First Person
Episode
1
22
m

Conversation With Billy Ekofo

Billy Ekofo was born to direct.

And you’ll learn this if you watch a movie in the same room with him.

“I don't watch [movies] like most people do," he told me. "I pay attention to shots. I pay attention to storytelling.”

Before starting his career in real estate, Billy was working on becoming a film director.

If Billy’s life was a screenplay, real estate would make an entrance at a dark time in his story arc.

“I went to business school, and the thought there was that I will get my MBA and go into international development,” he told us. “So we moved to Northern Virginia because that's the bedrock for international development. Because that's really what inspired me.”

Next would be a montage of scenes: Billy would get doors slammed in his face. His phone would show no messages. And he’d gaze pensively out the window at the hustle and bustle of the DC Metro area.

“I spent so long looking for work and nothing was opening up. So almost seven months into that, we were living with our in-laws.”

It was his father-in-law that put Billy on the trajectory with a simple question.

"Why don't you sell real estate?” he asked Billy.  And while the story is far from over, Billy is still happily in real estate.

Today, Billy is with Century21 Redwood, as Director of Leads Management & Industry Relations, after a brief foray with Inman News. And he’s right where he should be. In his role, Billy is often the first person a new prospect speaks to when reaching out to the brokerage. So while “leads” are part of his title, it’s actually Billy’s job to create and nurture relationships.

But how is a relationship founded on a transaction? Spoiler: it’s not.

“Most of the relationships in our industry, you know are literally conditioned by one thing,” he said. “Is this a lead? Will this person close?”

But to Billy, that model is inherently broken.

“We can have all this innovation in the space, but if the core of our relationship is only profit-oriented, then it's not meant to last. I don't go into a relationship because I need to get something out of it.”

That’s the revelation: if you are doing ‘relationships’ with the sole focus on the transaction, you’re doing it wrong.

“I would rather someone be brutally honest with me from the start, than acting like they were really trying to get to know me and in the end feeling like I'm being used.”

For Billy, building relationships is about being your whole self in every interaction.

“Facebook is my social media -- my platform of interest. And I don't post often but when I post it's usually... I want people to be aware of a situation maybe some people don't know about.”

That awareness might be news coming out of Billy’s home country of the Democratic Republic of Congo. Which often generates engaging conversation from people who didn’t know about his heritage, much less the political unrest happening so far across the world.

But so much of sharing your authentic self goes into building that critical element for relationships: trust. And that means clients who trust agents, and agents who trust their brokerage.

So how does Billy establish that trust?

“Let's start with the agent side,” Billy explained. “Every time I met somebody – a prospective client – I wanted them to know that I was in the business, not solely about the profit. That I wanted to use that as a conduit for social good. And the reason why I position it that way, because I wanted them to believe that my interest was not seeing them as a path to a commission.”

But what about recruiting? Agents need to know that the brokerage sees them as valuable beyond their commission-generating ability. And that means that Billy needs to get to them as people.

“I open Facebook, and I would look up an agent and see if we had connections in common. Or like if they were connected to ten or even one person that we shared a connection with.

“You know, to me the best recruits that I think I've brought into the company were ones where they didn't feel like they were being recruited. ”

Billy credits Century21 Redwood Co-Founder and President Eddie Berenbaum for helping him learn to trust his gut and be an effective manager of people. Because not everyone is an ideal fit.

“The greatest gift you can give to someone that's probably underperforming is to help them actually get to where they will perform better somewhere else. If they're not a good fit for your company, don't just say, ‘Well you're not a good fit here.’"

Instead, Billy tries to leverage whatever resources he has to find them the best fit.  And for those agents that do fit, Billy tries to be a guide for agents in any way he can.

Billy works with agents at 21c Redwood to help them build the best version of their careers.

One such agent is Bobbi Desai. She came to Billy with branding issues.

Bobbie is the mother of a child with special needs, but didn’t want that to define her brand. Billy disagreed. It should define her. Because it’s who she is.

"You need to bring that into who you are as an agent," he told her. "Because this is why you do what you do. You care about causes. You give your time, your energy to that, you know? If you had a client that's looking to buy a home, would you do the same thing for them?"

And so now she's Special Agent Bobbi. She is able to use her authentic self as a differentiator, serving families with special needs and giving them the same dedication she gives her child.

Billy never became a movie director. But, like a movie director, Billy sees the world differently than many real estate agents.

Billy has never looked at a person and seen a lead. He's never met someone and seen only the transaction at the end of the conversation. Billy always sees the person. That radical insight, that commitment to the humanity of others, has powered Billy's success in real estate.

I hope you enjoy listening to Billy talk about building powerful relationships as much as I did.

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