How To Be The Best

Tom Panos has been working with the top 1% of real estate agents across Australia and New Zealand since 1993. As a leading auctioneer, real estate speaker and founder of the Real Estate Gym, he has helped over 19,000 real estate agents to learn what it takes to grow a 7 figure real estate business. But beyond this, his lessons are applicible for anyone, in any position and in any industry. We talk to him about how to own the day, dealing with death and grief and how to be your own media company.
I know that you don’t have an ideal kind of week that you plan out, but is there a way that you hit the morning? Is there a standard kind of way that you’ll start off each day?

Yes, I wake up around 5am and get a hot coffee at a café as soon as I can. If I’m travelling and if it’s not cold, I’ll do some exercise of some sort.

Yesterday, I was in Bundaberg, a regional part of Australia so I went for a walk by the river. I’ll then sit down and ask myself a simple question: What are the three MITs, most important tasks, that need to be done? Followed by 9 calls before 9 am. I do nine calls because I’ve got a format: three new business calls, three current client calls, and three calls either to family or friends.

Would you describe yourself as naturally a morning person?

I’m not a natural morning person, but I’ve become a natural morning person. I actually thought I was never a morning person, because up until about seven or eight years ago, I was a person that actually liked to wake up at around 8 o’clock. That was because I was going to bed at just after midnight. Now the format is I go to bed at around 9:30-9:45.

Are you able to quantify the difference that it’s made for you having that really disciplined start to the morning and having that early start?

I think if you win the morning, you win the day. In terms of productivity and value, you have more value in the morning than late at night. So what I would do late at night? Staring at a computer screen on stuff along the lines of YouTube. Whereas now, the morning seems to be stuff that is to do with exercise and planning. So it seems the two to three hours I pick up in the morning, are more useful hours than the hours I pick up at night.

Interesting. Every time I listen to you, every time I watch your video, I just get this sense of conviction. This common sense and this energy. Was that always there? Or, like the morning thing, was that something that you really had to work on as well?

Oh, I think I’ve worked on that as well. But I think that only happens when you’re lost, and you don’t know who you are. You actually don’t take a position, you sway more. You’re not sure. You’ve got uncertainty. You get influenced a lot more by others.

But when you actually get self-awareness and know who you are, accept who you are, and you don’t care whether some people may not like you, or like the position that you take, you actually get freedom. Because what you’re basically saying is, this is who I am, this is what I stand for. I might not please everyone but I’m totally okay because at the end of the day, if you’ve got a strategy in life, which is to make everyone happy, you’ve pretty much got a formula for depression because it’s unachievable.

It seems that we are in an age where we have more comfort than ever, we have more access to the luxuries in life than ever, there seems to be something else that is kind of countering this and bringing with it an increase in depression. What do you think is behind this?

Here’s the deal with me and depression. I think there’s two kinds of depression. I think there’s a kind of depression that is chemical-based. And there is no question about it, seeking medical help, like a Psychiatrist or a

Psychologist, who will actually prescribe drugs after drugs which are going to have a medical efficacy is probably people that are in that category, right?

But then you’ve got another subset of people who have got a depression that may not be actually chemical-based. We’re more affluent than ever. We’ve got more luxuries than ever. But if you actually look at the research, it appears that after $80,000, happiness level does not increase, wealth does. So there’s no correlation whatsoever. But it does appear that under $80,000, your happiness level is affected if you are in a financial position where you would struggle to be able to to eat and have adequate shelter where you want to be and to be able to have some basic necessities in life.

But I actually think a lot of depression and sadness and unhappiness at the moment is being caused because of people spending time on social media playing the comparison game and having a look at how perfect someone else’s life is. There’s a term called ‘milkshake dump’. It’s a recent term which basically says that people actually exaggerate how good their life looks on social media. And I think there’s a possibility that people are falling into the trap of making false comparisons with people. So I can see where that’s probably had a contribution to depression in people that don’t have clinical depression.

