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The Secret to Becoming a Top Listing Agent

Only the mediocre 

Here are some factual statements:

Most people who enter the real estate business are gone in just a few years.  Most real estate agents, who stay in the business, are not very successful.  To be in the top 1% of all agents in the U.S. would require about 50 – 60 sales a year.  Most agents, who are successful, (50 – 60 sales per year) do not really know why they are successful.  They think they know but they are usually wrong.

Only about 25% – 30% of the top 1% of all agents actually know why they are successful and most of those don’t know it very well.  So success can seem mysterious or elusive.  It needn’t be.  If one were to apply the same exactness to the subject of real estate sales that any well trained engineer would apply to his discipline it wouldn’t seem mysterious at all.

But applying that exactness would mean – really – looking, not listening.  Look at what people do.  Look at how they do it.  Exactly.  Look at what results they get from doing it.  It makes little to no difference what they think is causing their stats to rise.  What is causing their stats to rise?  Anyone who says he (or she) knows why they are successful would be able to teach it – and teach it in such a simple manner that the other person could apply what was being taught and get a similar result.  There would be no special cases, no exceptions.  Not if a scientific approach was being used.  Anyone who knew why they were successful would be able to increase their level of success.  If they could not do that one thing then what they are thinking is the "reason" isn’t the real reason for the success they have had.  That last one is so obvious it is usually missed.  Is there really any "highly successful" person who left real estate sales so they could teach it?  Even one?

There are few subjects on earth (possible exceptions are mathematics, physics, chemistry, etc. – and the other so-called "exact sciences" – that don’t just reek with false data.  The subjects of sales and marketing (those are two different subjects, by the way) have so much asinine, stupid and unworkable gibberish being pawned off as "the way to do things" that it is a minor miracle anyone who actually studies either of those subjects ever succeeds at all.  Just as an example, about 20 years ago it was validated that, in some fields, women who were trained by male sales managers did not do nearly as well as women salespeople who had no sales training of any kind.  Amazing.  The "sales training" had an actual negative value.  This is just one example.  So the thing to do is: LOOK, DON’T LISTEN.  I don’t care what someone says they are doing to bring about sales results (and highly successful real estate sales people will sometimes actually invent things to tell others because it "sounds better" than what they are actually doing).

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There was a scale developed many years ago (originator is uncertain) that has been altered (for the worse, in my opinion) from what I learned in 1971.

From the bottom up, the original scale went:

1.  Unconsciously incompetent.  Doesn’t know and doesn’t know he doesn’t know.

2.  Consciously incompetent.  Knows he doesn’t know.  (note that NOT knowing is a step UP!)

3.  Unconsciously competent.  Knows how to do it, but doesn’t really know why it works.

4.  Consciously Competent.  Knows how to do it and knows why it works, so can increase it and validly teach it.

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cat in mirror

The secret to becoming a top listing agent?  First become a really crappy listing agent.  Become a really crappy one, then a bit less crappy, and so on.  That is the actual path.  There is no substitute for "stage time".  None.  Fail.  Fail more and go right on doing it.  Having the right attitude is probably more important than any other factor.  A complete willingness to do whatever is necessary and to have the viewpoint that you are going to persist until you have arrived.  Sort of like it mattered.

Written By

Russell has been an Associate Broker with John Hall & Associates since 1978 and ranks in the top 1% of all agents in the U.S. Most recently The Wall Street Journal recognized the Top 200 Agents in America, awarding Russell # 25 for number of units sold. Russell has been featured in many books such as, "The Billion Dollar Agent" by Steve Kantor and "The Millionaire Real Estate Agent" by Gary Keller and has often been a featured speaker for national conventions and routinely speaks at various state and local association conventions. Visit him also at and



  1. James Malanowski

    May 27, 2009 at 1:22 am

    Damn. 6 years and I’m only on step #2.

  2. Adam

    May 27, 2009 at 3:56 am

    Loved it, short and sweet! Not to mention incredibly blunt!

