We are realtors. We sell houses and are paid a percentage of the sellers’ proceeds. We advertise in glossy sales magazines and high-caliber websites. We use the multiple listing system. We all claim to be “Number One!” in our market for selling your home at the highest possible price in the least amount of time—and, according to the National Association of Realtors, there are just over a million of us working in North America.
But what, you might ask any one of us, makes us “number one” over the other 10 realtors you just spoke with? It’s an important answer—and if you consider that last year Americans bought and sold nearly a trillion dollars’ worth of real estate, knowing what to say could be a make-it-or-break-it moment in our careers.
So rather than leave it up to us, the real-estate agent, we look to the professional behind the real-estate professional—the real-estate trainer. And there are many to choose from: Tom Hopkins (Sales Training Boot Camp, where the attendees all wear fatigues), Floyd Wickman (Real Estate Sweat Hogs), and many, many more.
Standing above them all, though, is Mike Ferry and his Mike Ferry Organization Sales System. Ferry takes an essentially contrarian stance toward the rest of the realtor training market. His four rules of business are: 1) show up; 2) be on time; 3) tell the truth; and 4) don’t be attached to the outcome. Mike Ferry hates sales gimmicks.
Every year, MFO holds a One-on-One Retreat for its clients. This year I attended the seminar—along with upwards of 2,000 other MFO realtors—to learn how I could be number one.
Standing outside the San Diego Grand Hyatt, looking across the San Diego Bay, I overhear a man talking on his cell phone to someone who, I assume, lives in a part of the country where winter prevails: “The sun is shining. It must be 65 degrees, maybe 70 degrees. Not a cloud in the sky.”
There are actually quite a few clouds in the sky. It’s no wonder public opinion polls consistently rank realtors’ trustworthiness below lawyers and used-car salesmen. I head inside.
It is 7:50 a.m., and the lights are dim in the Hyatt’s Manchester Grand Ballroom. Our emcee for the event owns a large realty company in California. He bounds onstage and tells “Floyd” (the sound guy) to “pump it up!” The emcee is wearing a bright yellow oxford shirt with a white collar and cuffs. A persistent winking flash calls attention to his elegant timepiece. He is the Energy Guy, and though it is at most 70 degrees Fahrenheit in the room, he is sweating profusely. He yells: “Whip it up, man!” and commands us to dance.
The basic move involves a step and slide kick and a simultaneous arm move that starts as a giant bear hug and ends with a hand clap; repeat ad nauseam and apart from the beat. Except: Every now and then, and corresponding with a crescendo in the song, he has us do a shoot-the-moon move where we lower our right hands to the ground—wavy, jazzy right hands—and while doing this shout “Ooooooh!” on a slow, upward-sliding scale until we reach the top, when we punch our hands in the air and shout “Yes!”
Our emcee jumps straightaway into the music (“Pump Up the Volume”). We’re slide-step-repeating and bear-hug-hand-clapping and then he makes a slicing motion across his neck: “Kill the music, Floyd.”
He tells us we have “flabby energy” and that we need to “pump it up” because “emotion is created by motion.” Then he asks us: “Are you ready?” Our response disappoints him. He shakes his head, and shouts again, “Are you ready?”
The music starts again, and this time the bass rattles my molars and the tweeters are lifeguard-caliber and I’m all but positive that the original “are you ready” was something of a bait-and-switch to make us “work harder for it,” and that Floyd in the sound booth has only now, truly, pumped up the volume. (Every sales seminar I’ve attended has an “I can’t hear you moment.” And it works. Every single time. You actually do pay better attention when you work for it.)
Another two songs follow, and everyone’s way past feeling self-conscious or degraded and we’re simply stepping and clapping. Two realtors have jumped onstage, and are aping the emcee’s movements with much more energy and pizzazz than the rest of us.
By Ferry’s own account, he is worth something over $40 million. Today he opens with a joke. The emcee asks: “Who’s the best in here?”
We shout: “Mike Ferry!”
“Who’s the best in here?”
“Let’s hear it for Mike Ferry, come on now!” And he drops straight into a shoot-the-moon.
We cheer wildly, a mass of wavy jazz hands, and the lights go out. Two Jumbotron screens behind the stage turn on: “2006—Your Break Thru Year” and “One-on-One Retreat.” A spotlight turns on, dancing frenetically to and fro.