The nature of social media is just to capture the very best moments and that reminds me of the quote of yours which I saw the other day: “if people could see through each other’s façade and truly feel the s**t that we go through and how we quietly suffer, I think we would treat each other with more love, compassion and care.” At the same time, do you notice that there’s some sort of evolution in the way that we’re treating each other?

I made that comment at that time specifically because the last five weeks I actually had taken a bit of time off work because my younger brother passed away. I moved into hospital in a palliative care unit and what I saw was the way that the employees at the unit treated people. It was just raw and so in my face that I thought to myself, ‘Hey, there’s a lot of people that might not have cancer, but there’s a lot of people that are actually having a lot of problems inside’. With the same approach that the palliative care people were talking to people with cancer, everyone would operate a lot better.

Are people being evolved towards that? Not necessarily. I think that for everyone in life, at some point, something happens to them that they’ll never see life in the same way again. It could be the death of someone, it could be a bad diagnosis, it could be relationship breakdown. And they’re never the same person again. Usually people like that have transformation. A lot of people turn around and say a lot of the times, a breakdown is what gives human beings a real breakthrough in life.

I’ve experienced palliative care, and it cuts out everything else. It changes a lot of things. It’s probably really raw for you at the moment, but has it shifted anything for you?

Yes, it has. There’s a great saying: some of the best gifts in life come badly wrapped. And what happened is over the last, six months, eight months when my brother got diagnosed, we began to realise ‘hey, this thing’s going to come to an end’. So all of a sudden I’m starting to spend more time and energy with my Mum and Dad. That’s the first thing.

The second thing is I’m making a bit of a shift in my own head. I want to take back some of my time. And so I’ve said no to a number of projects and jobs and things that are probably going to cost me per levels of money. But I’m not about to go sit in a Monastery or a temple and not work. But all I’m saying is that all of a sudden, time as a commodity has increased its value. So that’s one of the things that’s probably changed. You’ll find that I’ll get more time to myself.

Recently, you spoke about the relationship that agents have with the vendor and understanding that it is potentially a really big moment for them, for a number of reasons and highlighting the importance of empathy. Is there a shift in sales towards empathy?

I’ve noticed that successful sales people are coming to an understanding that the bullet points can actually be Googled. Consumers now have actually got access to information and they’re very socially media savvy and they do have the knowledge. So when a successful sales person comes along, they’re actually no longer coming up to become the provider of the information, because that information is provided online. A good sales person truly understands the problem a person has and then actually helps solve that problem in a way that a consumer might not be able to do themselves, being on Google.

What I think really clever people are doing is that they’re realising that the currency is becoming trust and the speed of trust is critical. I’ve noticed that – and this is generalising – it’s not 100%, but I’ve noticed that good girls and good guys can also be the very successful ones now. Whereas previously, I would have said most of the good people in real estate were probably people that had a tendency to exaggerate things.

That’s surely got to be a sign for the better?

Yeah, absolutely it’s a sign for the better because people are sick and tired of commission focus. Commission has been the underlying reason why people don’t like sales people. You’re going to say things that really suit you and the company and don’t suit me as a consumer. And now what’s actually happening is people are sort of saying ‘Hey, I get this person, they get my problem. I trust them. I like them. They’re useful, they’re prepared to have a long-term relationship with them. And you know what? Even if I don’t get business with them now, I’ll do business with them at some later time because when there’s trust in the relationship, things become negotiable.’

I’ve noticed within publishing even, that people sometimes come through who are obviously in a sales role, but they don’t want to call themselves a sales person. They come up with some nonsense like Marketing Campaign Expert, or whatever. So there’s still that perception around sales as being a dirty word. Do you see that within the young people coming through as well?

Yeah I do see it. I also spend a lot of my time working in the world of publishing and I do a lot of work for News Corporation and I know there’s a lot of people who’ll actually call themselves every possible word that doesn’t include the word sales. Traditionally, it was the term Business Development Managers or Marketing Specialists; you could come up with a number of words. But the reality is that we shouldn’t be ashamed of what you’re really doing and trying to use artificial words.