  3. Ken Brand

    May 27, 2009 at 6:42 am

    Ka-Boom! Exactly. As you’ve shared, so many wander and wonder. Watch, observe, ponder and practice is the E-ticket. Thanks.

  4. Tara Jacobsen

    May 27, 2009 at 7:07 am

    You can so get around the time of bring incompetent by studying your profession, getting a mentor and tracking your business!

  5. Joe Loomer

    May 27, 2009 at 8:02 am

    “Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery”

    Reminds me of the old Sid Ceasar joke:

    Patient: “Doc, it hurts when I go like this”
    Doctor: “Don’t go like that.”

    Navy Chief, Navy Pride

  6. Teri Lussier

    May 27, 2009 at 10:11 am

    >The secret to becoming a top listing agent? First become a really crappy listing agent. Become a really crappy one, then a bit less crappy, and so on. That is the actual path.

    Classic Russell Shaw 😀

  7. Paul Heim

    May 27, 2009 at 11:36 am

    I have only been a Realtor for just over four years. I have however been making a living on pure commision based sales for 22 years. The same principles apply in any type of sales field, the product is just symantics. Your finale was right on target, try, fail, try again, imporve.

    I thought I would add just a few vital lessons I picked up along the way that made me better;

    1) Untill you realize that you are your own corporation, all you will ever do is make other people money (origional thought by Bryan Tracy and added to by self)

    2) When instilling confidence with a client, it isn’t what you dont know that hurts you, but how uncomfortable you are with what you don’t know. Be confident and if you don’t know, say so and be comfortable with that too.

    3) Work harder on yourself as a person than you do on your job (Jim Rohn)

    4) Never take the last dollar off the table in an negotiation or the last piece of chicken from the bucket at a picnic. Makes you look bad.

    5) Make a simple life goal that when you die, there will be nobody happy about it.

    6) Get up everyday and say, ‘what can I do today to promote my business?’ Then do at least one thing.

    7) Enjoy life, family & friends, stay balanced and rooted, and remember ‘Money only makes you more of what you already are’ (Jim Rohn) So try to be a better person every day.

  8. BawldGuy

    May 27, 2009 at 11:58 am

    Every time we talk or I read one of your posts, it’s like Dad didn’t leave us last year. You’re WAY funnier though. 🙂

  9. Benn Rosales

    May 27, 2009 at 12:11 pm


  10. Christine Rich

    May 27, 2009 at 2:42 pm

    Then there is hope for me after all!

  11. Ginny Cain McMurtrie

    May 27, 2009 at 2:55 pm

    Nothing like time in duty to make someone better. Great post Russell!

  12. Paula Henry

    May 27, 2009 at 9:41 pm

    Russell – I love the mirror image – pictures speak volumes! Keep pressing on until the result is more than what you expected, then continue to improve.

  13. Gordon Baker

    July 16, 2009 at 1:19 am

    I listened to a podcast of yours a year ago and was thoroughly impressed. Since then I’ve enjoyed any material of yours that I find. You make it so simple and uncomplicated.

  14. Atlanta Real Estate

    September 30, 2009 at 10:04 pm


    I know I’m way late here but this is a great post. Lots of truth in there.


  15. Jacci

    January 6, 2010 at 12:40 am

    Great post, the part about watching what others do and not listening to them hits right to the most important point.

  16. Trent Timmons

    September 6, 2010 at 12:41 pm

    I’m combining my residential land developmenting skills in the ultra customs estates to becoming a broker associate. This post is the key to success!! go where the least competition lives “Failure” everyone that faces it normally don’t come back! my type of place to be thrive. I’m going to become the next top lising broker “The Future in Real Estate”.

  17. Agent for Movoto

    January 18, 2011 at 11:09 am

    Great article – particularly the idea that lots of people will invent methodologies on the spot in order to sound like they REALLY know what they’re doing, when in fact success is its own method.

  18. Biznesssavvy

    September 11, 2012 at 3:20 pm

    You ended your statement pefectly ” money only makes us more of what we really are”. Being honest with ourselves so that we can truly try to be a better peron. Well  Done, Paul.

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