Currently, about 2 million people in the U.S. hold active real estate licenses. Standing apart from — and keeping ahead of — competitors is especially challenging. In addition, DIY platforms have perpetuated the myth that anyone can be a real estate professional.

Whether you are involved in residential or commercial real estate brokerage (or both), some basic rules apply. If you want to land the best clients and deals, build long-term, profitable relationships with clients, and build a solid referral network, stick to these four strategies.

1. Know Your Clients

Take the time to invest in the research to truly understand your clients and their needs. Ask detailed questions about not only what types of properties and price ranges they're interested in, but also their past history in buying and selling properties and their experiences with other brokers. That will give you clues about the real estate expertise of the client you're working with and the type of services they might need. Develop a proprietary (but brief) questionnaire that captures that data and take time to listen to your prospect's needs. You can then wow your clients with your knowledge of properties and command of trends and facts about the geographies your clients are considering.

2. Deliver High-Quality Service

Service quality is, of course, essential — especially in a competitive market. Compared to just a year ago, 54 percent of people have higher expectations for service. Return calls, emails and texts quickly (and know someone's preferred communication method). Show up on schedule for every appointment and respect your client's time. These are the bare minimum requirements. One broker even invested in a used limo and driver so she could speak to her clients while they travel in style. Given the proliferation of digital media in communication, people appreciate and remember real-world experiences that surprise and delight.

3. Be a Savvy Marketer

Real estate marketing has become more sophisticated over the past decade. Having mobile-friendly web pages and a strong social media presence is just the foundation of a strategy. In this digitally-driven age, you also need to:

  • Know where, when and how to reach targeted prospects
  • Serve as a thought leader on industry trends
  • Use LinkedIn to build relationships
  • Build programmatic marketing campaigns

These are just a few essential pieces of a sophisticated and unified marketing effort. Get creative when staging properties and planning open houses. (You can even watch real estate reality shows for off-the-chart ideas, but then scale them back for real life.) If you're outsourcing your marketing, do your homework on different options and choose partners who have broad and deep experience in the industry. Knowing how to use Instagram or shoot a video are tactical skills, but as you look to scale, consider professionals who understand the nuances of the real estate industry and principles of building a business.

4. Stay Smart With the Best Tech

You need to be smarter than ever before about trends and property details. The right technology can give you that market intelligence at a hyper-local level. Running comps, viewing history, assessing home values and estimating remodeling costs quickly and effortlessly are all possible with the right technology platform. Your ability to present those facts to clients will earn you instant respect and trust. Choose a platform that is intuitive, easy to learn, and robust and detailed in the data it provides. As buyers and investors become savvier, you need to stay one step ahead in your grasp of the facts, insights and future value of the properties you're selling.

In a crowded market, it's critical to find ways to stand out. Focus on those skills, abilities and technologies and you can ultimately become that one in 2 million.

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