by Grant Muller, author of “Top of Heart: How a New Approach to Business Saved My Life, and Could Save Yours Too“
I lunch for a living. In fact, I generate more business from lunch than any other activity.
There’s nothing like sitting face to face with someone for 45 minutes, enjoying a meal, and learning about each other. It’s a shared experience and an opportunity to create a meaningful connection — and these connections foster repeat business and referrals. I closed a $5 million deal just last week as a result of one of these lunches.
While lunch is my go-to, breakfast, dinner, or even a hike in a park can be equally effective. The idea is to share an experience — in real life — in a setting that lends itself to private, open conversation.
Prefer coffeehouses? I find that bustling coffee shops make it difficult to go deep. After all, it’s tough to open up about your dreams when you’re sandwiched between tables of hyper-caffeinated networkers. I feel the same way about happy hour venues. It’s nice to see and be seen, but making real connections is about being with rather than in front of people. Of course, if you or your clients favor coffee catch-ups or happy hour get-togethers, by all means, do what feels right.
Go deep and wide as you build relationships.
Your goal is to deepen, strengthen, and lengthen your relationships with people. The deeper and wider you go, the bigger your businesses will grow.
Many go-getting agents go wide: they cram as many names and email addresses as possible into their CRMs and then complain they aren’t seeing the results they’d hoped for. Other agents go deep: they have five or six close contacts they spend a ton of time with, only to be disappointed by dismal referrals from this group.
Instead, do both. Go deep and wide, mixing the two based on your personality and goals.
Check the energy you bring to your relationships.
As you build these connections, you’ll need to consider what you’re bringing to each relationship.
Take this scenario: Imagine you’re driving to meet a client for lunch to celebrate their birthday. On the way there, you receive an urgent call. It’s the buyer’s agent for one of your listing deals.
“Hi, my buyers are terminating the contract unless your sellers replace all the carpet upstairs,” the agent demands.
You feel your grip on the steering wheel tighten as you grit your teeth and respond: “The contract clearly states that your clients won’t object to any inspection items unless they are ‘health and safety’ items.”
“Right,” the agent snips, “they believe the carpet could be considered a trip hazard.”
We’ve all been in this situation: dealing with an unreasonable party on the other side of a deal. As you try to talk some sense into the agent — with the hope that they can talk some sense into their clients — your mind wanders. This deal needs to happen. Your next mortgage payment is almost due, and you need to pay down your credit cards. You’re dreading calling your sellers to explain that the buyers aren’t playing fair.
Lost in thought, you pull into the restaurant’s parking lot. You shut down your car and rest your head against the steering wheel. You bite your lip, hold back tears of anger (and fear), and glance at the time. You’re 8 minutes late. You rush from the car into the restaurant and find your client waiting, impatiently tapping a foot.
“I’m soooo sorry,” you groan. “It’s been A DAY.”
Any guess what this lunch will be like for your client? The celebratory birthday lunch is dead on arrival. You’re flustered, stuck in your own head, and wishing you could just get the lunch over with so you can figure out what to do next. Your client feels like they’re eating alone, or, worse, like they’re eating with a fearful, frustrated lunchmate.
This might be a dramatic example, but it illustrates a common mistake: we bring our problems and our agendas to our appointments. As realtors, we’re told that we’re in the people business. I disagree. We’re in the feelings business.
It’s our job to lift others up, to bring a bit of joy, passion, and inspiration to our clients. When people feel uplifted from their time with us, they’ll want to spend more time with us. They’ll develop a stronger trust in us, leading to better relationships. Better relationships mean a better life — and more referrals are a lovely side effect.
Here are three practices that will ensure deeper connections, more positive shared experiences, and greater bonds with your clients.
1. Get intentional.
When we add intention to our meetings, we can choose the energy we bring rather than the wave of emotion we happen to be surfing.
Picture sitting in your car in the parking lot right before a lunch. Take some steps to set up a better experience:
Manage your emotional state and energy. What state of mind are you in? Did you arrive at the restaurant after sitting in bumper-to-bumper traffic? Did you just wrap up a frustrating phone call? Did you wake up on the wrong side of the bed? Do you need to clear out these emotions?
Clear your mind with meditation. Close your eyes and breathe deeply. Softly repeat, “Clear, clear, clear…” as you allow yourself to let go of what has been and where you’ve been. Feel your anger and frustration melt away (or at least imagine these feelings lessening).
Visualize how you’ll help. Set an intention for how you’d like to help the other person during this lunch. For example, you might think: “I want my lunch date to feel appreciated.”
Make a plan. How will you show up and help this person feel appreciated? You might simply look into their eyes, smile, and say, “Thank you for the referral. I truly appreciate you.”
2. Get curious.
In our business, we often meet with people for the first time. We might be meeting a new seller for a listing appointment or grabbing lunch with a friend of a friend. In either case, being curious about the person in front of you creates the right space and allows us to offer help in relevant and useful ways.
For instance, imagine you’re at a listing appointment for soon-to-be empty nesters. How can you best help them? What are their hopes? Dreams? Fears? What do they really need?
Get curious with these techniques:
Ask open-ended questions. To learn what’s in another person’s heart, as questions that can’t be answered with a “yes” or “no.” For example, you might ask, “How are you feeling about your upcoming move?”
Practice listening with your heart. Listen to the words being said and allow yourself to feel the emotional undertones. Practice tuning into people’s feelings. When you aren’t sure how someone feels, ask, “How are you feeling about that?” or “Can you tell me more about that?”
Ask about dreams and fears. Get to the heart of the matter by asking about a person’s dreams or fears. When your soon-to-be empty nesters mention their daughter, you might say, “How exciting that Carly is going off to college! What’s your dream for her?”
Look for markers. As you feel empathy and compassion in the conversation, pay attention. These moments can be markers indicating an opportunity to connect more deeply.
3. Get aligned.
Getting aligned means sitting on the same side of a problem with another person and looking at solutions together. Instead of pitching a stellar record of achievements to potential sellers, explore the best way forward together. See the difference? In the former, we’re separate; in the latter, we’re simpatico.
Begin with these steps to align more closely:
Take note of what you share. Do you and the other person share a purpose, life goals, or experiences? Do you relate to their feelings and emotions?
Use emotion to connect. As emotion comes up in the conversation, how do you connect with it to deepen the relationship?
Acknowledge emotions and feelings. Practice acknowledging emotion in a conversation by asking questions like “How are you feeling about that?” Or, share your observations. For example, you might say, “It sounds like you’re feeling frustrated about what happened. Am I right, or am I totally off base?”
Getting intentional, curious, and aligned will take your lunches, appointments, closings, and in-person conversations to a whole new level. As you deepen your relationships, you’ll become the obvious choice when a potential referral develops. Most importantly, the quality of your life will improve. Inspired lives result from inspired relationships.
Grant Muller is a speaker, author, Certified High-Performance Coach™, and a seven-figure real estate agent. His new book, “Top of Heart: How a New Approach to Business Saved My Life, and Could Save Yours Too“, chronicles his 15-year journey from homelessness to a thriving real estate career, all from prioritizing real, human relationships.