By Aiman Attar

It might seem confusing that as a recruiter, I would be advising my clients and prospects not to hire an inside sales agent (ISA), when my job is to help brokerages and teams with all their real estate recruitment needs. But that’s exactly what I have been doing in the past few months.

An ISA is supposed to be a licensed, experienced sales representative that sits behind a desk calling prospects and following up on inquiries. However, most real estate teams are employing unlicensed candidates with zero sales or real estate experience, giving them robotic scripts and then having them sit eight hours a day smiling and dialing.

There was a point when I believed that an ISA position could add value to a real estate team but not with the current business models I have seen. I recently interviewed ISAs, top-performing teams and a business coach to see if this position is even worth keeping on an org chart.

To my surprise, I have yet to speak with a real estate team or ISA that has found success in this investment. Most teams that I’ve spoken to had little data collected on whether or not the ISA calls generated any real leads and couldn’t pinpoint if the ISA’s initiatives made a dent on their bottom line. Most ISAs, especially those not on a base salary, quickly realized this model is set up for failure because it takes over six months of consistent calling, door knocking, advertising and brand presence before the leads blossom into measurable sales. No one on a commission-only structure could survive that long without pay.

Here’s the skinny on the ISA formula and why it’s not working.

Most teams are paying approximately $40,000 a year as the base salary, plus bonuses on any booked appointments that turn into sales. That bonus can range anywhere between $500 per sale to 10 per cent of the GCI. There are some teams who pay commission only to their ISAs but no one lasts beyond 90 days without income, so most of these teams have a revolving door for this position with almost no results.

The teams that pay a base salary keep the ISAs marginally happy as they are still earning a pay cheque for the time they invest. The team keeps the illusion of “we have an ISA who generates leads” that helps them in attracting other salespeople to join their team but when it comes down to it, the numbers don’t lie.

An experienced real estate sales agent, who decided to become an ISA who worked at it for six months, said, “This model doesn’t work in Canada. In the U.S.A., yes, but not in Canada. I door knocked the neighbourhoods I was going to call, then when I called them, they would recognize that I was the same person. But despite the established team I represented and despite the constant keep in touch and follow up, and despite all the great interest they showed, we didn’t close any deals in six months.”

Some teams have their ISAs on a smile and dial automated dialer where they are just calling random homeowners to see if they have any interest in buying or selling, based on a database they might have purchased. This is a complete cold call, which most homeowners not only dislike and find intrusive. Very few actually show interest in ever talking to the team lead.

Is there a business model formula that generates real leads and real money from the ISA position?

The ISA is only as good as your database. You can’t expect to purchase 1,000 internet leads, which are extremely cold and vague leads, and have your ISA call 1,000 people with only a 0.2 per cent success rate.  Salespeople thrive on the high of getting a yes!

The other major issue with the ISA position is that it is extremely repetitive and most complain of boredom and frustration, which is why they quit.

Now, I’m not suggesting throwing out the baby with the bath. There is some merit to having a dedicated ISA that handles all sign calls, web inquiries and cold calls. Once upon a time, these were the tasks that the lead Realtor did himself/herself, which later got passed on to the buyer agent and now we have removed it from the outside sales team and given it to an inside rep who’s on salary.

The question remains, how do you generate leads and who should be handling these leads?

I recently spoke with business coach and profit consultant Jennifer Jimbere at Jimbere Coaching and Consulting about the ISA position and she agreed that smiling and dialing, with a six-month lead conversion rate, is not the fastest or most productive way to grow your business. Instead, she recommended that the team have a business support manager.

First, you need to build a market-dominating strategy. Then have a dedicated person on your team who handles inquiries, sends direct messages on LinkedIn, handles follow-up calls and manages your database and new lead generation. Taking a holistic approach of sales and attraction marketing and not from mere cold calling would be a more productive and profitable approach. Simple tips and tricks with how to leverage LinkedIn will have incredible effects on growing your pipeline.

Hiring an “inside sales and marketing coordinator” or a “business support manager” might be the best option. Someone who is great at building relationships and rapport with clients. Someone who understands sales and conversion. Someone with social media savviness so they can engage inquiries online, funnel inquires through the sales process and someone who can creativity create marketing initiatives that generate more leads. This position would have a variety of tasks that not only keep the employee challenged and excited, but it would open up several lead generation tactics (not just cold calling).

Do you think the ISA business model is successful in Canada? If yes, I’d love to hear from you.


  1. You completely misunderstood what Kathleen clearly said, she didn’t say that the ISA’s were converting 60% of the leads, she said, that some of the the top teams have over 60% of their units sold come from an ISA component. Two totally different things. You said yourself that most real estate teams can’t even measure lead conversion properly. Tracking and measuring is absolute key to running a successful real estate business so if these are the same people hiring and training their ISA people, I can see why they don’t get the same results as Kathleen and Shannon do….

