In this episode of Secrets of the Top 100 Agents, number four-ranked agent Michael Clarke returns to the studio to explain why he’s less interested in building his client database and more focused on expanding his knowledge base and improving the overall running of his business. He also details the learning process he underwent as a new-to-industry agent and reveals how he supercharged his agency by learning from the best.
In this episode, find out:
- What a top-ranked agent looks for in their team
- How agents benefit from a mentor’s inside knowledge
- Why playing on your own strengths is an agent’s best weapon
Tim Neary: G’day everyone, it's Tim Neary here. I am the 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. Very pleased to welcome to the show today, ranked number four in the REB top 100 agents ranking for 2017, from Clarke and Humel in Manly, it's Michael Clarke. Hello, Michael, and welcome to the show.
Michael Clarke: Thanks very much, nice to be here.
Tim Neary: Nice one. You're ranked in the top five last year, you're ranked in the top five this year, it's a terrific result. It's a competitive industry, there's no doubt about it. How do you stay at the top of your game?
Michael Clarke: Oh, goodness, it's a . . . Where to start and where to finish? I guess the first thing would be is very much focus on making sure every single interaction that we have is a positive interaction, whether it's for the buyer or a vendor. The numbers and the dollars all flow back from having positive interactions from people.
Tim Neary: I like the way that you say positive interactions because it's a people business, isn't it, and people respond well to positivity and to optimism.
Michael Clarke: Hundred per cent, and I mean, I'll never forget that Tom Hopkins. I think it was from Tom Hopkins who talked about the fact that people will forget what you say, but they'll never forget the way that you make them feel, and so we try to leave that.
Tim Neary: Yeah, that is an astute point. Now, obviously, you didn't start at the top and your business has grown over the years when you were in . . . The last time you gave us a background and you've been in the business for?
Michael Clarke: About just going on 11 years.
Tim Neary: Yeah, 11 years. You didn't start there; you started with a blank piece of paper and a pencil, I suppose?
Michael Clarke: I started behind the eight balls. So, yes, it started with a HECS debt, credit card debt, and a very average car.
Tim Neary: Right, and it’s all changed, but it started . . . I mean, step number one is building the database.
Michael Clarke: Yeah, I would say even before building the database, step number one is learning what the hell you're doing, ‘cause I had not a clue. So for me it was about . . . I saw the first eight months in my career as just paid training, not that I was actually being paid that much. I went backwards, but it was all about how to work out what the hell I was doing, and that included building a database. But it started with what I needed to learn to say in order to be able to have people on my database who actually wanted to hear from me.
Tim Neary: And then how did you do that? Did you talk to other agents, did you ask for mentors?
Michael Clarke: Yeah, that was the real key, I think. And to this day, I think, that's been the key to my success, whatever that is, you know?
Tim Neary: Yeah.
Michael Clarke: It was making sure that . . . You know, Cherie and I basically worked out a short list of the agents at that time who we felt were the best agents in the country, and I toured around those agents and they were generous enough to tell me what they did, and I was clever enough, to be dumb enough, to do what they did.
Tim Neary: I like the way that you put the "clever enough to be dumb enough", and that's self-deprecating, but it's a smart thing to do, isn't it? To just say, "Those are the guys that are at the top of their game, let me just talk to them and let me just find out what goes on inside their head."
Michael Clarke: Yeah, I mean, I've told this story before, but from where I was sitting, at that point in time, I didn't have the time or the money in the bank to be able to learn all the hard lessons myself, and so . . . I mean, that watershed moment came, with Cherie, where I said, "Well, we're going backwards, but not fast."
Tim Neary: Yeah.
Michael Clarke: That was supposed to be positive.
Tim Neary: Yeah, that's looking for the silver lining.
Michael Clarke: Very, very thin silver lining. But that was that moment where I realised that I couldn't possibly learn all those lessons; I needed to supercharge things. In order to be able to do that, I needed to get distilled wisdom from people who had learned the lessons before me, and then have no ego about it and just say, "Okay, well, they're doing that, whatever the opinion that I had on what I had been doing, drop it and do something better."
Tim Neary: Yeah, another lesson there, in terms of if it's not working drop it and do something better, and having the wisdom to do that. You mentioned Cherie a little earlier. That's your partner, isn't it? In more than one way.
Michael Clarke: Yeah, my business partner, my wife, and very much to see . . . Clark and Humel's, so yeah, I just do what I'm told.
