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Sell It Like Serhant
How to Sell More, Earn More, and Become the Ultimate Sales Machine
By Ryan Serhant
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I’ve changed some of the names and identifying details throughout this book. I’d also like to add that while I can remember the exact address of every apartment I’ve ever sold and when I sold it, I can’t say that I remember all the conversations I’ve had with people with the same freaky level of accuracy. I’ve attempted to recapture conversations to the extent that my memory allows.
I started my sales career on Monday, September 15, 2008. Do you remember that day? That was also the day Lehman Brothers filed for the largest bankruptcy in history, collapsing the subprime mortgage industry and setting the stage for what we now call the Great Recession. Imagine how hard it was for a new salesperson like me—one who lacked confidence, didn’t own a suit, and had no idea how to go about making a sale—to sell real estate at that time. As you can imagine, I didn’t get off to a great start. In 2009, I made just over $9,000. In 2017, nine years later, I turned 33, and had done 472 deals, equaling nearly one billion dollars in sales. During a global financial crisis, in one of the toughest markets in the country, a salesman was born.
On Million Dollar Listing New York, I am the very confident guy who wears nice suits, traverses the island of Manhattan with a driver, and closes $2–$3 million in sales every day. On my reality show Sell It Like Serhant, I use my sales expertise to transform salespeople who are struggling to sell everything from golf balls to hot tubs into selling machines. But growing up I was the opposite of the guy you see on TV. My family moved a lot. I was overweight, painfully shy, and socially awkward. I tried every sport ever invented and sucked at every one. Put a ball directly in my hand and I’d drop it. Toss me one thousand balls and I’d miss every single one. I had zero confidence and was scared of everything. I was so emotional that I earned the nickname “Cryin’ Ryan.” I felt most comfortable with the theatre kids, where it was okay to wear ridiculous costumes and pretend to be someone you weren’t. I was the kid home alone on Friday nights eating Jell-O pudding and watching Nickelodeon in a ruffled blouse.
I went through an awkward Shakespeare phase as a kid that led to studying theatre in college. After graduation, I moved to New York City to be an actor. Me and about a billion other people!
It was only a few years ago that I was an unemployed thespian struggling to make rent in New York City. My dream of being a famous actor was getting crushed along with my self-worth. I made some money here and there from work as a hand model, but it was never enough to cover even the most basic expenses. My credit card was declined at the grocery store, and I’d hand out flyers on the street to get people to sign up for a local gym in exchange for free workouts. Being broke is an awful position to be in, especially in New York City, and I had to find a way to make money unless I wanted to move back home with my parents. It was my first time living on my own and I wanted to make it work. I could have been the clichéd actor-waiter. But who wants to miss an audition because of a shift at TGI Fridays? Instead, I got my real estate license so I could work whenever I wanted and my schedule would be my own. I would learn how to rent apartments to people, and do a deal or two each month so I could cover my bills.
When I first started, I was a mess. I couldn’t sell a thing. Other brokers I worked with were constantly closing deals, and I used to kill myself wondering, How are they doing this? And how can I do it? I was tireless, I tried different tactics, and, eventually, after years of hard work, I discovered a secret that gave me a huge advantage: I had the most balls in the air. I was never hyper-focused on one ball. I didn’t put all my energy into one sale or one client. I’d go from a closing with one client straight to a showing with another client, and took calls for offers while in the taxi. I didn’t live or die by one deal. I never closed a sale and wondered, “What now?” because the next deal was already happening. My more balls up approach gave me a big edge, and I quickly became a top seller.
Think back to when you were a little kid and the bulk of your day mainly involved playing with toys. You’d be happily building a Lego tower, then think, “I’m over this. I want to play with my racecar set now.” But Mom says you should put one toy away before getting out another. If you don’t do it, she’ll freak out about the big mess you’ve created. You have no discipline! There’s no order! We all know kids don’t want to put away their toys. Why would they do that when they can be completely surrounded by cool, fun things, moving effortlessly from one toy to the next? I will admit to being fairly OCD. I enjoy a clean, neat environment. But the message we are given as children, that one thing must be put perfectly back in order before we even think about touching something else, is bad advice. What’s wrong with playing with all of the toys while keeping them easily accessible? As we get older, this message of “only one thing at a time” has been ingrained in our brains—and we go into the business world thinking the same way. We handle one client before moving on to the next. We close one deal before we focus on another. We treat our clients and deals like objects that need to be carefully tucked away on a shelf before we take on more. My sales theory is not about putting your clients away—it’s about how to keep them out in front of you, accessible, so that you can manage everything appropriately and yield the same great results. That kid who has learned to organize her toys just right, so she can move from one thing to the next with ease? That kid is a great salesperson in the making. She’s got the right mind-set, and I call that mind-set Balls Up.
