SPECIAL EPISODE 001: Keri Shull Is Leading the Real Estate Sales Profession Transformation!
KERI’S FINAL TIP TO EMERGING SALES LEADERS: “Start with the right mindset every single day. A book that I highly recommend is “The Miracle Morning” because ultimately if your mind is in the right place everything else will work tremendously.“
Keri was the recipient of the Institute for Excellence in Sales Women in Sales Leadership Award in 2018.
In five years, Keri went from founding her sales team and hiring her first employee to being the top agent in Virginia. Today her team has sold more than a billion in real estate and sells more than 200 million a year in real estate volume. She and her team have radically changed the structure and expectations of a traditional real estate team to create unprecedented success for new agents.
On this podcast, she talks about how she is transforming the real estate sales profession. She also talks about how Tony Robbins helped her grow.
Find Keri on LinkedIN!
Fred Diamond: In a relatively short time you’ve risen to the top of the real estate profession. For people who are not from the Northern Virginia/D.C. area, and we have people listening to the podcast all over the place, Keri has done a tremendous job broadcasting herself and promoting her company. She actually advertises on buses in Northern Virginia, so a lot of people see her face and know her when she’s walking down the street. Keri, I’m excited today to talk to you about your career, your fast rise to the top. Also, I know you have a couple of new initiatives that you’re bringing to the marketplace.
Tell us exactly what you sell today and what excites you about that.
Keri Shull: I help people buy and sell homes, and what excites me about that is buying a home is such an emotional decision, selling a home is an emotional decision, so I think there’s a level of nostalgia for me. I moved quite a bit as a child—I think 13 times before age 18. And so I personally understand some of the emotions associated with buying and selling homes. For me, being involved in that process and providing an excellent experience where our clients feel good about the process they’re going through and then training people on my team to provide that same high level of service, it excites me every day.
Fred Diamond: That’s actually a great point. It is always hard. There’s always something that goes on—a contract problem, things like that. What are some of the strategies you’ve taken to make it an easier process?
Keri Shull: I think the first thing is you have to be intuitive enough to keep diving deeper to understand someone’s real “why” to move them past some of the emotional trauma that does happen during a transaction. As an example, if someone says they hate a kitchen that a seller just remodeled, [the seller] can take that very personally, and it can be very upsetting. But if you can, refocus them on how important it is to sell their home because they want to be with their grandchildren or because they need more space for their growing family.
Whatever that “why” is for them, tapping into that goal helps them move past it in a way that’s a lot more productive and keeps them on track and happy.
Fred Diamond: Tell us how you got into sales as a career. You mentioned you’re from the Portland, Oregon, area.
Keri Shull: Yes.
Fred Diamond: And then you went to college at Penn State.
Keri Shull: Yes.
Fred Diamond: You’re on the complete other side of the country from where you grew up. How did you get into sales as a career?
Keri Shull: Kind of by accident, actually. One of my friends referred a recruiter at NV Homes to me, and he pursued my coming to work for their company, and I fell in love with the idea of actually being able to help people find a home. But I never thought I would be a real estate agent. I had some pretty negative experiences with real estate agents growing up, and in my mind that was not something I would consider. Selling new homes was a great idea, but being a resell agent was never something I wanted to do.
Fred Diamond: What is it now about real estate that excites you and interests you?
Keri Shull: This in an industry that has an incredibly low bar to entry. I mean, it takes about two weeks to get your real estate license, and a lot of people don’t understand that. You have to go to school longer to be a hairstylist than to help people with one of the most expensive transactions they’ll make in their life. For me, I love actually providing the training and support to new people who haven’t been exposed to the industry.
I think in general, 86% of the business is done by the top 5% of real estate agents. Even though the bar to entry is low, actually succeeding in the industry is very difficult, and it excites me to have a training program where we can take someone who hasn’t been in the industry—which actually I prefer; many times [I’ve hired] someone who doesn’t have a lot of experience because you can shape them. You can teach them exactly how to take care of the client in a different way. And then, getting them to succeed their first year: Our agents are making 75, 100-plus their first year in the business, and they have clients who are absolutely in love with them. I love that.
