It happens every 10 years or so.  Brokers are making amazing headway, earning substantial income, buying goods and services, filled with promise and an unconsciousness that the activity will never end.  Egos are at a max, the money flows like a fast river and many top brokers believe the reason they are making money is simple – they’re just good, and some really are, but the bubble always bursts.  It starts with rumors of a slowing economy.  The media picks up the potential for doom and gloom and at first the politicians deny everything, soon the press digs for proof that the country may be heading for a recession – then reality hits and it is confirmed that we are not simply heading for a recession, but in fact are already in a recession!  Subsequently the economy sinks like a rock and most brokers are caught off guard – again.

At first brokers are confident since their pipeline from the past year is still pumping, but as the reality of the recession hits, panic begins to set in.  Business that looked solid is suddenly sideways, promises are broken, new deals become rare and the cash pipeline brokers rely upon dries up.  Highly leveraged brokers begin to sweat; spouses begin asking questions about security and managing directors push for revenue numbers that never come.  It’s a slow cave in, a little loss here, a little loss there and then suddenly the whole thing is down.  Welcome to the world of high commission selling!

Now the scramble is really on, questions are rising faster than a hot air balloon.  “How long will this last?”, “What happened?”, “What should I do?”  Negative stories around the office and the industry expand faster than the big bang. Top performers that have weathered the storm before hunker down; they accelerate their creativity and for some reason their instinct tells them, they will be okay.   Others who have been average performers get caught up in the negative rumor mill.  As business dissipates, they start thinking of a move, believing if they switch brokerage houses things will change.

Ask any high commission performer with 15+ years experience and they will tell you economic crisis is the reality of life as a Commercial Real Estate Broker.  The question is “how do top brokers manage to survive – even thrive in a down economy?”  It can’t be an accident and it doesn’t appear to be luck. Something else is going on, and after researching top brokers, I discovered that it begins with their thinking rather than a brute force move. 

So, what can you do if you want to win in this difficult economy, what are the action steps that top brokers implement allowing them to survive and even thrive?

Prior to writing this article, I contacted various top brokers who are commission based to ask them what they do and how they think in difficult times.  Here are the results of that research: TOP PERFORMERS RECOMMEND THE FOLLOWING – 

1.       STOP & BALANCE

Don’t get crazy, maintain calmness when the rockets start coming in.  Get centered – stay calm.  Take time to review the situation.  Consider areas of vulnerability and potential opportunity.  Back away for a moment and look at what the scene is.  Get organized… remove the clutter.  Realize that panic won’t solve the problem; it won’t add to your power or generate a solution.  Calmness is the key, it allows you to think rationally and it will draw positive energy toward you.  Take a breath…..take another breath.


The economy is in the tank… that is a fact, but it’s really a neutral event.  The story you make up about it and what it means to your production is what you will generate going forward.  If you make up a story that because of the economy you can’t find business then you won’t.  If you make up a story that you can find business then you will.  Whatever story you make up from the event will be revealed to you through the results you are getting. Top brokers see the glass as half-full.  They create a story that they will continue to win despite the fact they may not have evidence of how – the solution of how to win in a down economy begins with believing and then the answers come.  Negativity doesn’t land on them.  Every top performer I talked to said they don’t see themselves in a free fall.  They know they will prevail based upon a belief that they can.  They don’t always know how they will do it, but they believe they will find the way.  To the top performer, most of “the way” is a mental game rather than a “mechanics” game.


The pro’s know that they have served clients in the past and they realize that those clients are going through a difficult time as well.  Every top performer I talked to said they plan to go back to their existing clients.  They planned to visit all those organizations they served in the past with the intent to support them in a this challenging economy. The point is, they return to past clients to serve them not just to get a commission.  It’s about coming from a consultative perspective – not a – “What’s in it for me perspective?”  Here are a few of their recommendations:

  • Start by taking inventory of the past clients you want to contact.
  • Request a meeting to discuss your interest in supporting them in this challenging time.
  • Think from a consultative point of view.
  • Bring empathy to clients.  For example, you may say… “John, I have been speaking to many of my clients who have expressed frustration in these difficult times. I am reaching out to you to offer my support. You have supported me and my organization over the years and I want to offer the same to you now.  I am requesting that we meet so I can understand what I might be able to do to support you.  This is not a fee based request, but rather one of support.  These may not be the exact words you use, however it is in the general ballpark of how the top performers think when they approach their past and current clients.  It is truly a service mentality.


When times get especially difficult, the best performers differentiate.  They realize that doing the same thing may not have application in a tough market.  As a result, they think how they can play the game more creatively.  They become masters of ingenuity and strategy.  They look deep at the situation and determine where the opportunity has shifted; they don’t see the danger, but rather the possibilities.  The question they ask themselves is, – “how can I differentiate?”, “what can I bring to the market that will solve the challenges organizations are facing?”, “how can I creatively deliver my differentiation?”…


When the going gets rough, the top brokers tell me they get more intentional.  They may not be as gregarious; or as available for lunch, instead they hunker down and get serious about the challenge at hand.  Less socialization, not because they don’t want to play team ball, but because they shift into a new level of discipline, a new level of work ethic.  Instinctively they know it’s time to lock and load.  They get serious – yet are not doing so based on fear, but rather challenge.  In fact, challenge becomes their motivation.


The best performers realize that difficult times will require a shift in their work pattern.  They get back to investing a few hours on a weekend or evening.  They may come in earlier or work a little later.  As a result, it becomes important to talk to their family.  Top players told me that the family unit is important to them, they expressed to me that they recognize that their spouse and children will be experiencing apprehension in these times as well.   They understand that the media is blasting out bad news each and every moment and that it will reach their spouse and subsequently their children.  They calm the family, they inform them that their hours of focus may have to change a little; they prepare them and calm them.  Essentially, they gain support at the home front.  They demonstrate leadership, courage and consideration for the family.


The best brokers tell me that their early years were not a waste, they said they look back to see what discipline and strategies they were employing when they were on the climb to the top.  Some of it applies and some of it may not, but they seek the foundation of their block and tackle days looking for any differentiation they may have forgotten.  They recall the mindset they had when they began, how they got the accounts they now enjoy, what their strategy was and how any of this past behavior can apply to their current challenge.    Most told me they drop the ego, their humility surfaces and they realize that if they are truly a great producer they will be open to re-inventing themselves.  The plaques on the wall were an indication of the past – they are now facing a new future – they instinctively know they will prevail; they will be in the top group again – despite any challenge.


The best performers told me that they had no room for negativity.  They said they didn’t have time to listen to others talk about how bad things are or how there was no business.  They only wanted to interact with individuals that bring solutions and positivity.  They said they focus their energy on the challenge at hand so deeply that they don’t have time to listen to negative voices or engage in doom and gloom conversations.   They remain open to playing team ball, but not negative ball.  They aren’t fear based; instead they are in a mental space of generating results despite economic adversity.

“Top performers don’t drown in economic crisis they build a raft”

               – Dave Hibbard