More balls* up means you’re surrounded by opportunity and you’re taking advantage of those opportunities at the same time—you’re making news contacts, gaining great referrals, and maximizing the hours you’re awake. Despite what we’re taught as kids and in sales, to manage one deal at a time, I discovered that it takes just as much time and energy to manage one deal as it does six. Some balls are quick—and can be dealt with right away. Sometimes if you toss a ball up high, that gives you time to handle a few other balls before it drops back down to you. I learned that it is possible to control their flight path—meaning, it’s possible to manage many balls successfully. So, why grab just one ball when you can handle five or more? Go big.
Anyone can get lucky and accomplish one huge sale. You sold a $30,000 grand piano or a six-figure rug? That’s awesome. But can you do it again tomorrow? What about the day after that? Did you sell anything else? If you want to have a successful sales track record, you must understand that sales is a volume business. It’s that simple. If you want to make it, you have to sell more of your product than anyone else. It’s not about one sale; it’s about every sale you make. Being the ultimate sales machine isn’t as simple as following a bunch of tricks and tips. Anyone can do that. Sometimes to become good salespeople, we must strip apart our old ideas and build ourselves back up into a more productive and more awesome version of who we are. It’s about relearning what it means to be a salesperson. You already have what it takes to succeed, and this book is going to help you be more productive and reach your full potential.
People ask me all the time, “How did you do it? How can I sell as much as you?” This is always crazy for me to hear, because not long ago, I was the one asking these exact same questions. I know what it feels like to be a salesperson who isn’t hitting his mark. In 2009, I wasn’t well connected and I hadn’t sold anything since I was eight years old, when my brother and I would sell firewood to our neighbors. How was I going to build a sales career from scratch? In this book, I’m going to share stories behind some of my craziest deals and show you how I created a sales career from nothing and then kept going. This book isn’t my life story—seriously. I’m only 33. And it’s not a memoir about selling real estate in New York City (snore). In Sell It Like Serhant, I’m sharing all of my trade secrets. What you are reading is essentially my playbook about how to sell absolutely anything at all.
You’ll learn how to structure your day to maximize time and keep balls in the air. I’ll teach you the art of follow-up and share sales techniques that I’ve developed over the course of my career—the strategies that have made my team one of the top sales teams in the entire country. And also, you’ll learn how to enjoy selling. Selling is fun—no matter what you sell. And a lot of stuff is being sold everywhere. EVERY. SINGLE. DAY. You might as well be the one selling too. After all, if kid Ryan who couldn’t walk down the hall at school without being bullied can now sell $60 million every month (actually $101,861,229 last month, but who’s counting?) in one of the most competitive markets in the world, then anyone can. Let’s get you to the next level together. Deal?
Ready, set, GO!
The Birth of a Salesman
New York is actually a fairly easy city to navigate. Most of the streets are laid out in a nice, neat, orderly grid. If I drop off my 92-year-old grandmother from Wisconsin in the middle of Times Square, Nana could find her way around with no problem. Downtown Manhattan, anything below 14th Street, is a totally different story. Sure, the West Village is quaint, with cobblestones, quiet streets, and Federal-style townhouses. But the street layout can make about as much sense as a four-year-old trying to solve algebra problems. It’s weird and confusing. This should explain why one of my first clients, Jessica, was so annoyed with me. Jessica was a twenty-something who responded to my ad on Craigslist. That’s how new brokers like me found clients in 2008. We placed ads, clients called, and we arranged to meet with them. It’s actually very similar to arranging a date with a prostitute.