Fred Diamond: What are some of the things that you’ve been looking for in someone you think could be successful with this?
Keri Shull: I think the number-one thing is you have to care about people, because there are a lot of salespeople who won’t always make the right decision for clients. If you really, genuinely care and you’re going to take care of your clients, that’s the number-one thing. The next thing is being an excellent reader of people and an excellent communicator.
To get to someone’s “why,” to be able to help them through the process, you have to listen to not only what they’re saying but also what they’re not saying to guide them in the right direction, and you have to have a lot of drive. It’s kind of like climbing up a mountain. At first, when you don’t have a pipeline, you have to be willing to really put yourself out there, and I think the salespeople who get uncomfortable and then recover the fastest are the ones who succeed.
Fred Diamond: I presume that your ability to train people who would rise would make that higher with the people who come to work for you.
Keri Shull: Oh, absolutely. Yes, my people are off the charts. They do more their first year than most people who’ve been in the business for 25 years.
Fred Diamond: Tell us some of the things you’ve discovered and uncovered that you used to train your team to be more successful than the average real estate salesperson.
Keri Shull: The first thing that we focus on is truly having a system. There are certain roadblocks and stumbling blocks that come up in the sales process. Everyone in the Northern Virginia/D.C. metro area, they’re busy, they don’t want to waste their time driving around in a car like the old traditional real estate model. People would just show up in my model home when I was selling new homes with [real estate salespeople] who weren’t qualified and didn’t understand their real goals.
We do something called the Reality Check Analysis. This is very specific and based on my experience seeing the other side of the business. We’ll take someone, we’ll identify all of their goals, then we’ll look at the last three months of sales, and we’ll find out what they would have actually bought before we ever get in the car, before we go look at houses. What that results in is really realistic. Okay, they would have bought three in the last 90 days, or you know what, they wouldn’t have bought anything. That tells us we need to make some adjustments before we go running around wasting their time. Because if nothing’s come up [that they would have bought among what] sold, the likelihood of something coming up is not going to happen.
By taking that approach, the clients are grateful. They don’t want to waste their time finding a bunch of homes that wouldn’t work… When we train our people to do that, it gives them the ability to really guide someone and help them reach the decisions faster. They love that, and it helps our people be more efficient with their time.
Fred Diamond: I’m flashing back now to sitting in the backseat of the real estate agent’s car and going to places that weren’t even ready to be shown, let alone to be purchased. I have to imagine that today you use data and online resources. Is there something special that you do with that to help your people get to the right answers before you take the customer out?
Keri Shull: Absolutely. I’ve lived in temporary housing; we would move to an area and the real estate agent couldn’t find us anything. I believe in going above and beyond to deliver off-market opportunities to our clients and priority access, and what that looks like is, we use all of the tax records. If you told me, “You know what, I want a two-bedroom, two-bathroom condo, Keri. I want it to be over 2,000 square feet,” I’m not only going to look on the market to see what exists, I’m also going to look at what’s not on the market and then go and reach out to those potential sellers directly to try to find the people who are most interested and get them to raise their hands, and we’re very, very successful. We do about 30% of our business off-market.
Fred Diamond: Wow. Typically when we do a Sales Game Changers Podcast we talk to the person that I’m interviewing and ask them about their customer and who are they trying to sell to. Give us a little bit of a peek into who the Keri Shull Team best serves.
Keri Shull: One of my favorite clients to work with is a move-up buyer, and the reason for that they tend to have the most stress coming their way in the traditional model. They have to sell a home. They have to buy a home. Some of them are worried: “Okay, what if we sell our home and then the home that we want doesn’t exist? We can’t find it fast enough.” Or, “What if we buy a home and then we’re carrying two mortgages?” We have a lot of structures in our company that are very radically different, where we all say, “Okay, Fred. You want to buy this home and you want to sell your home? We’ll be willing, if we can’t produce the result of selling your home, we’ll put our commission on the line, and if we have to we’ll even buy the house.”