  2. Kathleen:

    What are you saying, that solo agents/registrants are not to be dealt with by the consumer? One learns the ropes and requirements for success by being a solo agent/registrant. Most Realtors are solo personalities when it comes right down to wanting to control their own destinies. Yes, assembly-line personalities/Realtors do gravitate toward the team/ISA concept because…for them it is all about the money. Again, we are talking about quantity vs quality.

    Assembly-line sales tactics piss off most consumers. But assembly/line Realtors don’t care about that, so long as they snag enough business to justify their tactics and strategies. Assembly-line teams can sluff off mistakes/negligence etc. to ‘another’ team member not immediately dealing with a customer or client. That is a classic bureaucracy tactic. A solo operator cannot do this. Thus, the solo operator must be more attentive to his/her customer’s/client’s wishes and expectations than a hidden nameless, faceless, team member. A solo operator must be better than the sum of the team members’ talents.

    The vast majority of consumers do not appreciate being targets of cold calling/fishing expeditions or so-called preemptive business strategies/principles when being targeted by sales organizations. People want personal service by dedicated individuals. I realize that you have a vested interest in promoting your business model, but, you are promoting same to another business model only. Realtors ultimately must promote themselves, personally, to individual consumers…one consumer at a time…solo.

    Having said the above, good luck with your business. There is a never-ending supply of Realtors and wannabe Realtors who will always look for the short-cuts toward making big bucks. Some will be smart. and some will be just plain lazy. At least you have figured out how to milk the greed factor that is prevalent amongst many (too many in my less-than-humble opinion) commissioned sales reps. Sock it to ’em, I say.

    • Brian,

      In today’s world I probably never would make it, if I were just starting out. Even back in 1980 I was told repeatedly that I would never make it. Wrong career choice by far. In my unknown factors of most import of course I had no idea of the possible dark side. Good job I didn’t have sense enough to see it, and just did what for me came naturally, oddly enough.

      Like the Toronto newspaper article writer a couple of years back wrote when interviewing managers who had lost top producing agents, wrote that (writing from memory so not exact quote) one manager said about one of my own highly treasured corporate networking contacts in a nearby city area: he wrote – she is tall and statuesque (odd choice of words, and coincidently as I read the article still on line, I couldn’t help but think a male would never be described that way, not unlike in the political realm – no one cares that HE is wearing Versace) well-manicured in a quiet plain way – and then her female manager added, something to this effect: no loss, because she’s not a team player. Office managers often prefer teams?

      Many of us would still today, refer to the sales rep at her new location. She is loyal in the extreme, profusely dedicated to her clients, and fondly remembered as is her deceased twin.

      I just couldn’t believe that article about the loss of office top producers being of no account because of not being “a team player.” What exactly is a team player, by definition, in the real estate business ?

      Real estate is not a sport. The analogies drawn pointing at sports team huddles, is less than appropriate although some have had great success, no denying. Stand-ins for those missing in action for various reasons, but if it takes five (or more) team members and support staff to put together a hundred transactions, do the math.

      The take has to be divided at least five ways. And if discounters are involved, even less pie to be divided After expenses: salaries or commission splits, what is left for the team leader after paying a coach 2500, 5k, or even 10k annually to belong to an elite club. The price of a generous international holiday…

      Not being a team mentality myself, inadvertently I belonged to the greatest club of all: corporate office status top ten, number 22 out of then 9,000 Cdn reps. Jealousy beyond words. (Are there courses to deal with that?) and regional division number one rep. Out of 3000. The greatest experience one could ever ask, with no home branch support and carrying a dedicated 24% market share year after year, that continued when I opened my stand-alone boutique corp, then a new breed model, one of a kind at the time, in 1991.

      The most value to be had from belonging to this elite group might be the opportunity to network up close and personal. But if those groups do not bond (male and female) and share how-to’s or stay in touch regularly to continue brainstorming, that also needs evaluating as to worth/value opportunity.

      My nearly four decades since being licenced taught me that most people don’t understand how vital networking is – a different kind of team-think. Arms’ length. But so valuable. And costs nearly nothing.

      REM is such a free networking opportunity so unclaimed, unused and under-appreciated. When I was operating at full power, I always added my reachable full ID: corp name, location, and how to connect.
      There were those who thought that was showing off. Never the intent.

      But people knew where I did business – as the go to agent. It’s called cross-marketing. Driving business to your website, to your telephone, to your email, even to your office, where if you aren’t careful you will unintentionally supply great leads to your office colleagues. Why are so many on REM secret agents? Such a cost-free missed opportunity.

