Episode 63 - GRIT The Real Estate Growth Mindset with Eric Forney

Brian Charlesworth
March 30, 2021

Eric used to be a full-time paint salesman where he also created customized paint colors for homes.  This inspired him to venture into selling homes until he decided to upgrade his career into real estate in 2015.  A year later, he was named as the #1 Selling Agent in the Ohio Valley Region.  His team was also recognized as the #1 Selling KW Team in Indiana from 2017 to 2020.

Since his career trajectory was pretty fast as an individual and as a team, Eric saw the need for an efficient program to train new agents to backfill his business.  One of the things he found most success in was taking in new agents without experience and teaching them how to be successful in real estate and to be effective in the first 12 months.

In this episode, we talked about:

(02:56)  Why there is a need to train agents to become leaders

(05:04)  How does the FIRE immersion program work

(05:20)  The value of providing your agents a clear blueprint for success 

(08:31) How to keep your agents motivated

(11:06) Why Eric prefers to train agents through problem solving activities  

(13:32) How SISU helped make meetings more meaningful and productive

(15:32) Why you need to be clear on who you want to be in business with

(16:52) The difference between value and price

(17:23) The type of agent who are best suited for the immersion program

(20:05) How third party recruiting companies work in the real estate industry

(22:56) Best source of recruiting leads 

(24:57) How SISU helps simplify the real estate business

Episode Transcript:

Brian Charlesworth  0:35  

Eric, I'm excited to have you on the show. I believe you are actually part of Gary's mastermind at KW. You have been for quite some time now. You're a maps coach as well. Is that right?

Eric Forney  0:46  

I actually am not a maps coach but have been working with hard maps coaches. Yeah, we do some coaching internally and with some agents here locally as well.

Brian Charlesworth  0:54  

Okay, just to give us a background on today, maybe you could share with us a little bit more about the size of your team where you guys are based, that kind of stuff?

Eric Forney  1:02  

Yeah, so we're based out of Indianapolis. So I've been in real estate since 2013, I worked full time selling paint until I decided to upgrade to real estate in 2015. That became the number one KW agent in the Ohio Valley region with Keller Williams in 2017. started a team the next year, or first year as a team, we closed 240 units. And then last year did about 290 and pasting for right around the same number. This year, one of the things we've had a lot of success with is because my career trajectory was pretty quick as an individual agent, and then started a team. One of the things we've had a lot of success with is taking brand new agents with no experience, and teaching them how to excel in real estate and become effective in their first 12 months and then multiplying that. So that's been our strategy in the past, and really where we're doubling down on the future.

Brian Charlesworth  2:03  

Yeah, I think it's a great strategy. There are many that I know that prefer brand new agents that they can mold and shape over experienced agents that are set in their ways and don't want to be a part of the culture that you're setting as a leader. So,

Eric Forney  2:16  

Yeah, that's one of the challenges. The downside to new agents is is that, you know, one of the things is, when when you have a pattern of having success in building new agents from zero to say, 40-50 units, their first 12 months, there can become a sense of ego that builds with that, because they don't realize that 40 and 50 closings in your first year is not a normal career trajectory for a real estate agent. And so, we've tried to figure out how to battle through that. And we think we're excited about a new program that we just started to try to overcome.

Brian Charlesworth  2:53  

Yeah. Okay. That's awesome. I love what you guys are doing, as far as you've got this immersion program, where you're training them, and then you're, you're basically giving them what sounds like a career path, in that building them to backfill your business. And so you're not only training agents, you're training them to become leaders. Is that right?

Eric Forney  3:15  

Yeah, absolutely. So you know, I run a, I own a Keller Williams market center, as well. And when I look at the data around new agents, when getting into real estate, you know, the average agent is making like $9,000 in their first two years, and, you know, eight out of 10 of them fail. And oftentimes we blame the agent for those numbers. And the reality is, in my opinion, the industry has a systemic failure around training and making agents successful when they get licensed. And so really, we've set out a mission that says, okay, we think we have the tools, the resources, and the training to solve this problem. And now let's, let's prove it in mass quantity. So we've worked 18 agents through our program that's been more accelerated and a little bit more of high-level content. And then, in the last 12 months, we've been working on a 36-month commitment where the first 12 months is all in educational curriculum, where they're working, lead generation, half a day, education, the other half of the day, it's modeled a lot after a what a resident would be doing and while shadowing physicians, as they work through that like fellowship, towards specialization, and so we've been trying to adopt a specialized career path for agents the next two years then of that 36-month commitment, they work with the team as a traditional agent, and then at the end of their 36-month immersion program. They then can determine their career path whether they stay on and then mentor agents who are backfilling the program. To give them some leadership training and practice they join as single agents to the KW market, center, or stay as a team agent.