People will say, “Oh, is that a gimmick? Does it really work?” Well, the last house that I lived in, I bought because I couldn’t sell it in time so that my clients could buy their dream home.
Fred Diamond: Is that standard in the industry?
Keri Shull: No. It’s very atypical.
Fred Diamond: Tell us a little more about Keri Shull. Tell us a little more about your specific area of brilliance?
Keri Shull: I think I’m really good at taking a process and defining “Okay, this is exactly what we need to do to succeed.” And that’s what sets us up for the capability to bring someone new into the industry and create this amazing success right out of the gate: because we tell them exactly “here’s how you do it,” and then we test them out, which I learned in my NV Homes days. Make sure that you not only train someone but then check that they really have it before they’re in a situation on their own.
Fred Diamond: You, obviously, are training tons of people. In order to be effective at helping people become successful in their career you must have had some exceptional mentors as well.
Keri Shull: I did.
Fred Diamond: Why don’t you tell us about one or two and how they impacted your career?
Keri Shull: The first I’ll talk about is Mary Ann Garmon. People who’ve lived in the area a while may know her; she was the vice president of the Mayhood Company when I selling condominiums for developers, and one of the things she kind of taught me was it’s okay to say no. It’s okay to negotiate. There were a lot of people in that organization who would just accept any project that was given to them, and I learned to say, “Thank you so much for the opportunity, but I’m not interested.” And that catapulted my career. There were tons of people, when the market fell in 2007, 2008, who had been working for a year, two years on a project that never delivered, so they never saw a penny for all of that time they were selling. Thankfully, because of her mentorship, I was not one of them.
Craig Proctor is a real estate coach, and he was incredibly successful in his career. When I first got into sales I was the person who walked around my office and tried to figure out who in this office is the person I want to follow. I’m sure many of our listeners can relate to that: trying to find someone in the organization who has not only a professional life that looks like what you want but also a personal life. There really wasn’t the right mentor for me [in my office], so I went out and searched, and I found Craig. He lived in Canada at that time, and he was brilliant at sales training, at really helping uncover objections, isolating potential issues. And so he helped me just build an incredible team structure that suited me with my strengths and weaknesses.
Fred Diamond: Keri, one thing you’re looking to do—we’re going to be talking about this a little more—is transform the role of the real estate agent, and one of your major initiatives is to bring people on who may not have thought about real estate as a career but are intelligent and have great opportunities for success. Why might someone be hesitant about moving into real estate as a career?
Keri Shull: I think the people who do research know 90% of the people fail, so that’s a pretty scary statistic. And then I think the other problem is that with the traditional real estate model, people would tell you, “Okay, you’re going to join this business. You’re going to have to work really hard, and for six months you’re not going to make a dollar,” and that’s pretty scary. Most young salespeople who are really full of initiative and drive, they don’t want to sign up for six months of no income.
We’ve changed that structure. We have a salary plus a bonus program. We have health insurance, a 401(k), a cash balance plan, tons of other bonuses and incentives to get the top talented salespeople out there who are maybe afraid about making that leap. In general, we want the highest-caliber people, and that takes providing a little more confidence that they’re going to get paid.
Fred Diamond: Keri, what are two of the biggest challenges you face today as a sales leader?
Keri Shull: The number one by far is finding the right salespeople. We want people who are going to take exceptional care of our clients and are motivated, and sometimes that can be a conflict of interest. Taking really good care of people, if you’re really motivated by money you don’t always make the right decision, and we need both.
Fred Diamond: Is there another challenge that you face as well?
Keri Shull: Absolutely. I think it’s finding the clients who really need our services and value what we do. It’s a constant balance of bringing the right amount of team members in and then the right amount of clients. I would say we’re probably the best in Virginia, if not one of the best in the country, at identifying the right clients. We just had an event at my home, 136 clients came to visit Santa this year. We’re very good at it, but it is always a challenge.