      Carolyne L ?

    • Brian, to your first paragraph in particular:

      When I look back at a near four decade career, I sometimes can’t help but think about how differently the business functions now, based on comments and articles read on REM in particular.

      Helping the public buy and sell real estate is not rocket science. Selling product is no different in any business, but in real estate it really isn’t about product, or even product knowledge. There’s a reason the courses are designed the way they are. Mainly to instil in the course-taker the basis of the pillars upon which the industry was built initially.

      As such, real estate has nothing to do with sales. There has never been anything in the courses offering how to’s on “how to sell.”

      It’s all about people power. Mostly a house sells itself. The listing agent merely provides information about the property sort of as a lead-in to what a potential buyer might find when he gets there. Ahead of visiting the property, providing the public an opportunity to match up their wish list as a starting point.

      Thus far no agent has been engaged to represent either the buyer or the seller. The public often starts just scrolling through miles of MLS listing material either to check out his own neighbour’s property, maybe thinking of listing, then checking out properties located where one day, likely not today, he might like to live, but isn’t sure he could afford to.

      As the scroller moves forward he comes to thinking more about the financial perspective. He might even set up an appointment with his own banker, who often times will direct him to go find a house he might like and then come back to discuss financing. Why. Because the house also has to quality.

      The banker might even refer the bank customer to a sister-in-law who just got licenced in real estate. Mostly the discussion ends there. There’s no talk at that meeting of pre-qualifying. Bankers don’t think in real estate terms from that perspective it seems. The banker is busy after all. Got to get on to the next customer appointment. There might be a comment such as: if you decide to renovate, give a call. Bank can likely provide a reno-loan.

      Back to scrolling the computer almost like playing a game.

      But in the end, however long it takes to get to the end, a buyer will mostly know from the front door, the minute he enters the given house: this is it. He then just tours the house to validate the decision his brain made immediately back at the front door.

      I couldn’t begin to count how often a buyer shared that story: we just “knew.”

      But how did the buyer choose the agent who would “represent” him or her? Or how does a seller choose with whom to list their prized possession? By discussing with a chance call from an ISA? Or by being referred to “someone who just got licenced in real estate,” as offered by the banker?

      It was recently pointed out here on REM, that people often choose to support a friend or family member who just got licenced/registered. After all, new people need that support, and have to get experience somehow. It brought back a particular memory of how a particular transaction came to be on my books.

      They knew I worked as a sole operator, boutique owner company. And that mostly I carried a heavy listing load. I got a call asking me if I had time to preview a home that had recently been renovated with a rather large add-on, architecturally incorporated into the existing floor plan, and a beautiful inground pool installed, with the purpose of my agreeing to take the listing. They knew how busy I always was, they volunteered, and wanted to know if I could fit them into my day. An odd way of expressing this.

      The owners had decided to enlarge and stay in their current property, but no sooner had they completed their project than the husband, a high-end business executive had been offered a transfer to the outskirts of Chicago.

      They had gone there to check things out and had decided to accept the transfer.

      The add-on was particularly well-thought out as to their own family wants and needs and might not appeal to a multitude of would-be buyers. Plain but clearly well thought out.

      I gladly arranged an interview. And discovered the unique factors relevant to the unusual add-on. It wouldn’t appeal to every buyer, for sure, but was incredibly clean and useful in its new footprint; just different. I had always been engaged with unusual real estate situations and unusual hard to sell properties not by trying (as defined by colleagues, and I was countless numbers of times told I overpriced them).

      We signed all the paperwork, after establishing that I had agreed to list at the high end of reasonable to test the water with them, as regarding price point. They were in a hurry but not in a rush. Within days we had two competing offers in a quiet market. And the listing sold over list price.

      Both offers were for almost the same number. A really difficult choice for the seller who elected to send both offers back for a best-of come back price. You can’t counter-offer both contracts. A sold sign went up immediately, and it was: Chicago, here I come. Closed as agreed with no stumbling blocks.

      Some stories never leave your brain. I know exactly what I was wearing that day. For unrelated reasons. (My near 30 year marriage had just ended and all bank accounts had been emptied. I was about to start life on my own.) A lightweight navy blue Steilmann cloth raincoat that I still wear twenty years later. More because it was cool and windy not raining. It was October 1997.

      But the memory of that day stays for another impactful reason. Nearby maybe only a few houses away there was a house positioned on the corner of a cul de sac that could not miss seeing my for sale (sold) sign 24/7 coming and going. A recently widowed middle-aged woman lived there. I don’t know if she had family and I didn’t know her. It was the seller who told me who lived there.

