Vision, Sales Process Create New Customer Value

Brendan Kelly has become one of the most successful commercial/industrial tenant rep real estate brokers in the US.

Yet his story, and that of his team, is not only about selling commercial real estate services successfully. It’s also about making higher value sales of any product or service in a business-to-business environment. And it illustrates how thinking differently about markets and processes can increase sales performance in a big way.

Brendan became a client of ours in 2008 when he took our consultative selling course, FOCIS®, along with colleagues from his firm, Avison Young. Since then, we’ve watched and supported his journey-and learned a few lessons ourselves along the way that we’d like to share with you. (A Canadian firm, Avison Young opened its office in the US about the time we met Brendan. The firm now has some 1,100 brokers in 54 cities.)

But first, here’s a sampling of what Brendan and his team have accomplished.

Saving a client $16 million last year by finishing a major real estate project months ahead of schedule
Developing a new service that goes beyond traditional real estate transactions to increase value enterprise-wide, including in the culture
Garnering the largest commercial real estate deal of 2009, a $33 millionopportunity
Developing a consultative sales process, with our support, that helps them close about 90 percent of the opportunities they compete for.

How does it happen?

“We come to be seen as a valued advisor far beyond a commodity transaction broker,” Kelly explains. “The presentation, visuals, and one-sentence discovery questions establish a dialogue, framing us as advisors versus traditional chest-beaters. The differentiation that FOCIS® provides is high and, furthered by our firm’s integrated approach, essentially makes us the only choice. Our biggest deal, for instance, became, for all intents and purposes, a no-bid contract.”

In addition, our proprietary FOCIS® discovery approach that Brendan’s team uses also reveals other ways to provide value -in this case, a new value-added service that supports corporate cultural change. The service facilitates an improved workplace culture hand-in-hand with building or remodeling new facilities. One company, for example, as part of a real estate project arranged the office and factory so that employees would bring in their families on the weekends. An ice cream dispenser area, a library, and a workout area were a few of the amenities. The wider community is now using the facility, too.

In our experience, most of the very best business developers-in any business-to-business industry or profession-do two things their competitors either don’t do or don’t do as well. They:

  1. Create an “unfair competitive advantage” by
    1. Specializing in a niche that can leverage their strengths
    2. Providing unique value during the sales process
  2. Communicate the “mother lode” of value they can deliver by using
    1. Superior consultative selling skills
    2. A sales process customized for their market, company, and business developers
    3. Persuasion that communicates value along with education that communicates facts.

In 2008, when we first met Brendan, he already had a vision for a unique niche: Including “supply chains” as part of commercial real estate engagements. The goals were to help companies recognize the impact of real estate decision-making: 1) on their own supply chains, 2) the supply chains of their customers, and 3) the value provided enterprise-wide.

This new perspective added supply chain executives at major corporations as prospects, expanding the prospect pool beyond managers responsible for real estate. In other words, he discovered a new marketfor his services. Then he and his team developed it. He formed a peer group of supply chain experts from several companies and invited them to hear speakers talk about supply chain issues -and how real estate fit in as a value creator. The program frequently provided qualified leads for Brendan’s team.

During the three months of FOCIS® training, we coach participants on current sales opportunities. We worked with Brendan to customize an approach for a private equity (PE) firm prospect facing an inefficient inventory of real estate. Distribution centers overlapped; manufacturing facilities were out of date.

Private equity firms often ignore real estate assets since they see them as long-term and too difficult to improve upon during the shorter investment cycle model PE firms require. With his new approach, Brendan created significant value by speeding up the ROI process on real estate to fit original PE investment time frames.

In this case our coaching involved three key elements: 1) Helping to plan discovery questions 2) Reviewing the presentation materials, and 3) Participating in some prospect meetings and phone calls.

Brendan and his team won the deal, which turned out to be the largest industrial real estate sale in the US in 2009. He credits FOCIS® training to reducing pressure on fees: He and his team had learned how to communicate the true value of their services but in a way that clients understand and fully appreciate. In fact, the team did that so well, Brendan recalled, that “the client signed the proposal [for the project’s first phase] without a request for single change in word, punctuation, or fee. Never happened before!”

The value lay in rationalizing the real estate holdings for this firm: Locating new facilities, modernizing others, closing some-all with the help of a team of experts that Brendan had put together. Coordinating the team’s work both inside and outside of Avison Young led to high-value efficiency rarely seen in commercial real estate engagements.

Using real estate to increase enterprise value for his clients was paying off. Brendan pushed to strengthen the go-to-market strategy-that is, his “unfair, sustainable competitive advantage.” We were invited to facilitate team brainstorming sessions on how to design the “tenant rep practice of the future.” We documented the design in our summaries and reports and continue to support the evolving service offerings with sales support materials.

Over the years, Brendan’s team is consistently at the top of the list of industrial/commercial tenant brokers within Avison Young and among the leaders in the US. Our roles today include:

Training new people and coaching on key engagements
Reviewing strategy and written materials in the final phases of competition for new business.

Our advice varies, but we always help the team communicate the value they create based on FOCIS® consultative selling practices. Sometimes we don’t see enough emphasis on the prospect in a proposal or presentation. Sometimes more discovery is required or the sales support materials need revision.

The top ten tenant rep brokers in most commercial real estate brokerage firms will be the office-building reps from the major US cities like New York, Washington, DC, and Los Angeles. This year there will be two industrial tenant rep brokers from Chicago in Avison Young’s top ten. One is Brendan, and the other is Nick Esposito, a member of Brendans team who is also a FOCIS® graduate.

Success has many fathers. Most of Brendan’s team’s successes are due to the unique offering they created over the past ten years. We are proud that we played a part at the beginning with training, along the way with facilitation, and now with coaching on major deal opportunities and training of new team members. We hope you can apply some of the ideas here to your business-to-business revenue growth.

If you’d like to talk more about how, please give us a call at 847-446-0008 or e-mail


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