Fred Diamond: You’re in Northern Virginia, which is a very busy area, and there are a lot of successful people who don’t necessarily have time. How has the customer changed? Is the customer less interested in seeing 100 properties? Does a customer today know because of the internet exactly what they want and they need you to help expedite the process? How was the customer changed?
Keri Shull: Dramatically. If you rewind to 15 years ago, real estate agents were taking out of a binder papers to show you houses. The client had no transparency into the process, and they were relying on the real estate agent to select the homes. If you look at it today, you can drive around on an app to see all of the real estate for sale around you. The technology is phenomenal, and in some cases I think that that’s very helpful. But what it means is that you have to be that much better at your job because they don’t need you to find the property anymore.
The customer needs you to get in the door, which is not that valuable. So to provide the additional value, you have to be willing to do the things that our company’s willing to do with finding the off-markets, with really being able to negotiate the right deal and provide value in other ways.
Fred Diamond: Take us back to one specific sales success or win from your career that you’re most proud of. Take us back to that moment.
Keri Shull: When we found out that we were number one in Virginia, I was extremely proud, because it wasn’t just about me selling houses. It was about really figuring out how to make our entire team successful and working on a goal together and collaborating and being unstoppable. That was incredible.
Fred Diamond: We’re talking today with Keri Shull. We’ve hit on a lot of interesting things. We talked about how she does a Reality Check Analysis to ensure that they’re going to be bringing their best properties to the customer. We talked about how buying and selling real estate is an emotional decision and as a successful sales professional in real estate you need to understand the “why”: why is your customer looking for a certain type of house, why are they looking to particularly sell their house. We also talked about the relative ease of entry into the residential real estate marketplace.
But we also talked about some of the things that you need to do to be successful and how Keri has put a process into place to ensure that the people who come onto her team are much more successful than the average real estate professional. Wwe also talked about the amount of data that’s available in the marketplace today so that customers have a lot of opportunity and ease of finding something that’s more in line with what they want and how she put some processes in place with the Keri Shull Team to find properties that are off the market and won’t be found through the traditional sources. Keri, you’ve had a great career in sales so far. Did you ever question being in sales? Was there ever a moment where you said to yourself, “It’s just too hard, it’s not for me”?
Keri Shull: No, Fred. There’s never been a moment. I love sales! I feel like you can succeed by caring, by curiosity, asking the right questions and then being willing to be bold and help people solve problems that they might not even know they have, and I love that. It’s never been a question for me.
Fred Diamond: Keri, what’s the most important thing you want to get across to junior selling professionals to help them improve their career?
Keri Shull: Ask a lot of questions, and care deeply about the answers that you’re getting. Listen carefully, and then, after you digest what people are saying, ask the deeper question that you’re hesitating to ask. I think most sales are made through true connection, and if you don’t ask the deepest question at the deepest level you won’t have the information you need to help the person.
Fred Diamond: That is great, and when you’re asking questions, you have to shift into the listening mode and your understanding, like you talked in the very beginning, the “why,” what is really driving your customer. And again, we talked about how emotional it is to buy and sell a house. What are some things you do to sharpen your saw and stay fresh?
Keri Shull: I think reading and, for me, listening to books on tape is incredible, and then the other thing I do—which I am so grateful to you, Fred—is I go to the IES events. I find the level of sales trainers and speakers who come in, I could never afford to bring in on my own. And so I have continual access to that. I also participate in Women in Sales through the IES. For me, it’s surrounding myself by really intelligent people I can collaborate with and learn from.
Fred Diamond: I know that you’re working on some major initiatives. Why don’t you tell us about one specifically that you’re working on to ensure your company’s continued success?
Keri Shull: We want to serve over 400 families in 2018, and in order to be successful at that we have to hire at least eight more sales professionals. That is a huge initiative, finding those right people. If anyone out there listening is interested in a career in sales in real estate, I really encourage you to reach out.
Fred Diamond: Why don’t you tell us a little more about what that person might look like? Who do you think is the ideal person right now to come onto the Keri Shull Team? We talked about how they need to love people and be curious about people. But why don’t you give us a little more specifics? Who might be the ideal person who can come onto your team today and have success in their career for the next three to five years?
