Real Estate

7 Prospecting Lessons Agents Can Learn From Fishing

Jay Thompson is a former brokerage owner who spent over six years working for Zillow Group. He retired in August 2018 but can’t seem to leave the real estate industry behind. His weekly Inman column publishes every Wednesday.

The sun is about to peek over the horizon. The only sound comes from birds, small waves lapping at the nearby shoreline and jumping baitfish. With a flick of the wrist, a lure arches skyward, landing in the target area with a soul-satisfying plop as it slowly drifts into the shallow water. With just a few turns of the reel handle, the rod bends, and another Texas Coast redfish is about to become dinner.

This is fishing at its finest. Of course, not every cast lands on target, even fewer result in a fish on the line. Some days, no matter how much effort you make, the fish just aren’t biting.

There are a lot of variables in fishing that can’t be controlled — water and air temperatures, weather, tides, fish biology, boat traffic. But there’s some you can control, like time of day, lure selection, where you fish, choice of rod, reel and line.

I’m truly fortunate to be able to fish almost every day, and I love virtually everything about it. Even those brutally hot Texas days when nothing but hardhead catfish are on the hook are immensely rewarding. 

One thing fishing has going for it is the time it gives your mind to wander, pondering deep (and not-so-deep) thoughts. Not long ago, I was in my fishing kayak, and a notification from Facebook popped up on my phone. (For the record, I’ve since turned notifications off. I highly recommend you do the same — you’ll have far less distractions.) It was my friend Aaron, suggesting that an Inman column on how fishing is like prospecting for real estate clients could be interesting.

As I sat there, one rod rigged with cut bait sitting on the bottom, and another in my hand plying the mangrove-choked shoreline with a soft plastic lure (and neither resulting in a bite), it took all of three seconds to realize Aaron was right. Fishing is a lot like prospecting. What remains to be seen is whether or not he was correct in his assessment that this could be an interesting column.

Back in the day, I spent hours and hours prospecting for business. As a real estate agent or broker, that’s what you have to do, and you have to do it for much of your day. Unless you’ve been selling real estate for years and can rely on business solely from past clients and referrals, prospecting is the only way to find new clients, grow your business, and feed yourself and the family. 

There are agents that abhor prospecting, and to be frank, that likely makes them pretty bad at it. It is very difficult to do something well if you don’t like doing it. There are agents who prospect like champions. And there are agents that realize its importance, but don’t have the tools or experience to make prospecting fruitful.

So, let’s compare fishing with prospecting. Maybe this will give you a little insight into what it takes to catch fish — and clients. Hopefully, it will make you think a little, find some ways to improve your prospecting and get more enjoyment from what can sometimes be a necessary yet arduous task.

1. Studying

Anyone can go to Walmart and buy a fishing pole and a license, then tie on a lure or bait a hook and throw it in the water. Will you catch any fish? Probably not unless you get really lucky.

Likewise, anyone can post on Facebook, pick up a phone and make calls, send out a newsletter or go knock on doors. Will you secure a client from these efforts? Probably not unless you get really lucky.

I spend an inordinate amount of time studying and learning about fishing. No one is born a natural fisherperson — nor is anyone born a natural prospector. You’ve got to read up and follow the advice of others more experienced than you. You have to learn to fish and learn to prospect. The more you study your craft, the more you’ll excel.

Where can you study prospecting? The same places I’ve learned to fish. The internet contains a wealth of information. Of note, it includes a wealth of total crap and scams too.

Go to YouTube, and search for “real estate prospecting.” There, you will find more videos than you can view in a lifetime. Some are outstanding; some are miserable. Watch a few, you’ll be able to pick out the good from the not-so-swift very quickly.

Subscribe to the ones you like. Don’t focus just on how many times a video has been viewed. There are some real gems out there with very low view and subscription counts. 

Read a book. Like videos, there is no shortage of books in a wide range of quality. Don’t have time for reading? Get audiobooks, and listen to them while you’re driving or vacuuming, or instead of binging The Queen’s Gambit (although you really should make time for that show, it’s terrific).

Join a group. There are countless real estate-related groups out there. Facebook has an uncountable amount. As with everything on the internet, some are very worthwhile, while others are a complete waste of time.

