Retaining Salespeople Starts With a Strong Culture

Are your agents “in the fold”? Are they part of a larger goal or culture? Do they feel a sense of ownership and pride in the company you run? Or are they detached operators who are just waiting to be scooped up by your competitor?

The correlation between salesperson retention and forming a strong brokerage culture was touted strongly among RISMedia’s Power Broker Roundable panelists last week during the National Association of REALTORS®’ Broker Summit in Atlanta.

RISMedia's Power Broker Roundtable (from left): NAR President Steve Brown, Better Homes & Gardens Metro Brokers President Kevin Levent, Comey & Shepherd REALTORS® President Terry Hankner, The Denver 100 Broker-Owner Jack O'Conner, and Atlanta Fine Homes Sotheby's President David Boehmig

RISMedia’s Power Broker Roundtable (from left): NAR President Steve Brown, Better Homes & Gardens Metro Brokers President Kevin Levent, Comey & Shepherd REALTORS® President Terry Hankner, The Denver 100 Broker-Owner Jack O’Conner, and Atlanta Fine Homes Sotheby’s President David Boehmig

“What agents want is a culture that treats them honestly and fairly — and trains them,” says Terry Hankner, president of Cincinnati-based Comey & Shepherd, REALTORS®.

But how do you put a concept such as culture-building into actionable tasks?

Hankner told attendees to start by determining what type of culture currently exists at your brokerage. She characterized the “Comey culture” as “open and participatory,” where everything is shared with agents, including every line item in the company budget. And when they hire new people, they only take on about one out of every 10 agent applicants. They hire to their culture, and she recommends others do the same. Last year, Hankner brought 31 new agents into her company’s five offices. She gets a report each month on how those new agents are adding to the company’s bottom line. The first time a newbie gets a sale, she’s on the phone congratulating them.

Jack O’Conner, broker-owner and founder of The Denver 100, says you can’t build a relationship with someone unless you’re getting some face time with them. That’s why he says it’s important for brokers or managers to meet with each and every salesperson at least once a month.

“If you don’t see your people, they’re probably on their way out,” O’Conner says. “Figure out how you’re going to divide up your people, and talk to every person every month. You’ll know more about your company by talking to them than you will from e-mail or from a suggestion box.“

Hankner says training programs are also key to agent retention. Comey & Shepherd uses the Ninja Selling system with in-house coaches. On Monday mornings, her trainers/managers go over an agenda with specific guidelines for what agents should be doing that week. Every agent who signs a training commitment letter gets a 5 percent bump in their commission structure, she says.

Kevin Levent, president of Better Homes & Gardens Metro Brokers in Atlanta, says the top reason some agents come to their firm is also the biggest factor making others decide to go elsewhere: the company’s mandatory training program. “We were repelling the exact people we didn’t want to attract,” he says. “Culture is the most important thing in your company because it binds human beings.”

Levent says his company’s current agents refer 95 percent of the new salespeople they hire. They’ve built a culture where seasoned salespeople help new agents as mentors.

First impressions do matter, says David Boehmig, president and founder of Atlanta Fine Homes Sotheby’s International Realty. Most of Boehmig’s recruits are experienced agents, and if initial agent interactions don’t mesh with their office culture, they won’t take them on, he says.

Lastly, retention goes hand-in-hand with engagement. O’Conner provides his salespeople with activities where they can connect with their own sphere of influence. Twelve times a year, the brokerage hosts special events where agents can invite their clients, such as a day where home owners can go through comparables themselves and price their own home, an event on improving a home’s value by 35 percent, and social events like a jazz night, wine tasting, and a Colorado Rockies day.

Read more about building a strong brokerage culture in our Broker-to-Broker article, “Create a Winning Brokerage Culture.”

Erica Christoffer

Erica Christoffer is a multimedia journalist and contributing writer and editor for REALTOR® Magazine. She can be reached at

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