Jessica had a budget of $2,500 a month. She wanted a two-bedroom she could convert into three bedrooms, so she and her two roommates (who were also both named Jessica, by the way) could fit. I was taking her to an apartment on Morton Street that might be a good fit for her and her mother. Her mother was her guarantor. Meaning, she was responsible for paying the rent if Jessica and the other Jessicas lost their jobs or spent all of their money on designer handbags. Jessica One kept handing me her phone, because her mom, who was in Michigan, insisted I give her a sportscaster’s play-by-play of the apartment search.
We had been wandering around for 20 minutes, which is about a decade in New York City time, where everything must move quickly. I knew we were really close by, but I couldn’t find the right street. You can be lost in the Village even when you know exactly where you are. We were on the corner of Christopher Street and Seventh Avenue, but I didn’t know which way Morton Street was. I couldn’t afford a Palm Treo or a BlackBerry, the smartphones of the day. The iPhone had just made its debut, but most people didn’t have one back then. Every morning I would print out tiny maps and directions for each of my appointments. I’d fold them up in my pocket so I could refer to them if I needed to. Walking with Jessica, I kept trying to sneak a peek at my map, but I couldn’t get a good look without her noticing. I tried to sidetrack her by saying that I was giving her a “quick tour of the area.” I pointed out the apartment where NBC’s sitcom Friends was filmed and told her Morton Street was just a couple of blocks away. Ten minutes later it became clear we had circled the block again when we ended up in front of the same newsstand. Between the Mentos and the extensive Snapple selection were newspaper headlines screaming shock words like “PLUNGE!” “CRISIS!” due to a crashing financial market. I was about to face my own mini-crisis with Jessica.
She had had it. She glared at me, like she was whipping me the finger with her eyes. “Oh my God. What is wrong with you?!” she shouted. “You shouldn’t be allowed to show apartments to humans. Ever.” She stuck out her arm and a taxi screeched to a stop in front of her. She jumped in and sped off, leaving me standing on the street in my cowboy boots feeling pathetic and lame.
What if she was right? I glanced back at the newsstand. The headlines were taunting me. There was a terrible recession. Why was I trying to sell real estate when the economy had fallen to pieces? I was nearly out of money. I felt almost destined to be one of those guys in his parents’ basement playing video games in his underwear and eating Yodels.
Enter Ben Kennedy.
I headed back to the office uptown on 49th and Madison, thinking I couldn’t feel any worse. It turned out I could feel way worse, thanks to my arch nemesis Ben Kennedy. Ben was from the Midwest and barely said a word to anyone around the office, other than the occasional restrained hello. But Ben was a great broker. As I dragged myself back to my desk I could hear Ben closing another deal—probably his tenth rental deal of the day. While he was bringing in piles of signed leases and earning huge commission checks, I was roaming around the city lost. How did he do it? I had a top-notch education, came from a good family, and was a preppy-looking actor with a gleaming smile! What does he have that I don’t? He barely even speaks! My ego couldn’t understand it. How was he constantly closing deals when I couldn’t rent a single convertible three-bedroom walk-up to Jessica-to-the-third-power?
I had reached a low point, and I needed to talk to someone. I decided to call my older brother Jimmy. He was 10 years older than me and had what I deemed a real life. He had a wife and kids, and a solid job in finance. Jimmy has always looked out for me. He helped me move to New York City, he was with me when I opened my first bank account, and he showed me how to get a credit card. Surely he could crack the mystery of why Ben Kennedy was killing it and I was broke. I crawled out onto the fire escape with my flip phone and scrolled down to Jimmy’s office number. Before he could even say hello, I was on a major rant about quitting, sucking, life sucking, Ben Kennedy sucking, and I-work-soooo-hard. I continued with my sob story even with other phones ringing in the background of Jimmy’s office along with the sounds of people doing important things like making money and succeeding at life. My brother was clearly busy, and before I could spit out the words “I’ve had it! I’m quitt…,” he cut me off with:
“Stop being such a little bitch. You’ve been working as a real estate agent for five minutes. Suck it up. If Ben Kennedy can do it, you can too.”
Click. “Hello? Jimmy?”
Oh my God, did he hang up??
Oh. He did.