The bright beam catches Mike Ferry’s entrance from between the backstage curtains as he strides onstage. His biggie-sized image smiles broadly from both arena-sized corner video screens.
“Good morning!” he shouts.
The music fades, the cheering and clapping diminishes, and we are instructed to sit down.
Mike Ferry, who turns 60 this year, has spent the last 30-plus years traveling the country and motivating realtors. His stage persona is an odd marriage of John Wayne’s swaggering bulk with Frank Sinatra’s dapper veneer. But rather than howdy-pilgrim this or that or crooning to a crowd, Ferry likes to shoot straight and tell jokes. His stage formula melds mild abuse with raucous and ribald laughter, and business pedantry with shockingly bad grammar. By Ferry’s own account, he is worth something over $40 million. Today he opens with a joke.
“Psychology Today actually proved that people who don’t laugh every day or even have a sense of humor are actually retarded.”
“Who likes to laugh? Raise your hand.”
Many hands raise.
“Here’s a suggestion, then: Notify your face.”
Big laughs and guffaws.
I once stood with Mike Ferry at his home in Palm Desert, Calif. We stood and looked out over his vanishing-horizon swimming pool, whence my gaze wandered freely over the landscape and into the mountains, where I could imagine celebrities and captains of industry alike clad in fashionable hiking boots raising dusty clouds in the arid soil as they lumbered upward.
I was there with 200 other realtors, the premium tier of Ferry’s clients. Though I was not really part of that elite group—my broker had scored a ticket for me—I was still there. As part of the visit, we toured his home and saw his den lined with well-stocked bookshelves, and all his paintings, and his model-home-clean closet with its rows of new shoes and Armani suits made from a material so rich it absorbed rather than reflected light. It was exactly what I thought a successful public speaker’s home would look like. I could imagine living in this home and never again having to worry.
“Success in life,” Ferry said as we looked out at the distant mountains and at the glittering city below us, “depends on how often you seek out the company of people who are doing better than you. Find a wildly successful business person to mentor you—and learn from him.”
Then it was time to board the bus again and head back to the airport.
Among Ferry’s many outstanding students in attendance here in sunny San Diego are Carlos Justo, of Miami and The Learning Channel’s Million Dollar Agents reality show TV fame; Christina Martinez; and Karen Bernardi.
But Froy Candelario of Superstar Realty in Los Angeles is the Ferry protégé who towers above them all. He wears gold cufflinks and drives a Rolls Royce. He will sell over 1,500 homes this year—by himself—and make millions of dollars doing so. He has formed his own multiple listing system. Realtors are in awe of him, and stories about him regularly circulate whenever realtors congregate.
“The legend? He sells 10,000 homes a year and makes over 400 contacts a day. He’s a prospecting machine.”
“He’s worth billions. Trillions, maybe.”
“He grew up in a cave in South America with only goats and howler monkeys for friends.”
Another rumor is that Ferry actually tried to ban Candelario from attending this year’s One-on-One Retreat.
Back in the ballroom, Ferry lectures on growing your business.
“In earning business, you have only three options: Wait for business, buy business, or go out and find it. What else are you going to do? Sit in your office and meditate? [slips into mocking voice] Come to me deals, come to me.”
My broker turns to me and whispers, “He’s making fun of Craig Proctor.”
He toggles the mute button, switching fluently from Spanish to English and back again—sometimes in the same sentence while speaking with two different people. He’s like the Michael Jordan of cold-calling. Proctor, who many years ago hoisted himself up from realtor obscurity by his own snakeskin bootstraps, advertises on a website that claims to show you “How to Become the Dominant Internet Agent in Your Marketplace Overnight… Without Spending a Fortune, Wasting Your Time, or Even Caring How It Works [sic].”
In other words, pure wish fulfillment of the Velveeta kind. And Mike Ferry is its antithesis.
Mike Ferry addresses the back half of the room:
“Earl Nightingale spent over a hundred grand back in the 1960s studying people’s attention spans at seminars. It seems that the people in the front half of the room learn 10 times more than those in the back half of the room. The back half of the room is like being in a different seminar.”
