It made us step out of the industry for a while to really reassess and recalibrate, and from that point, that was a little ... The bell rung to say, "Hang on a minute," pause, you have an opportunity through the forest and the trees, reassess how you run your week, month, year, and create a bit more balance. That has, it's been fantastic.

Irrespective of how good we are in this industry, we're all vulnerable to that level of burnout. It's a precautionary measure that I take, that I have an opportunity to not miss my children growing up, not missing the relationship with my wife, but also a really great opportunity to make sure the battery runs below low but it's always relatively full.

Tim: And keep a watch on that, it sounds like it's something that you're diligent about. You're right, you don't want your kids to have grown up and you look back and you go, like, "How did that happen? Where was I when that was going on?"

Marcus: Correct.

Tim: Because the clock just keeps tick, doesn't it? It doesn't stop for anybody.

Marcus: I think when you've got young children and they're growing in front of you, it's another measurement and marker of time and everything seemed to be going much faster.

Tim: Yeah. Mate listen, it's been terrific talking to you this morning. I always like to end the show with just a couple of practical tips and, if I may, just tap into your expertise and your experience here. The business of real estate essentially is about listing properties and selling them, so for those starting out in the business, a couple of tips around yours, how to be more effective in ... What do you do to be effective in listings presentations?

Marcus: I try not to talk about real estate in listing presentations, that's the number one things I do. I would focus 80 per cent of presentation on building rapport and talking about everything other than real estate, and then literally concluding the tail-end of my presentation was actually talking about what's next. But the whole conversation is intertwined with our presentation, so they're actually getting the benefit of myself, my team and my organisation without them actually realising. That is conversations about case studies, stories about successful sales, trying to find a connection between them and a lot of my other clients.

It's not a structured, "We're taking you through the journey from A to Z." I think number one, people want to do business with people they like. I think it's prudent that you connect with the person because I think the level of professionalism in our industry is increasing at a rapid rate, more than it has probably in the past 25 years. It's increased exponentially in the five years. You've got to understand that everyone, and most of your competitors, you’re fortunate with your market you're not up against these sort of people, but they're going to have a very high level of professionalism and the differences between agents are very individual. What we can offer on a digital strategy, a print strategy, supporting mechanisms, databases, supporting teams and brand, that what is your point difference? Your point of difference is that the person, you have all the very much the same skillset but we like you.

People want to deal with those that they want to like. That would be one thing that I would certainly advise anyone that's relatively new to the industry, or gaining momentum, is really connecting with those people. If you connect with them first and foremost, the rest should really fall into place.

Tim: The rest is going to follow through. You make a good point there, that the difference in skillset or the difference between you and the rest, or your agent and the rest of the agents, is very small and it's getting smaller as the competition pushes it that way.

Marcus: Correct. We hear it all the time. Everyone says, "You're all pretty much the same."

Tim: Yeah.

Marcus: I hate hearing that. If I hear that as feedback, I haven't done my job.

Tim: Yes, yes. I get that. I get that. Marcus, then I'm assuming you get the listing presentation, I know that you don't always but in this case you do, what's your top tip to sell it effectively?

Marcus: Sell it effectively? It's hard to really go through it, a singular point, but you've got to sell it with conviction. You've got to believe with everything that you're conveying in that listing presentation, you can't ... People have got very sensitive bullshit radars, so you've got to ensure that everything you are presenting, you have absolute belief and faith in. It's the conviction of your presentation rather than necessarily the content of your presentation.

Tim: That's interesting. When we started out the podcast earlier, you said that you went through a point where you refined your database and you culled it to that people that essentially sort of fitted in with your vision for where you wanted to go. It ties back to what you're saying now about being authentic and believing and having conviction in the sale. Those two, I guess, go hand in glove because you want to believe it ... If you don't believe in it then you can't have that conviction.

Marcus: Correct, and people will see right through it.

Tim: Yeah. Mate, it's been terrific to chat to you on the podcast this morning. Thanks again for your time.

Marcus: You're more than welcome, Tim.

Tim: And be good to stay in touch and get you on in a couple of weeks' time and see how things are progressing.

Marcus: Sounds great.

Tim: Nice one, Marcus. Remember to follow us on all the social media stuff; Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn. You can follow me on Twitter @TimothyJNeary if you want to do that. Tune in next week, realestatebusiness.com.au is where you'll find us. There's plenty of stories there on the business of real estate in Australia, and whole lot of stuff on my guest today, Marcus Chiminello. Thanks again for tuning in, we'll see you next week. Goodbye.


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