I crawled back in the window just as Ben Kennedy was getting off the phone. He leaned back in his chair with the most satisfied smile on his face—like he had just rented out an entire apartment building, or maybe the Empire State Building. I walked straight over to Ben Kennedy’s desk. Before I got too nervous, I blurted out, “Hey, Ben, so? Um, how do you rent so many apartments? What do you do? I’m new to this and trying to figure it all out and you’re awesome, so it would be great to get a few tips from the best in the biz! Buddy!”
Ben looked me up and down—taking in my cowboy boots, the khakis, and my belt with the oversized and jarringly shiny buckle (this was my nice outfit, by the way)—and said, “Nah, man. I ain’t tellin’ you shit.” It was the most I ever heard him say.
TURNING POINT, TAKE ONE
There’s no doubt that transforming yourself into a selling machine like the Terminator—but without the violent killings—won’t happen overnight. You will have periods in your career when there are more questions than answers. You won’t know how to close every deal, handle every client’s issue, or have all the answers for your team. But just take a step, even if it’s small, and you’ll be closer to it. Don’t doubt the magnitude that a small action can ultimately have. No one will hand you a secret formula for success. You will realize what the formula is only after you’ve created it.
Ben Kennedy wasn’t telling me shit. Okay, fine. My reaction could have been, “Ben is such a dick. People suck!” I could have decided at that moment to quit real estate. I could have begged my mother to buy me a plane ticket home and left New York City forever. Who needs Manhattan when you could move back home and your parents have all the cable channels and the kitchen is stocked with Oreos and ice cream—my two favorite foods, next to Twizzlers, Lucky Charms, and chicken fettuccini alfredo. But my brother’s insult was running through my head on repeat. Was I really working as hard as I thought? I wouldn’t say a lightbulb went off but there was a mild flicker, and the light was just bright enough for me to see that, hmm, maybe Jimmy was right. Maybe I was a little bitch. I had to stop and think. Is this who I want to be? I share a bathroom with 25 people in my apartment building in Koreatown. At night, I stand on a stage located in a basement with my arms up, repeating the line “tick-tock” for 30 consecutive minutes because I’ve been cast as a clock in a play about Edgar Allan Poe. You know who wasn’t playing a clock in a shitty play? Ben Kennedy, that’s who. Was this my life? And, more importantly, was it the one I wanted?
For the first time, I really started to think about what I wanted my life to look like. Did I want to drive used cars, wear Gap khakis, take an occasional Caribbean cruise, and eat at Outback Steakhouse every Friday? That’s a perfectly nice existence. Gap khakis are comfortable, and who wouldn’t want to end their week with a plate of Kookaburra Wings and a Melbourne Porterhouse? Or did I want something different? Did I want a life that was completely unhindered by anything? Limitless possibilities. Expansion in all ways. That sounded a lot better than my current situation of broke and in tears. I understood that I had a choice to make. Did I want to be moderately successful? Or did I want to be phenomenally successful? Was I going to be a good broker or the best broker?
I looked over at Ben Kennedy. He was on the phone, chuckling merrily with a client. Maybe I did suck as a salesperson, right now. But was there any reason I couldn’t change that?
It didn’t matter what made Ben Kennedy so awesome at his job. I didn’t need to know the secret to his success. Even if he had leaned over and said, “Okay, Serhant. Here’s how I do it: I only eat orange foods and I dance naked under the full moon because I’m also a witch.” How would that have helped me? Ben Kennedy had found the secret to his success. It was time for me to find my own. I didn’t know how to be a great broker (or even one that just wasn’t terrible), but it was time for me to take initiative. I had no idea what my first step would be, but I knew I wanted to take one.
I never planned on being a salesperson. There was no “aha!” moment* for me. The day my brother called me out for my terrible attitude and ridiculous expectation that renting apartments would be as easy as selling Girl Scout cookies was a turning point. It was a small, but significant moment that I could only see in retrospect. My turning point could easily have been missed. It’s not as if I got hit by a bus and thought, “Wow. I’ve come out of this coma against ALL ODDS. I should probably do something amazing with the rest of my life.” Don’t wait for a dramatic moment to make a move, because it might not come—ever. If you’ve been planning to be awesome your entire life, now is the time to put a plan into action. Why wait a second longer? Be awesome NOW.