The Grand Ballroom is about 25,000 square feet, or roughly 10 times the size of your average home. I am seated four rows from the stage, on the left-hand side.
“So, I want you in the back half of the room to pay careful attention, because you’re my best clients.”
Back-half audience cheers enthusiastically, if faintly.
“Wow, back half. I’m pretty worried about you.”
With only 15 minutes left on my lunch break, I run into none other than Froy Candelario at the MFO registration desk. Standing 5’5” and weighing about a buck seventy, he is wearing a vest over a crisp white shirt, and a gold brick of a Rolex. He appears to be in his mid-50s, his dark hair liberally salted with gray.
He is surrounded by seven agents, mouths flapping, questions in flight.
The questions range from the number of homes he’ll sell this year (“About, oh, fifteen hundred.”) to how he prospects his leads (“Hi, this is Froy Candelario. I just listed the Jimenez’s home on 123 Rondario Dr. for $210,000. Are you interested in purchasing this home? Do you know anyone else who would be interested in purchasing this home? Thank you very much.”), and end with my query:
“Do you really make 400 contacts a day?”
Candelario smiles and nods his head in affirmation.
I’ve heard from a friend who once visited Candelario’s office that he usually makes three phone calls at once—two on a double headset (one caller on each ear), and a third on speaker phone. He apparently toggles the mute button, switching fluently from Spanish to English and back again—sometimes in the same sentence while speaking with two different people. He’s like the Michael Jordan of cold-calling.
I keep expecting armed guards to rush in and break things up, to take us into a private room and grill us on our loyalty to the program.
But nothing happens.
The next morning in the ballroom, at 8:30 sharp, Mike Ferry greets the crowd.
Enthusiastic audience return of same.
“I said, good morning!”
Again, the same exultant audience response.
This back-and-forth goes on two more times. At the end of the fourth call and shout, the back half of the room cheers wildly for exactly 33 seconds.
Ferry is impressed. He says, “The ability to pay attention in the back is difficult to maintain because the distractions in the back of the room increase in size and width in comparison with those in the front of the room.”
He launches into the Earl Nightingale crowd study again, and—(nearly) front-row seat or not—I’m having a hard time hearing him, and then something about distractions being like waves on water and “condensation gets squished as waves move on to the back.”
Ferry does indeed refer to his audience as “shithead realtors.” He does this often, and each of us has paid roughly $2,500 to be called as much. Whatever the meaning of that last phrase, it’s probably meant as a rhetorical appeal to the audience’s analytical types, of whom Ferry is not one; and even if there isn’t a lick of sense to be found in the phrase, the analytical types present—of whom I am one—appreciate the gesture.
After that happy foray into technicalia, Ferry, in a brief fit of compassion, invites those in the back to fill the vacant seats in the front. Close to 100 back-seaters leap from their seats and press anxiously frontward.
“Whoa, whoa, whoa,” says Ferry. “There are only 10 spots, folks, not a hundred.” He laughs to himself and turns to his wife in her ever-present position stage-left. “Well I guess I just created another mess, didn’t I?”
Mike Ferry on marketing:
“Your testimonials shouldn’t be a bunch of crappily copied letters that just go on and on about what a wonderful person you are. And we know you wrote the letters yourself. Watch. Guys and gals: Pre-Listing. Pre-Listing. Not Pre-Look-At-Me. Pre-I’m-An-Egomaniac. Pre-I’m-A-Dipshit. Pre-Listing. Coaches [speaking to the One-on-One coaches in the audience]: Work on this on the next call. And feel free to beat the crap out of them if they don’t listen to what you say.”
Ferry turns the page on his notes, thinks for a moment, then shakes his head in disgust.
“What an egotistical bunch of crap. You’ve got 10, 20, 40 pictures of shithead realtors and their dogs and stuff. Do some of you not have mirrors? Jesus. Look, do you honestly think your customers care about your private lives? Can you imagine a doctor showing you all this shit before he shoves his hand up your butt? ‘Hey, here’s my boat-in-a-bottle collection. Whaddaya think of it?’ Watch. There’s no group of people I have more admiration for than this group of people. [Ferry waves broadly over audience.] And there’s nobody who has a bigger ego.”
My broker turns to me and says, “Boy, he’s on one today.”