Ask your friends for suggestions. If you land in a toxic group that’s nothing more than people complaining, leave. No one has time for that nonsense. You can also start your own group of people you know and trust. These small “mastermind” type groups can be gold. 

Don’t just focus on learning raw prospecting skills. One of the things that has helped me catch more fish is understanding basic fish biology and behavior. Knowing how fish regulate their body temperature, and how that impacts their feeding habits, combined with a basic understanding of how weather, depth and bottom surface influences water temperature allows me to catch more, bigger and different species of fish.

People have certain behaviors, too. The more you can learn about how people act, react and think, the easier it is to reach them.

2. Finding a coach

One of the first things I did when I moved to Texas this summer was hire a local fishing guide. I found him the same way many consumers find an agent. I read reviews. I asked others for recommendations.

I reached out to a few guides, telling them that I didn’t want to just land fish, that I wanted to learn to fish. Not so surprisingly, and much like consumers get when they reach out to an agent, many didn’t bother to respond. Those individuals didn’t get my business.

I learned a tremendous amount from my guide or my “coach.” That greatly accelerated my learning curve and was some of the best money I’ve spent on fishing. And I’ll be going back out with them to further refine my learning.

In real estate, there is a coach for every need. And before you say, “I don’t need a coach,” consider this: professional athletes and Olympians have coaches. If they can learn from a coach, so can you.

Don’t want to pay for a coach? Find a mentor. You can learn a lot from a good mentor as well. August 2020 was “Coaching and Training Month” on Inman. There’s dozens of articles to help you learn more about coaching.

3. Collecting data

My fishing guide logs every fish he and his clients catch. Location, time of day, weather, tide flow and lure. He has years of data on where fish are (and aren’t) and what they are eating. He uses that data to find new locations and refine his fishing. I, too, log my fishing data, though not as diligently as Captain Larry. This is an area for improvement.

For the most part, agents aren’t the best at collecting prospecting data. It’s time consuming and a hassle. Get over it, and collect data. It will help you understand what works, when it works and what doesn’t work.

There are agents out there who can quote you their ROI to the tenth of a percent for all their lead sources. They can tell you how many cold calls or door knocks or mailings it takes to get an appointment, and they can follow that with how many appointments it takes to get a listing or a buyer.

Then there are agents who can’t tell you how many leads they have converted from a source. Yet, their credit card is ablaze with monthly charges. Guess which kind of agent is more successful?

4. Experimenting

It’s OK — good, in fact — to experiment a little. Every day I fish, I try different lures, different retrieval techniques, fishing different types of water. Often, these experiments fail miserably, but I learn something. Occasionally I will stumble across something that works so well it gets incorporated into my daily fishing routine.

You can do the same with prospecting. Try different things. Tweak your scripts. Constantly evaluate, test and repeat. This works better when you record the data so you can compare and quantify techniques.

5. Building experience

In fishing, there really is no substitute for time on the water. You can read, watch videos and chat all day long. But unless you get on the water and cast lures or bait, you’ll never catch a thing.

It’s really hard to learn to fish better if you’re not fishing regularly. Same goes for prospecting. You’ve got to do it in order to learn. You’re going to make mistakes — and that’s good! Learn from them; don’t repeat them.

6. Learning patience

Ask most people what is required for successful fishing, and they’ll probably say, “patience.” Yes, that’s a super helpful trait to have, in both fishing and prospecting.

No one should expect immediate and world-class results every time they cast a line, send an email or make a call. Patience will help save your mind, though it won’t really put more fish in the boat or commission checks in the bank. 

7. Understanding that sometimes, they just won’t bite

Finally, it’s important to understand that sometimes the fish just won’t bite. No matter how you approach them and no matter what you put in front of them, some fish just aren’t that hungry. They can be stubborn little suckers. Just like people.

But if you get on the water and fish enough, with good technique and understanding of their behavior, you can catch a lot of fish. Just like people.

Jay Thompson is a real estate veteran and retiree living in the Texas Coastal Bend, as well as the one spinning the wheels at Now Pondering. Follow him on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. He holds an active Arizona broker’s license with eXp Realty. “Retired but not dead,” Jay speaks around the world on many things real estate.

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