Cold Call Paralysis – How I am Attacking It
I am a new at this real estate thing. I studied the crap out of off it for several years without much action and (perhaps) have finally settled on an area of focus (vacant land) to learn to do well. My deal experience is very limited - four properties placed under contract; I cancelled two of them (nervous if I had a good deal), gave one of away, and completed my first successful deal - a really nice vacant lot flip - in December. Although I've made a ton more nervous calls than I've done deals - I am certainly not an expert at dealing with “call anxiety.”
After that first deal closed, I recognized for there to be more like that, I needed reduce the anxiety and get much more comfortable making calls. I gave thought to what concerned me and how to mitigate it.
What follow is based on how I pursue vacant land deals – the specifics may not apply to every area of RE investing. Hopefully, it provides ideas for a framework that works for others challenged with call anxiety.
Here’s what I now do to mitigate call paralysis and be more comfortable picking up that phone:
- Know how to handle the potential irate call recipient
- Know what I want out of the call
- Know the property details (including the $ numbers)
- Know who I am calling
- Know what I am going to say if I get a live voice
- Know what I am going to say if I get an answering machine
- Know what I am going to do next if the call goes well
The irate call – I knew if a call went south, I could always hang up, but I had a concern the person might call back (multiple times) harassing me or my family. (I know, you’re thinking get over it.) While perhaps silly, when I tried to put my finger on the drivers behind call anxiety, this was one. So, I got a Google Voice number. There are similar services out there – Google is just the one I chose. Now, I make calls anonymously, or “protected” from any bad guys. No one has my cell or home number unless I give it to them. As a side note, once I've established a rapport, I don’t mind sharing my other numbers, if needed.
Here’s how I use Google Voice (GV). I fire up the GV app from my computer, smart phone or tablet, enter the number I want to call and select which physical phone I want use (the one I’ll put to my ear – the GV app lets me set up multiple “call back” lines). After I enter the recipient’s number in GV, the app immediately calls back on my chosen phone. When I answer the call back, GV completes the call to the number I wanted to dial. The person on the other end sees only my GV number on caller ID (not the call back number of the phone to my ear). I can set up GV to route incoming calls to a specified phone. However, I have them sent directly to voice mail for two reasons. My inbound callers get my recorded message saying I’ll call back soon. Within seconds of their call, I get an e-mail and a text message (options set up in GV) with the caller’s number, voice mail as an audio file and a transcription of their message. Reason #1, if the transcription text is ugly, I can ignore the call and scratch that one off the list. Reason #2 (and more important), I don’t get caught unprepared when a potential seller calls out of the blue; instead I can ensure I do the things in the sections that follow and call back when I am ready.
I have my Google Voice number (even if only on a Post-it Note) at the top of my forms, or other pieces paper. This way I am less likely to accidentally rattle off my cell or home number to someone I've just called if I have my Google number in front of me so I can provide it, without scrambling, while on a call.
What I want out of the call – Sure, this seems to have a high “duh” factor. I concluded, if I am going to subject myself to an hour or so of making uncomfortable calls, I should know going in what I want out of it. (Steven Covey: “Begin with the end in mind.”) I start with a list of names / numbers and check them off as I complete each call. This means after my allotted time making calls, regardless of whether I only complete the act of dialing each one, or made real contact with a couple folks, or got a deal; I can recognize success for the time spent.
Here are more specific examples of potential objectives for calls:
- Verification of property ownership, are they the owner? The only owner?
- Better contact information for the owner (especially if I am not talking to the owner) - home phone, business phone, cell phone, e-mail
- Level of interest (motivation) to sell the property?
- Do they owe back taxes, HOA fees, mortgages, other liens on the property?
- What’s their estimate of market value? Why?
- Do they need to sell quickly?
If I've previously spoken with a person, objective could be some of the above, or simply:
- Where you able to find John Doe’s phone number or address for me?
- Did you get my e-mail with an offer?
- Is there anything you need from me before you can accept and send back the contract?
Even if I don’t know everything I want out of a call, I attempt to go into the call with purpose.
Property details – One driver behind my anxiety was how to ensure I come across as professional and knowledgeable – not an amateur, fly-by night, or a scam. It helps me to have at my fingertips certain information about the property. Before calling on a property, I at least look at it on Google Earth, the county GIS site, or drive by it. And, I want to be in a position to discuss, if asked by the potential owner, the some key attributes of the property:
- Owner name (as best I know based on county records, etc.)
- Property location, size, other attributes
- How long they've owned it / previous owners
- How long they've paid taxes on it / if someone else is paying the taxes
- Annual tax amount; are taxes current / amount and years of back taxes
- Comps (listings / recent sales)
I have a one-page Excel “Property Information” form for this and have it in front of me when I make a call.
Who I am calling – Again, “duh”. I want to be confident the call will not start like this:
“Uh, this is, uh, Karl. I’m trying to reach, uh, John – no I mean Sam, and I ran across information that says you are his sister, uh, I was wondering, uh, are you?”