Yes, Ferry does indeed refer to his audience as “shithead realtors.” He does this often, and each of us has paid roughly $2,500 to be called as much. Not exactly Dale Carnegie stuff here, no winning friends or influencing people. But most realtors have huge egos, and this is the old “drill sergeant abusing the recruits” routine in action.
Mike Ferry on aggressiveness:
“Listen: If the meek inherit the earth, what will happen to the tigers? I’ve got news for you, folks, the meek ain’t gonna inherit the earth; it will go to the strong. You, folks, are the chosen ones.”
This comment is met with stunned silence, immediately followed by sparse, scattered laughter and mild applause.
“So, at the end of your presentation when you want to close your prospect, here’s the rule: Whenever you ask a closing question, shut up. You want to at least go to a five-count—but don’t say it out loud! So, to do it again for the slow folks, whenever you ask a closing question [Ferry quits speaking for one, two, three, four, five seconds] SHUT UP!”
The audience laughs.
“You see, you create tension when you’re quiet. You also create it when you speak. Make a joke to break the tension. Other tension breakers: humor or ask a good question. And it’s important that you feel the tension because, when your prospect gets tense and argumentative, that’s when you’re closest to making the sale. You want to be aggressive but not overbearing; you want to create tension, so that when you close, your client will feel relief.”
A Ferry protégé once told a small audience that one of the most important things one could do in these seminars—after one joined the coaching system at $1,000 per month, naturally—was to observe and then mimic Ferry’s style of selling other audience members. It has made for the utmost postmodern sales seminar in that even while I am being sold I am watching myself being sold, thus recognizing the various factors that go into the process of selling me, thus showing me firsthand how well the MFO sales techniques work and also how to use the techniques on others. As a pedagogical strategy and as a “re-sell” technique, it’s absolutely brilliant.
Mike Ferry squints into the spotlights: “We’ll be having 15 minutes of Q&A toward the end of this afternoon’s session. If you have a stupid question, go to another seminar and ask it there.”
“Hey, don’t blame me. All I know is I’m standing up here on stage, and 2,300 deer are staring me down like I’m a headlight.”
The Q&A session that follows is essentially an adult version of show and tell, with the “questions” often serving as showcases for the realtor’s accomplishments, and the glowing deeds taking the place of shiny new toys and super-fun family vacations.
A realtor asks, “How do I best mirror and match my clients?”
(Mirroring and matching a client is just what it sounds like: The realtor adopts the same speech cadence, accent, and inflection as the prospect; if meeting them in person, the realtor will also match the prospect’s posture, mannerisms, and gestures.)
Ferry replies, “How much time do I spend talking about mirroring and matching?”
“Uh, none,” the realtor answers.
Ferry says, “Watch—that’s my competitor’s thing. I never believed in it. Next question.”
Another realtor then tries to argue with Ferry about the right way to sell a prospect. Ferry eviscerates him and ends the confrontation with: “…and that’s why you don’t argue with the man on stage.”
A realtor wearing a bowtie approaches the microphone: “Hello, Mike.”
Ferry makes an ad-hoc bowtie of his prepared notes on an 8.5” by 11” pad, and says, “I wanted you all to know I can do this mirroring and matching shit.” Then he addresses the realtor. “Look, how much did you make in 2005?”
“A lot. Over $1 million.”
The audience interrupts with loud cheering and applause.
“Congratulations,” Ferry says.
“I assume you had a question?”
“I did. As my productivity increases, I’m finding it hard to fight complacency. So I’m wondering, how do I find my ‘why’ now that I’m successful beyond my wildest dreams?”
“Shit, I don’t know why. [turns to wife seated stage left] What’s my why? [audience laughs] Watch [Ferry pretends to smoke dope, and then speaks in a pinched, surfer-dude voice], I don’t know. [more laughter] We’ll talk about it later this afternoon, OK?”
After that day’s seminar, I run into an acquaintance who is known locally as “The Velvet Hammer.” Since the mid-’80s, she’s been a realtor celebrity. She was Miss Utah back in the day, and her likeness is currently pasted on a billboard visible from northbound I-15 in Salt Lake City. She also, according to my broker, knows Froy Candelario very well.
“So you know Froy Candelario?” I ask.
“Very well. Yes.”