Tim Neary: Yeah. Hey, Michael, I just want to talk a little bit about the business of real estate, and the sort of building blocks to building a business in real estate. Talked a little bit about database, and building that. Just for others listening to this, are there any key database things that people need to be aware of? In terms of how . . . best way to do it, best way to work it, best number to have in the database.
Michael Clarke: Look, it's interesting because my . . . I'm, by no means, a database king. To be raw, I've never really been that interested in a database. I know that it's an essential part of real estate, but I remember, when I first started, there was a chap in the previous office that I worked with, and he was the database king, and he'd be talking about his database grew by a thousand this month, or 500, and he had so many different channels that were going out, and part of me, at the time, was overwhelmed by it, part of me, as much as I tried to get enthusiastic about it, I just glazed over it. It was just not an area of interest, and to this day it’s still not an area of interest, but I did understand that it was important for me to have people that I could speak to.
So, yes. Do I have a database? Absolutely. And on our database, I think, we've got 25 or 30,000 people, but the way I saw it, it was all about basically just having positive interactions with people, and then, as a result of having those positive interactions, I needed a place to store those interactions, and . . . So I do work that, and I work it every week, but for any of you out there that are worried that you don't have the biggest or the best database, that was never my focus. It was always just on making sure that I knew what to say when I was in front of somebody, and then made a record of the fact that I had that conversation.
Tim Neary: And just made a note of things that were pertinent in that conversation, that you might want to remember for next time.
Michael Clarke: Well, that's the other funny thing, too, because the more people I started to deal with, the less I could remember about what I'd said, and so that's one thing I've always been heavily into, and that is making sure that I've made the requisite notes so that, if I hadn't spoken to somebody for three, six or 12 months, that I could get back to that, and sincerely say . . . Outline some of the things we've talked about, 'cause people I've found historically quite flattered when you remember what's going on.
Tim Neary: Yeah, and you said two things there that struck me. One is, don't get fixated on the database, on the concept of the database, just rather be in the business of people; and then the database will take care of itself when you record the interactions.
Michael Clarke: Yeah, but it's interesting for me, too. I mean, you look at the . . . If I have a look at the top 20 agents in the top 100 — I don't know all of them, but I know a lot of them — and it's almost like every different person or agent has their own strength, or area of genius, and some people are much stronger in the database area, other people are much stronger in the scripts and dialogues, other people are stronger in the marketing. . . . Whatever. But I think that it's almost like athletics. You know somebody is a brilliant shot caller, but they'd be a useless 100-metre sprinter. Another person would be a brilliant high jumper, and yet they'd be rubbish at weight lifting, whatever — the end goal is the same, and the disciplines are. . . . There are a certain number of disciplines, but I think database, as you correctly said, that's just one of them, and for us it's important but it's not something we've ever obsessed over.
Tim Neary: Okay, terrific. So, where do we go from the database? I know that the next thing is probably building up a presence in your local area, and becoming a brand in the local area.
Michael Clarke: Well, it's an interesting point you make, 'cause Cherie and Eric, that's about to come up. She's doing a presentation specifically on how to go from one stage to another, and that's been a fascinating journey for us as well because part of that whole speech has been us reflecting on. Well, how do you go from naught to 200, and how do you go from two or 250 to doubling that, and doubling it, and doubling it again.
Tim Neary: ‘Cause there are those milestones aren't there as you grow your business, as you grow your presence.
Michael Clarke: Yeah, that's exactly right.
Tim Neary: So what'd she come up with?
Michael Clarke: Well, that's probably better for her to say, you know. I can tell you that my personal journey is different from the guys that are working for us, and the girls that are working for us at the moment. But yeah, it certainly started with understanding what I had to say, the scripts and dialogues element, and then, obviously, building a database, and you're also making sure that you're starting to understand marketing and what good personal marketing is and all that type of stuff. Growing a team, all those types of things are important, and you can't do it all at once. So, it is a step-by-step process where you have to graduate from one level to another.
Tim Neary: You said there, if you're a great shot put-ist, or good at putting the shot — I think is the right thing to say.
Michael Clarke: I have . . . yeah, shot put-erer, yep.
Tim Neary: Something like that. You're good at throwing that heavy thing, then you're probably not good at running the 100 metres, and you don't, therefore, want to enter the 100-metre race. You want to be putting the shot, and that's what you're saying to me right now. Just play to your strengths, do what you can. Just because you're not good at something might mean you are stronger at something else. You're not out of the game; you're still in athletics, as it were.