      But when I was told the name I recognized her husband had been an agent for many years, long before my career began and at one time I had sold one of his listings. The seller continued to tell me that choosing me to help sell their home had been a heart-wrenching decision.

      You see, this woman living in that corner house had been very best friends of the wife-lister woman for many years, the seller shared with me as I packed up my signed listing contract paperwork, heading back to the office to process to MLS; I never held back a listing from the system.

      I’m sure my face spoke volumes. I’d never make a poker player, although I work hard to refrain from showing emotion mostly. I’ve often been told I present as a cold person.

      And the corner house woman had only weeks earlier got her real estate licence and now she was losing her best friend who would never speak to her again. Instead of my initial reaction over being chosen pretty much over the telephone to “come list my house,” now I felt torn, almost guilty.

      Empathy alert. My heart went out to the new agent, hired on by a reputable old brokerage where her husband had worked for years, and I knew the broker (d) and we had a good rapport such that when I sold their brokerage listings the broker personally delivered my commission cheques; likewise it was known in the industry I always did this, myself. A great form of cementing business relationships.

      So when I got back to my office, I called him to describe how I had just been chosen by the seller. But I was of mixed minds about how I had been chosen. He offered to speak to his agent, explaining that I was that particular area go-to agent in that location and explained to her how farming worked and often took precedence in the mind of sellers or even buyers who felt they had to prioritize their own position at the risk of losing a long time friendship under particularly painful circumstances. He would explain that I hadn’t canvassed those sellers in any way shape or manner.

      Having said all this, (just can’t do the in ten words or less thing), the ISA lead generation discussion and other relevant REM comments led me to share this story. People do what they have to do to protect themselves and their turf. But sometimes take risks by supporting a new agent or someone phone canvassing or door knocking.

      Shadowing is a great concept, hardly ever practiced.

      Carolyne L ?

  3. I just read this while attending our Ultimate 100 Deal+ Mastermind with top 1% producers. This rings true of everything we discuss at this event: Model the Best and Forget the Rest. The Top 1% run their business drastically differently.
    Inside Sales, much like Real Estate Team Development, is a niche in which the Top 1 percent thrive. However most do not invest in the foundation, systems, strategy, timing, and training to create the massive success possible with inside sales and team expansion.
    We have specialized with team expansion and Inside Sales with consistant results for over a decade. Some of the top teams in Canada are powered by inside sales for over 60% of their units sold annually. This includes teams selling 400 and 500 homes or more per year.
    Specialties require precision and experts. This is a clear specialty. Between Shannon Smith and myself we have coached into creation and ran the top two Isa departments in Canada, and coached into creation hundreds more. We gage this success on results, and unfortunately there are many “ISA Coaches” who have not delivered results and frustrated many.
    Inside Sales provides a safe guard to a Real Estate Business and value proposition for recruitment that is invaluable to a self sustaining team.
    Inside Sales is not the future of top production I’m Real Estate, it is the now. We will continue to see hyper specialization powering the right people in the right seats to advance client experience. No longer can a solo agent be all things to all people and deliver on the needs, wants, and demands of the modern consumer.
    The more we fight business principles and expansion in our industry, the more we will be left behind.

    Kathleen Black

    • Hi Kathleen,

      We only service the top 1% who are producing $1 million in GCI per year. We service extremely successful teams across Canada and I’ve yet to interview one that is producing 60% of their units sold annually from their ISAs.

      Someone like Jeff Glover (Michigan, USA) is most definitely successful with his ISA model. The ISA is more of a salesperson who handles one aspect of the sales cycle, rather than a telemarketer calling 1000 online leads. Their cut of the deal is far more enticing the the standard $500 a deal or 10% we see here in Canada.

      I’d love to interview some of these successful realtors you speak of — to be blunt, the statistics you are providing are not in line with our hands-on experience with ISAs and Real Estate Teams in the field. In all honestly, most real estate teams can’t even properly measure a lead conversion.

      I’m not against someone who generates leads… but to think that someone can sit 9-5 or more accurately 12-7pm plus 1 day a weekend smiling and dialing hundreds and hundreds of cold, harsh, unwelcoming leads and they can convert 60% of that seems a bit hard to believe. Can you have someone nurture existing client databases? Yes absolutely, but that’s not what we are talking about with ISAs.

      Most ISAs complain of boredom and lack of results from calling unqualified leads. If they are only in it for the steady pay, then they are not the right candidate to hire.

      ISA is a salesperson – they have to be driven by closing deals and the thrill of a YES! It isn’t the $40,000 a year that excites them. It is more about the idea of making $150,000 in commission as an inside sales rep — which most teams are unable to do.

      Let me know if you any of your clients are open for an interview.
      All the best,
      AGENTC Recruitment Bureau Inc.

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