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Jerry Maguire Was Right

Two business owners decided to stop seeking wealth for its own sake and start putting their clients first. Here's what happened.
Jerry Maguire
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This is a Jerry Maguire story, of a sort. Just like Tom Cruise's character in the movie, Joseph and JoAnn Callaway had a revelation one night.

After finding themselves 50 years old, broke, and embarking on new careers as fledgling realtors, the married couple realized the deal they were trying to put together wasn't in the best interests of two clients. One family was on a path to buy a house it really couldn't afford from another that was settling for less than it could get for the property.

"When we started off, everything was about us and what we needed," Joseph says.

But that fateful night the Callaways told both families the truth, promised to find them what they needed and hoped the clients would stick around, which they did.

"That next morning it became all about what the client needed," he says.

For the Callaways, this line in the sand changed everything. In the first six months in the real estate business, the couple pulled in $200,000 in commissions.

"In our second year we doubled our income and in year three we hit $1 million in commissions. That's when people started telling us we were doing well... In 2005, we did almost $6 million in gross commission income," reads an excerpt from their book, The Two Word Miracle: Clients First.

The Callaways say three things have been key to their success.

Honesty

Everybody knows honesty is the best policy, right? But think about the times and situations when telling a little white lie or a harmless omission of information seems prudent, especially if doing so might make a customer feel better or if it will make you look better in their eyes.

Big mistake.

If you buy the idea that putting clients first works, then you have to be thoroughly honest with them because doing so is part of your value to them.

Competence

Sure, being forthright with customers will foster trust, but if you suck at your work you'll obviously never succeed. And not only do you need to be competent, you need to be the best at what you do.

The problem, they point out, is any time you're trying to serve more than one person (and unlike Jerry Maguire, most companies can't thrive with only one customer), the level of attention you can give individual clients diminishes simply because there's only so much of you to go around.

The solution? Get help and make sure anyone working for you buys into the "Clients First" mentality. Then give them the autonomy to become experts at something.

"Today we have 30 licensed assistants on our team... Our clients are better served than they would be if JoAnn and I had only one client. The reason they are better served is because the aggregate experience and expertise of 30 agents far exceeds anything we could supply alone," the book reads.

Caring

Before you roll your eyes, think of it as adopting the goals of your clients as your own.

"When you put clients first, it can't be about your money, it has to be about their money," the book reads. In fact, Mr. Callaway says after he and his wife started living out the "Clients First" mentality they:

"...never again thought about the commission. We never again begrudged the hours of futility when a home didn't sell for what the sellers wanted or when buyers couldn't find what they had to have. We never again brooded over the expenses on an individual property. We simply knew that as long as we kept the client nothing else mattered. As long as the client's needs came first, we would be rewarded in the satisfaction that we were doing the right thing."

While such thinking might seem counterintuitive and maybe even phony, the Callaways do a number of things that show they really do run their business differently than most.

They don't use voicemail, for one thing. Every phone call into their office is answered by a human being who takes a message, all of which are returned same day.

And Mr. Callaway tells a story in the book about how instead of their usual tack of sending clients Christmas ornaments one year, they donated $70,000 to Habitat for Humanity.

"We never played on that single act of charity. But then one day we learned that one of the officers at a bank for which we sold foreclosed homes was very active with Habitat for Humanity. He told us he remembered what we did and that it was one of the reasons the bank went with us and stayed with us. This bank is local, and it ended up giving us all the business it had, which was enough to make the difference between our making it and not making it through our darkest market times."

At the end of the day the Callaways believe the more you give, the more you get. Sounds like a team you might want to hire, right?

Want people to feel that way about you? Remember the Callaway mantra: Clients first, with a dedication to honesty, competence, and caring.

Last updated: Feb 12, 2013

CHRISTINA DESMARAIS

Christina DesMarais is an Inc.com contributor who writes about the tech start-up community, covering innovative ideas, news, and trends. On Google+, add her to one of your circles. Have a tip? Email her at christinadesmarais (at) live (dot) com.




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