Michael Clarke: Well, for me, once again, I remember when I started, I hated door knocking, hated it, right. I did two or three of them, and I felt like, at the end of my third or fourth month, if I have to door-knock, then maybe this isn't the thing for me. But I bloody love the phones. So, in my mind, I felt that I'd be much better off, and I could probably call half the suburb in the time that one of my competitors had door-knocked 10 doors. So, I just smashed out phone calls on the phone and I worked extremely hard on doing that. That was the thing when I first got in that I felt like I could do better than anyone. Whether I could or not, I guess history showed alright of it, but I decided that was the area that I was really gonna smash. You know, other people — I've got a young buck in my office at the moment, Garry, and he's a master at door-knocking. You know, so he loves it, and he gets MA's that way, so that's brilliant. So, yeah, it's just a horses for courses thing.
Tim Neary: Yeah, and just talking about the stage of the business. When the business starts to grow, you brought an assistant. At what point do you bring on the assistant, what's the right time to do that, if there's a right time to do that, and what do you look for?
Michael Clarke: I think, the first thing, in relation to bringing on an assistant, is you need to get to a level of business where you're consistently selling three or four properties a month. Once you're doing that and whether . . . The GCI is not as important as the business.
Tim Neary: The activity.
Michael Clarke: Because you can be in an area where your average sale price is $300,000, or you can be in an area where your sale price is $4 million, but the same amount of administrative work is . . . you know, it's per property. When I started, I was doing, consistently for a month, and that's when I first took on my assistant. Then for my guys in the office, once again, it just depends on the types and styles of properties that they bring on board. But the assistant needs to be brought on board certainly once you are consistently doing three or four properties a month.
Tim Neary: And I guess that's for two reasons, isn't it? One is forward thinking so that you can grow your business; and the other one is, because you're doing that level of activity, you can't necessarily touch all of those people and do it efficiently on your own, you might need some help in order to maintain that.
Michael Clarke: Yeah, the critical thing, in my opinion, is that if you don't have an assistant, you are the assistant, and one of the really cool things, in relation to our business, is dollar productivity, and if you are taking the time to send a contract, and pick up a contract, and get the property up on the internet, and write the copy, or things like that, they're not dollar-productive activities. They're critically important, you've got to get them right, but that is not you bringing in another listing or working towards an exchange. And as a result, you're fooling yourself if you get into the industry, and you're doing one sale a month and you think that you need an assistant, 'cause that's rubbish. But once you get into the stage where you are losing dollar-productive time with the administration of it, that's when you need an assistant.
Tim Neary: Yeah, so let's just reflect on that. One is dollar-productive activity, and the other thing that you said was, if you don't have an assistant, then you are the assistant — and those two sort of work together, don't they? Hey, Michael, we're sort of getting to the end of the show, and it's that part of the show where I like to talk a little bit about tips and tricks. This business is about listing more, and it's about selling more, and it's about touching more people, so if, while I've got you in the studio, we can talk about that a little bit. What is your top tip, or your top tips for being more effective in listings presentations?
Michael Clarke: Connection, in a word. You've gotta connect, and that's coming from somebody who felt that I had learned every script and dialogue in the sun — under the Sun, rather — and yet, in my first few years, it wasn't resonating with people because they didn't feel any connection. They felt like I was, you know, as I've said historically, a bit of a scripted monkey. Now when I'm walking into a listing presentation, more than anything else, what I'm looking to try and do is connect with them on a human level so they understand that the information they're gonna get is coming from a raw place, and from a place where I'm sincerely looking to show them that I've got their best interests at heart, and thankfully, we're at a stage where I learned early in my career that you just have to make sure that the advice that you're giving them is genuinely in their best interests, and by focusing on that, I know if I'm going on a listing presentation, and they're wondering on whether they should renovate or whether they should sell, if I sincerely feel like they should be renovating, I'll tell them that, knowing that it'll come back to me.
So I think the number one thing would be, whether you should be telling them to renovate or to sell, or whether they should be hitting the market now, or they should be whatever else, if you're genuine, and you're sincere, and you're in the moment, and you have that connection, you're much more likely to win that business, rather than simply because you have the biggest database, or the best local knowledge, or whatever else.
