Winning Brokers

The Art of War — 5 Ways to Win in CRE

The strategies you need to gain an edge on your competition might come from an unlikely source — a Chinese military treatise written more than 2500 years ago.

Sun Tzu’s The Art of War has long garnered praise for its military strategy, but in more recent years, leaders in almost every discipline have come to recognize its wisdom.

In fact, New England Patriots Head Coach Bill Belichick says The Art of War helped him build his dynasty.

So, how can Sun Tzu’s wisdom help you win more business?

Below, we cover five key lessons from The Art of War — and how they apply to commercial real estate.

1. Focus on preparation

“The victorious army is victorious first and seeks battle later.”

The theme embodied in the quote above — that leaders win battles before the battles begin — is woven throughout The Art of War.

It’s difficult to overstate how important this lesson is in commercial real estate.

The best brokers are the ones who prepare thoroughly, taking the time to learn their market inside and out, so they can offer more value to their clients.

They’re constantly improving their market intelligence by:

  • Investing in data sources.
  • Tracking the deals they close and building out their comp data.
  • Researching current trends that affect property preferences.

2. Learn which levers to pull

“Exploit the enemy’s dispositions to attain victory.”

This advice is particularly important during negotiations.

As Mark Duclos, President of SIOR and President of Sentry Commercial, noted in a previous blog post, the relationships you form over your career can give you a major leg up during negotiations.

“You know the personalities going in,” he explained. “You know their hot-button issues.”

By understanding the motivations on the other side of the table, you’ll know when you can press and make bigger asks and when it’s a better idea to be flexible.

3. Take nothing for granted

“Rashly underestimate your enemy, and you will surely be taken captive.”

This quote underscores the importance of rejecting complacency, which is critical in commercial real estate.

And it’s especially important for established brokers who rely exclusively on repeat and referral business.

While the value you’ve provided to clients over your career will likely pay dividends today and in the future, you have to be mindful of your competition.

If you aren’t continuing to improve and finding new ways to help your clients, other brokers in your market will eventually surpass you.

So, what steps should you take to continue your professional development?

Here’s some advice from Holly Yang, whose over 25 years of experience includes:

  • Partner at On the Point Marketing and YARO
  • Managing Director and Chief Marketing Officer at Cushman & Wakefield — Asia Pacific
  • International Director, Marketing, Sales Enablement and Communications at JLL

“If I was a broker, I’d work every day on three things,” she said. “Collecting and leveraging data, looking for ways to negotiate around obstacles, and old-fashioned picking up the phone.”

Holly went on to note the importance of developing and maintaining your personal brand.

“You have to manage how people see you, because if you don’t control that conversation, somebody else will,” she said. “You need to position yourself in a way that plays to your strength … That will really put you a step ahead. It’s not enough to keep your head down and work hard.”

4. Know your strengths and weaknesses

“With an understanding of weakness and strength, an army can strike like a millstone cast at an egg.”

Understanding your strengths and weaknesses is key to winning more deals.

When you know which deals you win and which deals you lose, you can focus all your energy on the opportunities that are most likely to generate revenue.

Start by reviewing past deal data to determine your win rate for deals based on property type and prospect characteristics.

You might find your firm closes deals that involve industrial properties at a higher rate than deals that involve retail properties. You might also find your firm closes deals with prospects who work for larger organizations at a higher rate than deals with prospects who work for small or mid-size businesses.

Once you have that information, you can ensure you’re spending your time in the most productive way possible.

5. Always innovate

“First on the battlefield waits for the enemy fresh. Last on the battlefield charges into the fray exhausted.”

The core lesson from this quote is that you have to be willing to try new strategies and forge new paths, otherwise your competition will gain an edge.

According to Jay Olshonsky, President and CEO of NAI, one area where too many brokers are last on the battlefield is the adoption of technology.

“80% of brokers need to embrace technology more than they’ve embraced it historically,” he said. “10% are off the charts and buy whatever data, whatever technology they need, and the next 10% are trying to be just like the other 10%. But we still see a bunch of brokers who are hesitant to engage with the new way of doing business.”

And that gives those who do invest in technology a major leg up on their competition.

“If you look at the 10% that’s controlling 90% of the business, if you ask them what sort of technology they’re using, they say, ‘Anything we need,’” Jay pointed out. “In that way, they’re separating themselves. So, I really encourage you, if you aren’t using modern tools, you need to start using them.”