Brian Charlesworth  5:01  

Okay so I think it's a genius plan tell me about the first 12 months you said half of the day they're really learning they're basically in their internship if you will, 

Eric Forney  5:14  


Brian Charlesworth  5:15  

And then the other half the day they're in production?

Eric Forney  5:17  

Yeah so we've broken it up as you know one of the problems that i have with our industry is that there are so many ways that you can do lead generation you know if you if you google there's probably 120 130 sources for ideas on where you can generate leads and the problem is is that i find that agents have no clear blueprint and therefore they try as many things as they can until they eventually fail out so we've we've determined a clear path through curriculum and through weekly testing daily reporting monthly modules that they have to complete and so like month one for instance on the lead generation portion would be circle prospecting so the only thing w e're going to do for the first 30 days of their training program would be teaching and train on the tools they need and the conversations and fundamentals of lead generation and then the lowest converting lead generation portion of the industry as circle prospecting so we want to take them as as newbies and put them out onto circle prospecting rather than pairing them with the expensive leads and then they're going to kind of work themselves up through that conversion rate as they go throughout the 12 month cycle so in the second half of the first year they're working with real estate tax strategies for wealth building strategies through investing in real estate or how to work with a downsizing buyer while also working with a seller on price reduction some of the more challenging aspects of the business that some agents never learned and yet we believe that if we can teach them to be well rounded well educated agents that they'll have a long term career in the industry

Brian Charlesworth  7:03  

Yeah I totally agree with everything you're saying as far as getting agents to be successful if they join in my opinion if they join the right team they will become successful

Eric Forney  7:14  


Brian Charlesworth  7:15  

No, there's almost not an option if they're not going to be they'll weed themselves out very very quickly.

Eric Forney  7:23  

Yeah, absolutely that's what we found you know we have the 18 that we've put through we've attempted with 90, so we've had one that we selected to get out of business with otherwise you know our agents average 38 transactions those 18 agents that have been through the program average 38 transactions and their first full 12 months of operating in the industry and so you know the data says that if you do the right activities enough time with the right people the right accountability and the right team it really is a no-fail proposition.

Brian Charlesworth  7:56  

Yeah, so they're doing 38 transactions are you seeing in the first 12 months are you seeing in the 12 to 24 month period.

Eric Forney  8:02  

So it would be in the 12 to 24 because in this full-year program they're not actually working with clients on their own they're setting appointments handing them off and serving as light and turn capacity now in the past we've done it in a six-month role and then so the first 12 months they've been out in the field with customers that's their average

Brian Charlesworth  8:21  

Okay then those are phenomenal numbers I mean to have a team any team producing at 38 transactions per agent yeah is incredible so you said if as long as they do the activities they're going to be successful how do you get them to do the activities.

Eric Forney  8:38  

Psychological warfare yeah i think that's one of the challenges is is is truly it is it's understanding every person and then realizing that what works last month to get your agents motivated and excited to go out and do the daily activities may not work this month which means we may need a different approach and and that's where you know i heard your wife talking about having the benefit of a lot of mindset training so we do a lot of mindset training and coaching we have one on ones with all of our agents each week around their thinking around what their limitations are as far as self imposed limitations and then what their activities look like so as long as as long as we're staying close and in dialogue with our with our agents and knowing what may be going on in their personal life and in their professional life we can usually help them maintain that focus and then sometimes you know i'll i'll poke them and annoy them to do the activities and then sometimes i'll give them space we may run contests we we may you know do partnerships it's throw the book at them and try to understand who they are and what motivates them.

I wish you 

Brian Charlesworth  9:53  

Every month you feel the same way as most it sounds like every month you're starting out ever having to get creative, on how to motivate your agent.