INITIATIVE IS MY FAVORITE WORD
It was time for me to make a serious change, but I had no idea what my first steps would be. I went to bed a low-paid hand model in the most expensive city in the world, and woke up the next day as a real estate broker. And guess what? Both of those guys were totally broke. I had no salary, no benefits, and no handbook on how to succeed at the job. I did not magically transform overnight into someone with contacts, money, sales skills, or even good shoes. But there was one difference: I was excited about going to the office. Going to the office used to be a drag, like a punishment I had to endure until some famous director agreed with me that I should be the next Brad Pitt. I’d stop in between apartment showings to check my voice mail: “You have zero messages,” and drink a chai latte at Starbucks until it was time to show another. But the day after the Jimmy-calls-Ryan-a-bitch incident, going to the office felt like a positive. The office felt like an anchor. I stood taller and my shoulders felt lighter. I sat at my desk in the little office above Burger Heaven, and I couldn’t imagine how I would get from point A (selling nothing) to point B (selling everything), but I understood that it would take a lot of hard work and initiative. But wait a minute—it turns out that taking initiative was something I definitely understood.
I’d been all about initiative since I arrived in New York City with nothing but a pair of cowboy boots and a bottle of brown hair dye (I started going grey when I was 16). I shared my very first apartment with two roommates from Hamilton College. They were both paralegals, looking to go to law school, who landed jobs with good law firms—the kind that have about fifty names and require insane work hours. I was pursuing my dream of being an actor. I had no boss. I didn’t have the same intense schedule or pressures that my roommates had. But my dad, who has always valued hard work and discipline, reminded me that if I wanted to succeed I should work harder than my pre-law, Advil-popping, overcaffeinated roommates. I should get up before they did, work later, and dedicate myself fully to the art of acting. It was good advice. There are a lot of actors in New York City. I’m guessing the number of wannabe actors in NYC is about equal to the city’s massive rat population. It’s not something you really notice, but if you stop and take a look around you suddenly see they are everywhere. I had to do something. I couldn’t just pop into a bodega for a block of tofu and hope the lady in front of me with the giant bag of cat food was actually a casting director and I’d be discovered for the role of “first guy killed” in Saw XXIII. I had to take initiative to reach that kind of success.
I realized that taking initiative with my acting career led me to some very unexpected places. I got to play an evil biochemist on a soap opera, I got to run over a guy with a car in an indie film, I was in a production of Romeo and Juliet staged along the West Side Highway, and how many people can say they were a hand model? My hands were painted like teapots and dragons to sell phone plans. My hands were all over the world. I was hand famous. Sure, my acting career might not have been the big victory I imagined it would be. It turns out I’m not Brad Pitt. My success as an actor was never even on par with lesser members of the Baldwin or Culkin dynasties. The closest I ever got to feeling like a famous actor was when I told a bouncer at a club I was Dr. Evan Walsh IV from the soap opera As the World Turns. He let me into the VIP room, but I still couldn’t afford the drinks. A few weeks later my character ended up being murdered by his own grandmother anyway.
Sitting at my desk across from the indomitable Ben Kennedy with his stupid haircut, I realized that, sure, our backgrounds were different. We were like kids from the opposite side of the tracks in a John Hughes movie, The Breakfast Club or Pretty in Pink—but maybe what motivated us was actually the same. For each of us, “no deals equaled no paycheck”—and who knows what that meant for Ben? Maybe it meant he’d have no money to pay his bills and could end up homeless or move back to a hometown that only had one traffic light. I had no idea. But, like me, Ben didn’t seem to want to look back—just forward, and that meant we both needed to make sales.
I wanted to stay in New York City, the land where dreams are made amongst the noise and crowds. Moving back to Colorado, where my parents had moved after I went to college, conjured up some frightening images—me working as a ranch hand, painting a never-ending fence. Then I’d marry a winsome cowgirl, have a few kids—buy a tractor, maybe get a dog and a few chickens… and then die. I wanted bigger and better things for myself. I wanted to reach my full potential, and that meant doing whatever it would take to stay in New York City. Maybe I had reached my full potential as an actor, but I certainly hadn’t reached my full potential as a human being. Landing a role on a soap opera after having auditioned for an internet reality show called InTurn, where I fought to actor-death with twelve other costars to be the next soap star on As the World Turns, takes initiative! And couldn’t I use initiative to jump-start my career in sales?
