How to create an A-grade team: Sam Rigopoulos

Cold selling and team leadership can be two of the most daunting aspects of real estate. Here, Sam Rigopoulos tells Kylie Dulhunty how he conquered both and what strategies he uses to build an A-grade team with the same level of focus and determination.

Many new real estate agents find door-knocking a daunting prospect – but not Sam Rigopoulos.

When the Jellis Craig Inner North Group director joined the industry 16 years ago as a fresh-faced 22-year-old, he already had plenty of experience with “cold selling”.

In the beginning

As a vacuum cleaner salesman, Sam was used to knocking on doors and asking residents to buy something they didn’t know they needed.

“I was in university, and I needed a job to tide me over,” Sam explains.

“I responded to a sales ad even though I didn’t really know what it was for.

“It turned out it was for an over-the-top vacuum cleaner worth $4000. I had to go door-to-door and offer a demonstration in people’s houses and try to sell it to them – cold selling.”

As it turned out, Sam had a knack for it and quickly racked up sales before deciding to quit university and sell something “more serious”.

“At the time, that was car sales or real estate, and I chose real estate,” he recalls.

Sam says his experience selling vacuums stood him in good stead for selling properties.

“I didn’t have an issue with confidence when I started in real estate,” he says.

“Not in a cocky way, but in the sense that I’d handled objections before and the world of scripts and dialogues wasn’t foreign to me.”

A traditional start to real estate

Sam says his start in real estate at Hocking Stuart in Carlton was “traditional”, noting that he was given a phone, a business card and a desk, and then it was time to sink or swim.

Never one to shy away from a challenge, he set his sights on selling a tiny terrace house other agents at the office had put in the too hard basket.

Located in an industrial part of West Melbourne, Sam saw the property as an opportunity to impress and figured he “had nothing to lose”.

“Sometimes, when you know how hard something is or you’ve experienced the challenges of a particular sale, you can talk yourself into the problem and stop looking for a solution,” he says.

“I had a lot of naivety around selling in that industrial part of West Melbourne, so it was just about working through enough calls to find someone that would consider that space and then present an offer to the vendor.

“Now, when I’m talking to my team, I encourage them to try and come at things with fresh eyes and ask them what they’d do if it were day one as that can help you see the solution.”

A dynamic combination

Sam worked his way up the real estate ladder until he owned the agency and then in 2016 he transitioned to the Jellis Craig brand.

“The opportunity came up to merge with a couple of Jellis Craig offices that existed in our patch,” he says.

“Those offices had great branding, great presence and great leadership but not great depth in terms of team numbers.

“But we had that, so we merged the two forces and we’ve leapt ahead from being the third agency in our marketplace to very clearly being at number one in terms of market share and volume. It’s been a great ride.”

Today, the Jellis Craig Inner North Group comprises three Melbourne offices in Northcote, Brunswick and Fitzroy, and has a team of more than 100.

Sam says a key focus for the group is ensuring they present every home they list at its very best.

They pride themselves on crisp, clean marketing that makes the best use of expert photography, videography and social media marketing.

“Everything we do is always tied back into delivering the best outcomes for vendors, obviously, but it’s also about how we’re getting there, how we’re getting people to the door, how we’re getting interaction with the market and how our team is engaging with people when they are there,” Sam explains.

“We look at all of those things consistently.”

Last financial year, Sam and his team of three sold 168 properties, which he notes was no easy feat given about 180 days was spent in lockdown.

High work ethic

He firmly believes the key to that success was his team structure and the astounding work ethic of each member.

“I have people who specialise in particular segments of the practice of real estate, from buyer management to administration and marketing,” Sam says.

“We’re able to offer that team service to clients, and when you do that with a relentless work ethic, you can achieve great results.

“Our clients know it means as much to us as it does to them to get a great result.”

If generating great sales is the result of a great team, then creating a great team is the result of hiring great team members.

Sam says to employ the right team member you need to find someone whose attitude and skill set is suited to the role.

“In the past where we’ve made mistakes is employing people I like over people whose personalities were better suited to the role,” he says.

“We’ve sometimes hired people we have gotten along with better in the interview rather than those that have been better skilled for the job.

“To get around that and to help us make the right decisions, we’ve started to engage with a company called Agent Dynamics.

“They do personality profiling and testing on our candidates to help us find the best people for the role based on skill set and personality type.”

Vital values

Sam says it’s also vital that new hires have the same values as the rest of the team, especially when it comes to work ethic.

“What I’ve learnt is that nobody wants a B-Grade effort in an A-Grade team,” he says.

“Even if that person is not an A-Grade player yet, as long as they put in an A-Grade effort, then that’s the thing that makes a great team and a great culture.”

Sam’s advice for agents just starting in the industry is equally clear-cut.

He says great results don’t happen overnight, and you need to continually have “blind faith” that putting in the effort, making the calls and doing the one-percenters will reap rewards “at the right time”.

“You need to be committed,” Sam says.

“You’re not going to get to be the best in the office, in the market, in the state or the country unless you’re prepared to throw more at it than everyone else.”

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Kylie Dulhunty

Kylie Dulhunty is the Deputy Editor at Elite Agent.