Eric Forney  10:06  

And that's really where that's the really the basis of where we started the program was that what keeps me up at night is not the challenge of selling real estate. It's the challenge of not wanting my job back or going out and selling real estate. And so I realized that in our industry, when the average agent stays with a team for two and a half years, that I'm really a college recruiter, I might as well be Coach K, or John Calipari because every three years I have an entirely new roster based on the data and our industry. And so I realized that my job is actually just recruiting and multiplication of, of agents. And so I've made peace with that and realize that being the core competency is going to find agents, and every week it is really motivating and re-engaging them.

Brian Charlesworth  10:54  

Yeah, so your job is number one, recruiting number two, motivating your agents. 

Eric Forney  11:00  

Yeah, yeah, 

Brian Charlesworth  11:02  

Of course, training them and getting them to that. 

Eric Forney  11:04  


Brian Charlesworth  11:05  

So share with us some of the ideas that you've found to be effective ways to motivate agents?

Eric Forney  11:12  

Well, one of the things that I like to do personally, is I like to teach a lot of thinking strategies. So when I'm looking for personality traits, or what an agent who succeeds in our system looks like or sounds like one of the things I really look for is problem-solving. So how well is someone able to strategically think through a unique situation? And are they willing to look at something a totally different way? And that's because right now, real estate is, you know, is moving at this rapid rate where 2020 is who knows what's tomorrow. And that requires agents who are willing to let go of everything that used to work for them, in order to adopt something new that works this week for that market at the moment. And so knowing that I like problem-solving agents, I usually will give them problems to solve as a way of motivating them. So some of those problems might be Hey, I noticed that your teammate was not motivated this week, why don't the two of you pair up and you teach John Doe about your open house strategy and go work in an open house with him this weekend? Or why don't you partner with another agent who may not be hitting the numbers? And your challenge this week is to get results out of our underperforming agents. And so knowing how are the ways that we can both simultaneously build culture and give our agents the ability to display some early signs of leadership is kind of one of the things that we try to do on a regular basis. And then, you know, a lot of it is unpacking what holds people back, we all have our own head trash. And the more that I can help them unwind their head trash, the more effective they are. And that usually leads to motivation. Because when they realize how much I care, the pressure of them not showing up and doing the job means they're letting me down. And most of the time, all of us will do a lot more for other people than we'll do for ourselves. And so we have that culture internally, significantly with the team.

Brian Charlesworth  13:15  

Yeah, that's the one-on-one training like that, I think is probably something that every team could do more of. And it's such a great idea to love. It gives you leverage as well, at the same time you're teaching them to become leaders. 

Eric Forney  13:29  

Yeah, I mean, it wasn't, it takes a lot of time. You know, that's the reason why, you know, when I started and building a team, we didn't have regular meetings, we didn't run a regular schedule with one on one coaching appointments. I'm not even sure if we met as an operations team on a regular basis to talk about where we were going as a company. And so arguably one of the most effective things that we've done is have meetings and that's where Sisu comes into play. Right is because every week at our all team meeting, we are where we're putting up the dashboard of where we are. That agent accountability report shows up that says, hey, Jane, you may have logged three days last week. Everybody else log five or your day vacation the other two days or what got in the way? Did your phone break down? Do we need to start a GoFundMe to help you get a new smartphone so you can log your activities? What was it and so we're reminding them that what we give energy to our agents also gives energy to and so I give energy to showing those numbers on a weekly basis. So we haven't repaired publicly and then privately Of course.

Brian Charlesworth  14:38  

Yes. So you meet as a team once a week and then you meet individually with one on ones once a week. Is that how you do that?

Eric Forney  14:45  

Yeah, absolutely. Yeah, Monday mornings we meet as a team and that's really a kind of a market update slash thinking lesson sales lesson for the entire company, including our admin.

Sisu  14:56  

If you've been enjoying Grit, please help us continue to grow the channel by Leaving a five-star review and sharing it with a friend. Now back to Grit.

Brian Charlesworth  15:05  

And then are you doing all of the one on ones? Or do you have agents who are moving into leadership roles? assist with that? Or how do you do that?

Eric Forney  15:12  

Yeah, so our operations director takes a portion of them, and then I take a portion of them. So some of our higher producers are the ones that have the leadership capabilities, or what looks like we'll move into that position from a result standpoint, I'll take their one on ones.

