Specialize – Day 3 of 30 D2aBB

Why Specializing Matters and How to Choose What Your Specialty Should Be

My mom’s side of the family is from the Chicago area. I love it up there. When I was younger, I would go spend some time in the summers with family.

One particular summer, my great aunt and uncle took me to a very large house in their neighborhood. Whatever size house just popped in your mind when I said ‘very large,’ think bigger than that. It was the largest house I’d ever seen at the time.


The reason for our visit was to see the owner’s garage. He had a four car garage with 8 Ferraris in it. He literally had a lift in each bay with one Ferrari held up over another. The owner walked into the garage from his house wearing a Ferrari racing suit. He was passionate. And incredibly wealthy.

I got to see a 1958 Spider (classic yellow). I sat in one of two F40’s that he had. I remember not being able to move after he strapped in the 5 point harness. I did not get to see his Testarossa as it was in the shop.

This man – this Ferrari enthusiast – was one of the top brain surgeons in the country. He was a specialist. You didn’t go see him if you had a bad case of poison ivy. You didn’t go see him for the flu or a muscle tear. You saw him if you had a problem with your brain.

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Clarity Series: Prospecting – Geography and Specialty

The Clarity Series is a series of posts all on one subject.  This particular subject is prospecting.  While the context is commercial real estate, these steps and principles can be applied to any sales.  To read the introduction of this series, click here.  To read an overview of the entire prospecting system, click here.  Thank you for reading!

photo from iStockPhoto

photo from iStockPhoto

In 2010, I bought the family commercial real estate brokerage business from my dad.  That week, I had 3 closings.  It was great timing.  All of them were Single Tenant Net Lease (STNL) deals.  I experienced in a new way broker’s remorse.

Broker’s remorse is that feeling of exuberance a broker feels once a good size deal closes.  It is followed 5 minutes later by the feeling of, “Oh crap!  What next?”  In commission sales, it is like you are unemployed between closings.  After those deals closed, I looked at my pipeline and panicked.

I had nothing else happening.  I had zero clue when my deal would hit.  I had not been prospecting and I was paying for it.  I also had an epiphany.

The only deals that were getting done were STNL deals.  Until that day, I was a generalist.  On that day, I chose my specialty.  I prospected on 405 Dollar stores in the commonwealth of Kentucky.

Question:  What is your specialty?  (If you paused or couldn’t articulate it in 20 words or less, then you don’t have a specialty.)

Top producers in commercial real estate are specialists.  This is known and proven.  So, when you are crafting a prospecting system, you must start with these two steps:  geography and specialty.


Now remember – when you are prospecting, you are asking for the business.  Your geography is simply the physical area where you will be doing so.  Let me give you some examples:

  • A STNL specialist who prospects nationwide.
  • A multifamily specialist who prospects within a 20 mile radius of a certain city.
  • An industrial specialist who works a specific industrial area within a city.
  • A tenant rep who serves her client wherever they go
  • An advisor who specializes in a certain, defined neighborhood.

In my case, my geography was the commonwealth of Kentucky.  I had to go that wide to have enough inventory of Dollar Stores.  Ideally, you want a minimum of 400 properties to call upon in your chosen geography.


You can be a geographical specialist.  The number one broker of the number one CRE firm (by number of transactions) in New York City is Bob Knakal.  Bob is a geographical specialist.  He can show you on a map which blocks in the city he works.  In fact, his entire office is set up this way.  Each broker has their own territory.  They know everything about every property within that territory.  Or they get to go work somewhere else.

I was in Chicago last week training some brokers in our office there.  It is a top 3 office in our company.  One of their top 3 guys was explaining to me all the success he has had since he specialized.  And his specialty is a specific neighborhood.  He owns property in that neighborhood.  He is a peer with the owners he is calling on.  You can’t go 2 blocks without seeing one of his signs.

More common, however, is a product type specialist.  You can go with the major food groups – multifamily, retail, office, and industrial.  Or, you can go more of the niche route and focus on STNL, medical office, sale-leasebacks, self-storage, and on and on.  I know a great broker who specializes in marines.  Another who does charter schools.