Tim Neary: That's good advice. And then, when you've got the listing, obviously you want to get it sold, reduce your days on market. What are your thoughts on that?
Michael Clarke: I'm never ever focused on my days on market. Never. And the reason for that is because, if I look at my campaigns and I say, "Oh look, my days on market are 18 and this thing's been on the market for 23 days or 24 days", I think that's the wrong focus. It's like the commissions that you earn. I never calculate the commission that I've earned until after it's exchanged, and routinely I actually really don't know. And so with the days on market thing. I'm focused entirely on . . . With every campaign there's an energy, between buyer and seller, and every vendor gets into a position where they feel like they're being given enough information to make an educated decision, and every buy goes through that emotional circumstance where they go from consideration of the property, to falling in love with the property. If the agent has done the right job, and then from there, there'll be an emotional crescendo, and it's my job to make sure that I'm bringing both vendor and the buyer together at the right time, where the buyer's emotional crescendo is at its peak, and that tends, to me, to happen within the first 18 days. But I'm focused on that specific deal, and the average days on market remains pretty low, rather than going, "Oh, I'm at my sixteenth day; I've only got 48 hours to crunch this deal together."
Tim Neary: Yeah, fair point. So, if you focus on the right things, then the days on market will take care of itself, the rest of it will fall into place.
Michael Clarke: Focus on great customer service, and you focus on giving great advice, the listings come, and you do the right thing by people, and you understand your market, and then the sales come, and then the commission is picked up at the bottom.
Tim Neary: Last question: technology has changed the way business is being done; it's changed the world. You've been in the business [for] 11 years. You would've seen some of those changes yourself. What do you do today, technology-wise, social media-wise, that's improved your business, compared to what you did when you started out, or the way that business was done when you started out?
Michael Clarke: It's a great question. I've just come from a meeting in relation to social media, and Facebook, and things like that, and I think they . . . It's the same thing in a different bucket, as it was 10 years ago, and that is, everything's evolving, and so I've got to keep learning. So there's not a week or a day that goes by where Cherie or I aren't listening to a podcast, or reading a book on whether it's customer service, or it's social media, and so everybody is talking about disruption and things like that. I think, that's just the greatest overused term in the past 24 months. From my perspective, it's a case of making sure that I remain as educated as I possibly can on where things are heading, everybody's got the latest social media craze and trend, and everybody's trying to get a share of that dollar. I think a lot of it, you might as well just keep money down the drain, because it is just . . . People try and bury you in bull dust. So, I haven't come to a conclusion yet, as to what is the best form, but we're investing significant dollars in different areas, but it's the kind of space where, Cherie and I, we're still work shopping it, and we're constantly, I guess, up-skilling ourselves, so that we've at least got an educated opinion.
Tim Neary: And things are, I mean, the one constant is change, isn't it? There's always things changing and evolving.
Michael Clarke: I love that.
Tim Neary: Yeah, just to go with that, it's always constantly changing, so it's just to keep up with it.
Michael Clarke: Well, I love that. The Darwinian term "survival of the fittest", and apparently he actually corrected people — it's not survival of the fittest, it's survival of the most adaptable species, right?
Tim Neary: Yeah.
Michael Clarke: I'm not pretending to be a scientist by any stretch of the imagination, but I love that because it constantly reminds me that, whatever business I was doing yesterday is not going to be good enough to win the business of tomorrow, and social media is no different from your listing presentation, or your database, or your marketing, or things like that. Once again, it can be overwhelming, but I actually love it. I love the fact that just like an athlete, or any other industry, Formula One, you know, you've got to keep refining, and you've got to keep learning, and you've got to keep implementing new things, and social media is just one of those areas.
Tim Neary: And Michael, obviously you're doing it mate because, as I've said, when we started out on the show, this is the second year running that you are in the top five of the top 100 agents in the country. So congratulations to you. Thanks again for coming in. You've always made yourself available to us and we really appreciate that. Love to have you in the studio.
Michael Clarke: You're more than welcome. Thanks for having me.
Tim Neary: You're very welcome. Thank you, cheers. Remember to follow us on all [of] the social media stuff — Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn. You can follow me too on Twitter — @TimothyJNeary — if you want to do that. RealEstateBusiness.com.au is where you'll find us. There's plenty of stories there on the business of real estate across the whole of Australia, and on my guest today, Michael Clarke. Thanks again for tuning in. We'll see you next week. Goodbye.