Keri Shull: I mentioned that a really talented salesperson is the person who recovers from rejection the fastest, and if I boil down who will be successful in this business, it really comes down to that. If you’re someone who when someone tells you no, you get sad or mope or feel sorry for yourself, you’re not going to make it in this industry. It’s going to be too hard for you. If you’re someone who thinks no is just a step to yes and you’re going to be persistent and determined and fearless and have that positive attitude, you’re going to do very, very well here.
Fred Diamond: For the people who might want to join your team, could they come from other industries?
Keri Shull: I don’t care if they’re selling shoes now or they’re selling handbags or they’re selling software, or they’re in pharmaceutical sales. It doesn’t matter. All that matters is they have the right core ingredients as a salesperson. We will make them a real estate rock star.
Fred Diamond: That’s amazing. We actually talked about selling shoes in episode #9 of the Sales Game Changers Podcast. Anthony Robbins, who has gone on to become the general manager, the head sales guy at AT&T Public Sector, he sold Converse sneakers in the beginning of his career. And then he was tapped on the shoulder to go work into technology. Anyone who has that drive, who’s not afraid of rejection, who wants to have great success and work on a great team should definitely reach out to you. I will put in the show notes for this podcast how they can reach out to you.
Keri, sales is hard. People don’t return your calls or your emails, but why have you continued? What is it about sales as a career that… keeps you going?
Keri Shull: It’s just so gratifying. I had a client who dropped off a huge bottle of champagne and a present for my little baby, and the idea that we helped them in a difficult time when they were not only selling a home but buying out of state—I just can’t imagine any career that could be as gratifying.
Fred Diamond: Why don’t you give us one final thought that you’d like to share to inspire our listeners today?
Keri Shull: I think starting with the right mindset every single day. A book that I highly recommend is The Miracle Morning because ultimately if your mind is in the right place everything else will work tremendously.
Fred Diamond: We talked today with Keri Shull. Keri is the founder of the Keri Shull Team, the number-one real estate team, real estate company in Virginia… and as she mentioned, she’s looking to bring eight more people onto the team.
Keri Shull: Yes.
Fred Diamond: Immediately.
Keri Shull: Right now, today.
Fred Diamond: Let me tell you, the Keri Shull Team provides tremendous value to their customers. It’s a great place to work. A Keri Shull Team customer knows that they’re going to get satisfied. You don’t become number one by not satisfying your customers and understanding. And a couple of times throughout the interview, Keri also talked about understand your “why.” Where does that come from? I’m just curious before we wrap up here.
Keri Shull: Probably from Tony Robbins. Not Anthony Robbins from #9 but the actual Tony Robbins. My husband and I spent a year in his Platinum Partnership and got to travel with Tony and Sage and be very involved in their organization.
Fred Diamond: Tell us a little more about what that experience was? Tony Robbins comes up in a lot of the conversations. Give us some thoughts and how that impacted you.
Keri Shull: We started at UPW, which is his Unleash the Power Within, where you walk on fire. I was pregnant, and yes, I did walk on fire, and it was just like tapping into my soul, being in the room with him. A lot of energy; he’s known for having people jump up and down and scream all night, and it’s true, and it’s so worth it to be a part of that. For us, we signed up for a year and you get unlimited Tony Robbins for a year, any event, anywhere in the world, and there are some private events that are only for Platinum Partners, so I got to go to his birthday party in Sun Valley at his personal house and hang out with him in his family room—very, very cool.
He is the kind of guy who looks into your eyes and you know he knows exactly what you’re thinking and he’s going to help direct you. I got to talk to him about my business, about my growth, about what I wanted in life, really the essence of my “why.”
Fred Diamond: And does it still stick with you today, a lot of what you learned?
Keri Shull: Oh, absolutely, every day.
Fred Diamond: Good stuff. Keri Shull, thank you so much for being on today’s Sales Game Changers Podcast. What’s the best way for our audience to reach you?
Keri Shull: LinkedIn is a fantastic way, and then my email is firstname.lastname@example.org.