Richard Robbins knew at a young age that he wanted to work. As a 15-year old kid struggling to find any value in what he was being taught at school, Robbins poured himself into his first job, working alongside his dad at a Shell station in Peterborough, Ontario. Robbins found the value he had long been seeking in the quiet nights and long weekends he spent at the station, in the financial freedom and sense of achievement that accompanied his focus and dedication.
“It led me into doing something where if I was going to work hard, I wanted to be rewarded for it,” he says.
As one of the leaders of an increasingly crowded business coaching industry, Robbins continues to reap those rewards, the hard-won product of his insight into the human side of sales.
The right questions
At 24, equipped with an affinity for sales and a desire to be responsible for his own interests, Robbins started selling real estate for Century 21. He was taught early on that the number one reason any salesman fails is his inability to generate fresh leads.
“I started prospecting on the telephone all morning and if I had time in the afternoon I’d actually go door-knocking,” Robbins says. “I had nothing else to do; I might as well generate leads all the time.”
Despite the exhausting challenge of chasing down leads – “It was painful,” he says – they began piling up. It was then up to Robbins to develop meaningful relationships with his growing list of clients. He says Realtors today often need to approach this rapport-building stage from a different angle.
“They’re always focused on what they’re going to say instead of focusing on what they’re going to ask. And a great sales presentation should always be based on what you’re going to ask. ‘How long have you lived here? Where did you move here from?’ They’re just two questions – and I can give you 40 of them.
You’re showing interest, you’re showing you care. So you’re building rapport. But also it allows you to discover what it is they’re looking for. It allows you to find their motivation.”
Robbins feels that establishing these genuine connections is paramount for agents who want to make their clients feel at ease when making a major purchase.
“People love to buy, but they hate to be sold,” he says. “We’ve all been in circumstances where we felt uncomfortable being sold. However, we’ve also been in circumstances where we felt comfortable buying – and generally we’re doing it with somebody like a salesperson,” a term Robbins feels many Realtors resist applying to themselves.
“A good Realtor is a good salesman,” he says. “A great salesperson is somebody that is trying to influence a human being to make a decision that is in their best interest. With great salespeople, that is their focus. Their intention is pure.”
The accountability factor
In 1988, Robbins and his partner Dana Richards opened Classic Realty in Markham. (The two are still in business together today; Richards heads Robbins’ coaching division.) The new franchise went through significant growing pains until Robbins and Richards came to a life-changing realization.
“We quickly discovered that what we had to spend our time on was making our agents great. What we started to do internally was coach and train our agents.” Classic Realty soon had the highest production per agent of any company in the area.
In 1998, Robbins began presenting his “Seven Steps to Success” seminar at brokerages hoping to replicate some of Classic’s accomplishments. After delivering his first 51 talks, Robbins had been approached by 46 Realtors about becoming their personal coaches.
With his schedule rapidly filling up, and wanting to benefit the greatest number of people possible, Robbins says it was time to expand. He assembled a team of coaches, trained and certified them in his techniques and began dedicating himself to promotion, marketing and developing content for what has grown to become Richard Robbins International.
While Robbins’ teaching is multi-faceted and wide-ranging, it is founded on a simple principle; or rather, a principle he feels is in short supply across the industry.
“A lot of people get into real estate because they want freedom. They don’t want to have a schedule, they don’t want to report to anybody. And that’s exactly why so many fail – because there is no accountability.”
In making a case for accountability, Robbins points to a recent study conducted at Dominican University of California that charted the success of different goal-oriented strategies. Participants who agreed to report their progress to a third party on a regular basis were over 70% more likely to achieve their goals. Even though most Realtors enter the industry in desperate need of sales training, Robbins feels the accountability factor is what pushes all salespeople, novice or otherwise, closer to hitting their targets.
“I’ve had a trainer for probably 20 years, right? My trainer does not have to teach me to lift weights; I know exactly how to do that. So why would I have a trainer? Because he gets me to show up. Because I know he’s going to show up, I do something I might not have done without him.”
After nearly 20 years as the man who gets people to show up, Robbins still proudly and unhesitatingly refers to himself as a salesman.
“I’m trying to sell people a message. If I’m coaching somebody, I’m trying to sell them on something. Maybe I’m trying to sell them an idea,” he says.
“Maybe I’m trying to sell them on themselves.”
“I’ve never believed that I was the most intelligent – I’m not the sharpest pencil in the box – but I believe that you overcome a lot with work ethic.”