Mark Small headshotThe other day I was on the phone with Mark Z. He’s a leader of one of the top producing Keller Williams Realty teams in the country. The Mark Z. Home Selling Team closed over $59 million in sales transactions, just short of 500 deals, last year.

He and his team are on target to eclipse 500 deals in 2015. That means they are closing more than 2 sales every business day this year. With that kind of volume, I was certain Mark Z. must be West Coast, East Coast or Texas based. That’s where most of the hottest housing markets are, right?

But here’s the thing: Mark Z. isn’t an associate broker on either coast, and is based nowhere near Texas. His market is the Detroit metro area – the most maligned city in the U.S. for goodness sake!

I’m especially taken aback because I was born just outside of Detroit and have watched its downfall for decades. For the first year of my life, we lived on Seminole Street off East Jefferson Ave, near the then glamorous Whittier Hotel where my dad and uncle worked. The Whittier was the grand dame of the Motor City. It was where the Beatles spent the night on their Detroit stop during their 1964 U.S. tour.

Mark Z. and his team built a business around an area that’s home to the largest municipal bankruptcy filing in U.S. history, is notorious for its exceptionally high major crime rates, has record unemployment and there are over 70,000 abandon homes in the city.

What’s even more remarkable is the fact that Mark Z. and his team’s numbers are not a fluke. They closed $10 million in sales in 2007; more than doubled that number in 2009 with $22 million; and more than doubled it again in 2012 with over $51 million in closed sales.

When you visit his website —— you may immediately think you know why Mark Z. and his team have been so successful. His site is kickass: A simple killer search at the top, a video with real estate guru Barbara Corcoran “endorsing” Mark Z., a well-written and timely Blog, an “About” section that uses infographics to convey his team’s success using stats and graphs, and of course, his “Guaranteed SOLD or I’ll Buy It” offer.

Interview Mark Z. and you’ll learn he uses the best technology and has a secret sauce (he’s a VoicePad fan). But that’s only half the story.

Yes Mark Z. has an incredible online presence, he lives and dies by “having the best SEO mantra,” but he and his team are committed to something else: The basics.

And that I believe is the true secret of Mark Z. and his home selling team’s success. It really isn’t just about having the “shiniest objects,” because as he reminds me, they are after all just that – shinny objects.

It’s about understanding staying with the basics, and the number one basic is still getting someone on the phone.

But the real estate industry often struggles with this, and personally, I think we are letting technology enable us to not pick up the phone. It’s just so much easier to knock out a quick email or send a short text. After all, isn’t that how people want to be communicated with today?

Some do, but then again, some do not. In fact, if someone is standing in front of your Yard Sign and they call, they actually are calling you because they want to talk to you, and they do not want to end up in your voicemail.

But we forget about how important that phone call is. We will call them back after all. But the fact is, we don’t always call them back. Research tells us how poorly the industry performs when it comes to lead follow up.

The habit to avoid picking up the phone and answer or making that call, I will argue, is a very bad thing: It’s a bad habit for agents because it’s bad for business.

Mark Z. and his team get that fact. They know how important every call is. They understand that there are “different strokes for different folks” as Mark Z. said, noting that everyone has their own method they prefer and he wants to be darn sure that however the customer wants to communicate, they will be able to communicate with him and his team.

He uses technology to allow him and his team to focus on the basics. Mark Z. knows how important every call is and if he can get someone on the phone, more than half the battle has been won because he can begin to build a relationship with someone.

That’s what this business is still about, and it’s the one commonality among top producers I have found to be universally true: They are not just good negotiators and business people, they are not just good at sales and have killer systems, they also know that real estate is all about relationships and the phone call is still at the core of where it still all begins.

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Disclaimer – WAV Group has provided consulting services to VoicePad, and Mike Audet was previously with WAV Group and is now an executive with Real Estate Webmasters, which is responsible for Mark Z’s website.