Brian Charlesworth  15:30  

Okay. Let's talk about recruiting for a minute, because it seems to me, Well, number one, you've done a phenomenal job of it. Number two, though, seems to me, it would be really difficult to recruit agents and talent, when you're saying you're not selling real estate for the first year. I mean, I think this program you're doing it sounds amazing. However, it sounds to me like that's a, that's a real challenge to recruit into that. And I could be wrong. So just for people out there looking at how are you doing this? Number one, how do you recruit into that? But number two, what is your recruiting strategy? With that being such an important part of the business? As you said, You are a college coach? 

Eric Forney  16:13  


Brian Charlesworth  16:14  

Recruiting constantly. So what's your strategy around that?

Eric Forney  16:18  

Well, I think what are a couple things, one, you have to be non-negotiable on who you will and will not be in business with. And so because we're clear on who we won't be in business with it, we're clear on who we will be in business with pretty easily. So, you know, one of our hard fast rules is we don't negotiate commission periods. And if commission is a reason, and by commission means, you know, splitting internally as a team is a non-negotiable conversation, if that's what limits us, or we spend a lot of time and energy on, we know we're just not a good fit. Because I need people who understand the difference between value and price. If we can get you to 40 plus units every year, we'll likely never talk about what a splitting and caffeine policy looks like. So we're really clear that we're not caught when I meet with someone, they need to be abundant thinking, they need to understand that they're investing in themselves when they joined the company to be a part of a program in which as long as they follow the blueprint in the model, that they'll find success that they desire. And so what we're looking for is agents who understand that it's, it's really a one-year commitment. And all things considered, you know, what, we've kind of had this limiting belief concept of what people will and won't do for a short period of time. And, and a lot of that depends on how big of a picture you paint for them. And how much of a vision Have you delivered to them that makes it worth them committing to 12 months, and it's only 12 months, if we can make it through 2020 anyone can make it through whatever that 12 month period is right? And so we're just we look at like doctors do this, right. And the reason why physicians agreed to do this grueling residency period, or Navy SEALs agreed to do a grueling training period is because of the payoff. You know, I pledged to a fraternity and it sucked. And I knew that when that semester was over, so with everything that came with the pledge ship, and so I can grind it out through long enough to the end date. And so knowing that we want to be in business with people who think big enough to understand the value proposition helps. How do we recruit them? Well, that's a totally different thing. Because for us, what we've done is, is really try to be public about what our culture and values look like, so that people know going in, here's who I'm meeting with, here's how they think, how they act, how they talk, and what they expect of me. And we're just not even going to sit down together if that message doesn't resonate, so I'm doing podcasts doing video, social media posts, almost all of our media focus on our culture and our way of thinking and acting.

Brian Charlesworth  19:01  

Okay, so it sounds to me like, you're not one that goes to schools to recruit. You're basically putting it out there on a podcast, you're adding value to the community. And you're attracting My guess is these people are just attracting and they're coming to you rather than you going to them. Is that a fair statement?

Eric Forney  19:23  

Yeah, that's largely true. Now, we are actually going from school to school now and recruiting. Because one of the things we did during the initial stages of the pandemic as our competitors pulled back, we actually pushed forward. So we hired three recruiting companies to go out and actively recruit agents and sales professionals from other industries so that we could backfill a pipeline so we're working through a pretty substantial pipeline of people who've raised their hand with interest in getting into the industry. And so we are working just off the like school graduate list or off some feel like a wise hire or some of the third party recruiting companies and your 

Brian Charlesworth  20:04  

If you're hiring a third-party recruiting company in the software world like I would be paying them 20% of whatever their salary is when they come in for that recruit how does that work in real estate when you're you're bringing someone in who's 1099 believe that's how you're doing it are you bringing in w twos

Eric Forney  20:27  

Yeah we were in the minutes 1099 so one of the things that we've done especially this year was realized that the recruiting industry was not exactly thriving in April and May and so we were able to negotiate some different deals where it was hey for an upfront fixed amount this is what we'll pay you to recruit in one person and then if you don't like that upfront fixed amount if they survive 90 days then we'll increase it because it's no risk to us so take the guaranteed smaller amount or take a larger amount and the lead stays for 90 days.