I thought about how I could take initiative to move my career forward every day. I asked more experienced brokers if I could shadow them for a day or run one of their open houses. I put more ads on Craigslist. I worked to be less shy. Soon I started to feel less weird about not going to auditions, and more excited about selling. It was a slow, steady process. There were occasional bumps, big and small, but I kept going. At first, I was fueled by fear and the scary thoughts of returning home to Colorado a failure. As I started making more deals, my motivation began to shift. It morphed from “I hope I do enough rentals this month so that I can pay rent and buy a new shirt,” to “Wow. I just deposited a commission check that will cover my rent for two years. What else am I capable of?” The hardest thing for me to teach my new sales agents at Team Serhant is how powerful taking initiative really is. It might sound crazy, but those moments when you feel stuck? Like you’ll never close a sale or get another client again? Initiative is like a magical cure-all elixir. Pick up the phone and make a call, send an email, follow up with leads. Do something. Taking initiative is like breathing for a salesperson; you cannot survive without it. Take initiative with everything that is put in front of you, and you will experience success every single day.
"Ryan Serhant is the authority on all things selling. If you want to sell more than anyone else, read this now."
—Gary Vaynerchuk, New York Times bestselling author of Crushing It!: How Great Entrepreneurs Build Their Business and Influence ? and How You Can, Too
"Selling-your product, your service, even yourself-has changed more in the past 10 years than in the previous 100. That's why you need this book. Drawing on his incredible success selling real estate in one of the world's most pressure-cooker markets, Ryan Serhant offers smart, practical, modern guidance for getting, keeping, and serving customers and clients. Whatever you do for a living, you'll do it better if you learn to sell like Serhant."
—Daniel Pink, New York Times bestselling author of When and To Sell is Human
"Sell It Like Serhant is the only sales book you'll ever need. Ryan Serhant distills the secrets to achieving long term sales success for making more money and gaining freedom in your life. Ryan's sales methodology and techniques can benefit anyone regardless of industry, profession, and income level. Whether you're just starting out, or looking to up your game, this is the book for you."
—Dan Schawbel, New York Times and Wall Street Journal bestselling author of Promote Yourself and Back to Human
"Whether you're in real estate or an author, you have to know how to sell yourself and your work. Because if you don't, you can't eat. This book from one of America's hardest hustling salesmen is a crash course into becoming great at it."
—Ryan Holiday, bestselling author of The Obstacle Is the Way and Ego Is the Enemy
- "Sales are the foundation of any company, and this must-read book shows you how to master it. Ryan's journey as he sharpened his own sales skills is truly inspiring and something every salesperson or entrepreneur needs to learn from."—Daymond John, star of ABC?s Shark Tank and New York Times bestselling author of Rise and Grind
- "This book isn't just about sales, it's about self-improvement overall. If you're looking to maximize your potential, you should read Ryan's book."—Lewis Howes, New York Times bestselling author of The School of Greatness
- "You want a big life on your own terms, and Sell It Like Serhant provides excellent advice that will help you boost your confidence, expand your network and sell yourself or your ideas to absolutely anyone."—Ann Shoket, former Editor-in-Chief at Seventeen Magazine and author of The Big Life
- "Ryan is not only charming and hilarious, he could sell milk to a cow. This book is going to be very helpful and humorous to a lot of people looking to up their business game."—Andy Cohen, host of Watch What Happens Live... and New York Times bestselling author of Superficial
"Sell It Like Serhant cuts to the heart of what it takes to build a great sales career - passion, curiosity, and being willing to do almost anything."
—Larry King, host of Larry King Now and New York Times bestselling author of My Remarkable Journey
- "Full of smart tricks and tips to make a seller out of you."—PEOPLE.com
- "[A] go-to sales Playbook for effective Sales strategies and processes that actually work in the corporate world."—Medium
- On Sale
- Sep 10, 2019
- Page Count
- 240 pages
- Hachette Books