The key to remember is that you know what you are, and you know where you pursue deals.

To make this decision, ask yourself the following 3 questions:

  1. What kind of deals do I like?  Or what kind of properties do I like? – Different product types have certain characteristics that you may or may not like.  For instance, I don’t like industrial properties.  They don’t fit my eye.  I don’t like being in industrial parks.  It would not be a good idea for me to pick this as a specialty.
  2. What are you good at?  Do you have more experience in one product type or another?  You may love multifamily.  You may also hate numbers and underwriting.  If that is the case, you may be more suited for something simple like STNL.  Know what you are good at!
  3. Where is the transactional velocity?  You may love marinas.  You may be great at those kinds of deals.  But if you are intent on working Nebraska…see my point?

If you can find a specialty where the answers to these three questions intersect, then you may have found your sweet spot.  Once you have this, the next step is to gain encyclopedic knowledge of your specialty.  That will be the focus of the next post.

Until then, I challenge you to state your specialty publicly in the comments section.  I will ask you again.  What is your specialty?

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The 3 Questions to Unlock the Power of Focus

My recruiter duped me into being a linguist.  He told me I wasn’t smart enough for that job, and I had to show him.  I hate languages, by the way.

So after boot camp, I arrive at the Defense Language Institute in Monterey, CA.  My commanding officer sits me down and tells me that I have a say in what language I get.  My options are Korean, Russian, Arabic, and Spanish.  He asks me to rate them 1 – 4.  Spanish, Russian, please God not Korean or Arabic.  This was the year 2000.

Next thing I know I’m taking a battery of crazy tests.  These tests evaluated how someone learns – how quickly they pick up on information.  How well they retain it, etc.  This test said that I was best suited for the Arabic and Korean languages.  Figures!

The final factor in what language I received was the “Needs of the Marine Corps.”  Turns out that this was the only one that mattered.  I became an Arabic Linguist.

I have a coaching client in Florida that had a focus problem.  He is very high-profile and as a result, he has many opportunities walk through his office door. BIG deals.  little deals.  Land.  Retail.  Office.  Hotels.  He was running around with no focus having the impact of a shotgun at 300 yards (very little, if you’re wondering).  What follows are the 3 questions I asked him and you should ask yourself.

  1. What do you like?  (Please rank your language choice…) Those of you that don’t have a specialty and a focus will work on anything.  This is where you need to start.  Take out a piece of paper and list the types of deals that you like.  Don’t stop until you have at least three.
  2. What are you good at?  (Please take this battery of tests…)  This is not the same question as #1.  Single Tenant Net Lease deals are hugely different from Multifamily deals.  A Convenient Store deal is way different from selling an Office building.  You need different skill sets.  Which asset verticals fit your skills?
  3. Where is the deal velocity?  (Needs of the Marine Corps)  Here is where you insert reality.  You won’t make your mortgage payments by specializing in marinas in Kansas.  I don’t care if you love marinas and are the world’s most gifted underwriter of marinas.  Where are the deals happening?  This analysis is what shifted my focus to Dollar Stores.  You must find the overlap between what you like, what you are good at, and where is the deal velocity.

My client now has focus.  Instead of being a generalist in his office, he is the now THE guy for his asset vertical.  Not only is this specialty branding him and raising his presence, but he now gets to cast-off onto the other advisors in his office.  Here is his decision grid.  First, he has a minimum commission amount.  If the opportunity does not meet this threshold, he immediately refers the deal to someone else in his office.  He is loved, and he gets paid for saying no.  Second:  is the deal in his primary or secondary specialty?  If no, he refers.  But if yes, he unleashes the power of his new focus on the opportunity.  He is hitting it out of the park!

So what about you?  Do you have a laser beam focus on a specialty?  Top producers do.  “Go and do likewise…”

P.S.  There is a free book (not yours Rod!) I will send to the person who correctly identifies the movie reference of “Go and do likewise…”  Answer in the comments below!

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