I have at my fingertips another handy one-page Excel “Owner Call Log” with the information about the potential owners I've mined from sources. For each property owner I've tried to reach, it has the numbers I've called (e-mail address and Facebook pages, too), when, the results and any notes or messages I left. So, instead, the call can go like this:
“Hello, this Karl James. I am trying to reach Tex Ritter about some real estate I think he owns in Murvaul, Texas. I tried to reach him at 555-123-4567 last week. I ran across that number on the internet based on information I got from the county assessor’s web site. I’m not certain that is a good number (the voice mail for the number didn't identify anyone specific in the greeting). While looking for his number, your name and number came up on the web search as possibly being his sister. Do you know how I could reach him about buying this piece of real estate the county shows he owns here in Texas?”
Having the sheet in front of me when I make a call adds to my confidence and comfort.
What to say to a live voice – Quite frankly, a vast majority of the time there is either no answer or an answering machine / voice mail on the other end of my calls. Even when I thought I was prepared, I would find myself initially startled when 5 or 10% of the time a live person answered. As a result, the call sometimes had a rough and unprofessional start (like the “uh” narrative above.) I mitigate this by:
1.Taking a breath before starting to talk (away from the receiver so it doesn't come across as a heavy sigh on the other end), and;
2.Having a prepared script (actually talking points) in site.
I don’t read from a prepared script. But, I find if I have a semi-script in front of me, with talking points and a conversation structure, it reminds me of the narrative I hope to have and facilitates better call flow - so I can progress without pause (no “uh”) and with confidence.
What to say to voice mail – If I get an “answer”, it is usually voice mail. More often than not it isn't a greeting that says “Congratulations, you found good number for Tex Ritter. You can quit calling those dead end numbers on your list and just leave a message telling how I can immediately get back with you.”
Instead, it is usually “You've reached 555-123-4567; please leave a message.” I have a succinct script for this I do fairly verbatim to ensure I remember to leave the important information. I also have scripts for initial outgoing contact by e-mail or Facebook.
What’s next – Upon reflection, I wasn't planning for success. Instead, I was assuming (hoping for?) an unproductive call outcome – no answer, a rejection, etc. If I did actually talk to an owner, I wasn't ready for what needed to happen next. The prospect of getting that far (that successful) in a call put me mentally in uncomfortable, or at least unfamiliar, territory. Now, when I initiate a call, I am ready to follow through on likely required action timely and professionally. This makes world of difference in how I approach calls and maintain confidence. It affects if I even make the call. If I am not comfortable or ready for the chance of success, I do the prerequisite work and then make the call later.
Here are real situations I’ve found myself in and what I now have in place to address next steps:
1.I don’t own think I own the property / I might own it but I am not certain: I am still a bit surprised how much this happens. The first time I was not prepared but knew it wouldn't be helpful to argue or be overly emphatic. I had print outs in front of me from county web sites that made me think they owned it. Once, I even had a copy of a deed-related document with what was likely their signature. But, I couldn't “show” it to the person through the phone. Now, I try to have a PDF document to e-mail while on the phone, or after. If they don’t want to share an e-mail address, I use Evernote, my information organization app, to create a “sharable” folder into which I can place documents and give them a URL address where they can see the docs.
2.I don’t want to sell the property: My planned response is “I can appreciate that. I will check back in six months to see if anything has change on your end?” What is an e-mail where I can send you my contact information in case something changes sooner?”
3.I might be willing to sell but I want to talk to my spouse: My planned response is “I respect that. I can send you an e-mail a summary of the kind of deal I think we could do so you can share it with your spouse and help with the decision. It’ll have my contact information. What’s your e-mail? I’ll check back in about three days if I haven’t heard from you.” If I get to this point I am prepared ahead of time with a deal summary and a short contract form I can populate and send.
4.I want to think about it a while: My planned response is “Can I reach out to you in about 5 days at this number? Better, yet, can I get a cell number or e-mail so I can send you a text?”
5.I’d like to get rid of it: This is the response that resulted in my fantastic first deal. She said “I’m not really that interested in moving back to Texas anymore.” I shut up and let her talk because I could feel a “yes” coming on. Then, she said “I’d sell it you cheap just to get rid of it.” I asked, “What’s cheap?” She was right – her number was about 1/8th of market value. Fortunately, this time, I was ready for the next steps. I knew the details, I knew the comps, and had a contract template into which I could put the details, sign, scan and send to her within an hour. I was ready to say “yes”. Had I said “Let me go look at the property and be sure I want it for that price” - I may have lost it. Had I spent several days finding, or drafting, a contract - she might have change her mind. To further mitigate “afraid of, or not knowing what to do with, success” the contract I use has a cancellation clause so I can be in the middle of a one of these conversation and not have to worrying about whether I just lost the farm.
I hope this is helpful to some. I will gladly share my help sheets or scripts with anyone who sends me a note but what I really want to share is a shameless plug for a mentor in this vacant land space, Seth Williams. He’s here on BP often and at REtipster.com. He has the heart of teacher and shares a great deal of experience, reference material, example contacts, templates, etc. I urge you to read his BP posts, listen to his BP podcast (#39), visit his site, and support him.