“So is it true? He sold twelve hundred homes last year?”
She nods again, but is also looking around the room while doing so, as if distracted.
“He really prospects like nine hours a day?”
She continues to nod.
“He really calls 400 or more contacts a day? He grew up in a cave in South America with only goats for friends?”
She nods again and says, “He grew up in South America. He ate trash. He collected trash and ate what he collected.”
“He came to America on—I mean under—a boxcar?”
She nods again, and adds, “He ate trash.”
“He ate trash.”
“And because he was used to eating trash, he became a trashman when he arrived in L.A. He eventually got his real-estate license. He works with his wife, and he is a very hard worker.”
On the final day of the seminar, Ferry asks all the audience members who are new to the One-on-One retreat and haven’t yet joined the program to stand up. He then makes a maître d’ gesture, with one arm bent as if a towel were draped over it, and the other hand flat on his chest, and says, “We’d like to invite you to investigate our program. If it makes sense to you, join it. Fair enough?”
The realtor laughs, “I’ve got a really big ego, and I want to know how I can crush it so I can be coachable and workable.” We then begin the final Q&A session.
One realtor begins, “Hi, Mike! I’m from Thousand Oaks, California, and I just joined One-on-One.”
“Congratulations! Now, what’s your question?”
“I give my coach a lot of resistance because of my ego.”
“Who’s your coach?”
She tells him.
“And she puts up with that shit?”
The realtor laughs, “I’ve got a really big ego, and I want to know how I can crush it so I can be coachable and workable.”
“That’s your question?”
Ferry smirks and says, “Oooo-K, this should be easy. How many deals did you do last year?”
Ferry spits—yes, spits—on the stage, and asks, “How much money did you make?”
Ferry sticks his finger in his throat and makes a gagging noise, then says, “Do you honestly think it’s good what you did?”
The realtor nods.
Ferry pauses and says, “OK. Karen, where are you? Stand up.”
Karen Bernardi of Boulder stands up. She is located about three rows from Ferry’s stage left.
Ferry asks her, “How many deals did you do last year?”
Karen’s response is inaudible.
Ferry says it into his microphone, “One hundred and sixty-five deals. How much money did you make?”
Again, we can’t hear her response.
Ferry repeats it: “$1.85 million.”
The audience cheers.
Ferry asks Karen: “How many days did you work last year?”
She replies, and Ferry says into the mike, “Five months…and she only worked three days a week.” [low whistles of appreciation in the audience] “All that, and Karen fought and won a major battle with cancer last year.” [loud cheers, hearty cheers, big applause]
Then Ferry asks, “Is Jeff Quinton here? Jeff, stand up.” Jeff stands up, and Ferry asks him, “How many deals and how much income in 2005?”
He replies and Mike says into the mike, “Two hundred and four deals, $3.8 million. I won’t ask how many days you worked, because I know you’re a workaholic. Should I go on?” [audience shouts “Nooooooo”]
He addresses a new realtor: “OK, what’s your question?”
The realtor from Thousand Oaks doesn’t realize she’s been brushed off, and says as much into her microphone.
Ferry plays along and says, “OK, OK, you really need to get over the fact that this is all about you…Pammy. [The audience laughs, and so does the realtor.] But can I tell you [he looks out to the audience] why I think Georgette’s going to figure this out?”
The realtor, who is heavy-set, laughs and says, “No, the name is Cookie.”
Ferry cracks back, “Oh, I think you’ve eaten enough already.”
[The audience responds with a long “Oooooooh,” like he shouldn’t have gone there.]
Ferry smiles a sarcastic grin. “That’s the new softer side of Mike. How do you like it? [It’s unclear whether he’s talking to the realtor or the audience or both.] But seriously, seriously, can I tell you why I think she’s going to make it? Why I think she’s going to figure this thing out? [pause] Because she had the courage to ask the question.”
[Big clapping, generous applause]
“Remember: Don’t argue with the guy on stage. You’ll lose every time.”
At least three or four times during the seminar, and always at points where he is emphatically pointing out someone else’s stupidity, Ferry will point to himself and say, “Stupido. Stunata. Idiot. Agent,” as if to imply that the word “Agent” is tantamount to “Stupido,” or “Idiot.” “Stunata,” however, may be a Ferry neologism, a Latin-sounding word for “ignorant.”