Brian Charlesworth  21:08  

Okay so you negotiated that March April May is that something that they're still willing to honor. Do you think if I went and negotiated that today I would have a shot of getting a company like that to agree to that.

Eric Forney  21:22  

Yeah, we thought we found success for the last couple of years ranging anywhere from you know somewhere between six and 10,000s kind of been going right.

Brian Charlesworth  21:31  


Eric Forney  21:31  

And I mean we've had good success with that and then we've had mixed results go in that direction truly it is like real estate is a numbers game right it's just how many how many listing appointments with people you want to be in business with are you going on every day yeah and and that determines the type of quality you get and we've had some great candidates that you know maybe didn't work or you know there's there's outside influences from an unemployment standpoint that make it a little bit challenging to hire right now as well but we're starting to see a big release of real estate school graduates here in the last probably 30 days 45 days.

Brian Charlesworth  22:13  

Everybody wants in.

Eric Forney  22:15  

Yeah and the schools were closed for so long so anybody who wanted in in the last six months wasn't able to go take their test in person or their class in person and so now we've had this just sudden surge of agents that are getting licensed all the sudden.

Brian Charlesworth  22:31  

Yes, so that's your primary responsibility are you measuring that are you using the Sisu recruiting to measure that as your agents are measuring their productivity or are you not even earlier with that are 

Eric Forney  22:43  

Yeah I am familiar and I do what I say not what I do because I'm not effectively using it. Let's put it that way, I've been logging some of them. I don't have them all along though.

Brian Charlesworth  22:55  

Okay what about SOI it seems to me you have a culture of you seem to have this culture of hey you really want to be a part of this and so I would think that your people who are in their first 12 months are probably helping you do recruiting with their contacts is that something you're finding as effective.

Eric Forney  23:16  

We found that most probably the most effective thing for recruiting is actually my own SOI and past clients our past clients have probably been our best source of recruiting leads whether that's the clients themselves or somebody that they're you know in relationship with and so we realized that we probably were missing a large portion of potential by not marketing our openings to our database so we've started doing that in the last 60 days more aggressively because you know I’ll go through my Facebook list and just start like writing out names of somebody who I’d be willing to be in business with you I think their sales or do I think their operations and then having a conversation around you know what opportunity looks like for that person.

Brian Charlesworth  24:04  

Yeah, it sounds like I mean marketing everyone's marketing to their database but are they marketing job opportunities to their database.

Eric Forney  24:15  

Probably not yeah and that's the problem is that marketing for the most part who as real estate agents is pretty boring and you know no one cares about your recipe card and the fact that it's fall or winterization time but you know they do care about refinancing their mortgage or they care about how they can not pay real estate taxes like Donald Trump or how they can potentially get a new career if they've lost their previous job and so we're we're mindful on ensuring that we send out value-added items including recruiting

Brian Charlesworth  24:49  

Yeah, okay well it's been great Eric just getting to know you. Is there anything that you'd like to leave us with that you just feel is a crucial thing to be doing for next year?

Eric Forney  25:04  

You know, I think one of the challenges that I have, and I see most agents have is that there is so much available from a technology standpoint, and from an industry education standpoint, that oftentimes we end up complicating the business. It truly is simple. It is meeting humans, and adding value to people. And everything else becomes tracking and measuring and complications. And so that's one of the things that I love about Sisu is the ability to see a very simple glance. What are the actual numbers and transparency of our business? No stories, nothing more than the actual data itself and the simplicity of the business what it was intended to be. So,

Brian Charlesworth  25:48  

Yeah, yeah, it is really that simple. And to add to what you said, you said, No stories. And I think that's the critical piece of doing one on ones is that your one on ones are numbers based? Not drama based

Eric Forney  26:03  

It’s right.

Brian Charlesworth  26:04  

Yeah. So anyway, it's been great. Congratulations on all of your success. You're crushing it. I keep going. I love being a part of it. And we'll, we'll keep our eye on you. 

Eric Forney  26:18  

Awesome. Thanks so much. Appreciate the invite.

Brian Charlesworth  26:20  

Yeah, thank you Eric.

About the Author

Brian Charlesworth
Chairman and CEO

Brian is an entrepreneur and business builder. He has built and sold companies in the software, telecommunications, and franchise space. He’s passionate about technology and focused on changing lives through driving technology forward.