Ferry likes to joke that he has an IQ of 60, but he is clearly no stunata. That goes for Candelario, too; refuse ingestor or no, he is bright, articulate, and friendly. He is, after all, a product of the MFO sales seminar, and these seminars are all about getting a person to tell himself that he can actually do the thing he thought he couldn’t do. The old saying is, “Think and grow rich,” and Candelario has clearly been thinking a lot.
It is difficult to pick up the phone and make another contact in the face of cancelled appointments and failed sales. It is often difficult to simply keep believing day after week after month after year. During the final half-hour break, I again spot Candelario in the lobby. He is ringed like a trapped seal by about seven realtors. I enjoin the fray. Candelario, wide smile, beaming cheeks, is answering very general questions about the nature of his business. I decide to make my introduction, again. I thrust forward my hand—I’m simply going in for a handshake—and Candelario flinches. The large smile remains, but he is looking at me with a slightly wounded, possibly even hunted, look in his eye.
I keep my hand extended. Candelario hesitantly carpes the manos.
“I’ve heard you make something like 500 contacts in a day,” I say.
Candelario laughs modestly, “Hardly. I make about 410 to 430 contacts per day.”
“How many hours a day do you prospect?”
“About four, four and a half.”
I do the math, “So that’s—”
“About 88 contacts an hour.”
It’s clear that he’s done talking, and the circle of realtors disbands. I’m left with the unsettled feeling that Candelario’s polite person doesn’t equal his legendary image.
The word legenda means “something to be read”; put another way, it means “a story being told.” Mike Ferry is a legend. Froy Candelario is a legend. And a legend is something you tell others about so often that before long it becomes its own kind of truth.
But “its own kind of truth” is often doublespeak meant to downplay the obvious contradiction between appearance and legend, which is similar to the disparity between my poor sales results and those of the seminar Super Stars—the contradiction between my belief regarding what is possible in my business and what I actually do on a day-to-day basis.
Something like 80 to 90 percent of the people attending the One-on-One Retreat do over 100 deals per year. If you consider an average net commission (after brokerage split and franchise fee) of $5,200 per transaction, most of the people here are earning at least $520,000 a year.
And even knowing that, it is difficult to create a belief strong enough to change day-to-day behavior. It is difficult to pick up the phone and make another contact in the face of cancelled appointments and failed sales. It is often difficult to simply keep believing day after week after month after year.
Yet for all my doubts, I can’t say that Candelario, even under aggressive watch by Mike Ferry’s various cohorts, seems anything other than genuinely successful and genuinely happy.
Mike Ferry finishing up the seminar:
“One of you has already decided to write me a nasty letter about the verbal abuse you received.”
The audience boos this unnamed person—loudly.
Ferry says, “Oh that’s pathetic. Back half of the room, you can’t even boo loudly.”
Back half boos again.
He makes a dismissive waving gesture. “Front half.”
Front half emits a lusty, thunderous boo.
“Now that’s a boo!” Ferry doubles over.
He exhorts us to do better in the coming months, to strive harder, to hit our goals, to kick some serious sales ass, and now he’s just positively whipping us up into a kind of “I’m going to reach my goals” frenzy, and he’s describing vacations to Hawaii, lazy walks on white-sand Caribbean beaches, a ripe S-class Mercedes just waiting to be picked from the lot, that home on the cliff overlooking the beach in Corona del Mar—the one your sick, Mother-Teresa-esque mother, your very madre mia has always wanted—or the $1 million charitable donation to that orphanage in Baja, and the list goes on and now I’m thinking to myself—as I know just about everyone else in the room is thinking to themselves—that I will do it this time, this year, I will do it and I won’t be denied: I will make my goal!
And then Ferry invites his lovely wife, Sabrina, onstage. Tall, willowy, blonde—she’s outlasted two ex-wives and a redheaded stepson to become the current president of MFO. She waves and blows us a kiss. The audience cheers, and cheers, and cheers. And as the clapping fades, a melody churns louder and louder—Andrea Bocelli and Sarah Brightman’s “Time to Say Goodbye”—and I’m confident at least for a moment that Sarah or Andrea will emerge onstage because right now, everything seems possible.