I don’t think that’s a big issue because I think at the end of the day, what really matters is that you’re sitting in front of a client. You may have the term Campaign Specialist, but what you need to understand – whether it’s a Campaign Specialist or whether you’re a Sales Executive or whether you’re a Business Development Manager – the client doesn’t care about your title. They care about themselves. And what they care about, is ‘do I feel like you can help me solve my problem?’

Was there a reason why you focused in on real estate? What was it about real estate that really attracted you?

The only reason it was real estate was I owned a real estate office at age 22. My life has always been aligned towards the real estate category. Even when I’ve worked in non-real estate, in media for instance, I looked after real estate in the media category. And that’s the main reason. But today, training, speaking, and coaching is split mainly in real estate. A very large amount is now in financial services, media, automotive, and a little bit pharmaceutical. So I think that it’s very transferrable.

Does it just come down to the same basics across everything? Are you really changing your technique from one industry to another?

Let’s talk about automotive for a moment. With cars, someone actually does go into a car yard, right? You’ve got a transaction where the person goes up to the car yard and then the sales person services that person. Whereas in real estate, you not only have to actually service that person, you have to actually go find that person in the first place. So there are some industries where you really have to actually go out and do what I call a lot of prospecting to actually find people, because they’re the people that are coming to you.

Whether it’s people coming to a car yard or coming to a house, the digital side of things is really becoming a part of everything. You’re a master of that in terms of your own business side of things. But has that made it easier or harder for sales people today?

I think it’s made it easier. I think that right now, everyone could become immediate company and everyone has the power to build their personal brand in a fraction of the time of what it used to. Everyone has the ability to be either a content curator or contact creator. You get an audience, you’ve got a platform, you pretty much created your own TV station – you have the ability to do that. That wasn’t possible a decade, two decades, three decades ago.

However, what I have noticed is people that have been brought up in this very digital environment, have potentially become a little bit too high tech and low touch. So I think what you really need, that’s going to sort of be in that top 1%, is high tech, high touch. Use technology, build your brand. Use technology to be more efficient. Use technology to reach.

But at the same time, realise that nothing good happens without a conversation. For example, think about how you’ve reached out to me on LinkedIn, but the reality is that none of this would have happened without us talking and having a conversation. So basically, you need those. And I think there’s a lot of people that are just becoming too bored worriers and then not combining offline and online.

You were talking before about how easy it is for anyone to become a media company. You were talking about something similar on one of your Sunday Rants where there is this proliferation of these business gurus. You see it all the time with YouTube pre-rolls and all that sort of stuff. Is there a point where there’s just too much noise though? How do the good people cut through?

I think the question is, not the frequency of the content, the issue is the quality of the content. So if you said to me, what’s better? To produce one day of quality content, or seven days of average content? I would pick one day of quality content because unless it’s good, it’s boring. If it’s boring, it gets no eyeballs. But if you were to ask me, is it better to do seven days of quality content, versus one day of quality content? I’d say keep the seven days.

So, the issue is you’ve got to stand out to win out. And what you need to be doing is ensuring that you’re that sort of like the book The Purple Cow. You’ve got to be able – with so many posts, with so many tweets, with so many stories, with so many emails, with so many pegs – you’ve got to be able to have content that’s actually got lots of style and substance.
And I’ll work really hard on substance, because I know that at the end of the day, if people start seeing that I have a few of my posts, or a bit of my content, or Sunday Night Rants, drop at a level where they think, ‘Oh, there’s nothing new. It’s all the same,’ what actually happens is you lose people. So I say work really hard to create quality content. And go deep, rather than going wide. Become myopic and find the group of people. Get a tribe that gets your vibe and accept that everyone doesn’t have to be in the group.

I don’t have a monopoly on the truth, we’re all learning as we’re going along. I’m finding that my strategy works for me personally, but it most importantly it also works for me commercially. Because I use social media more as a platform for my business.

In terms of the business side of things, to borrow from one of your pieces of substance where you spoke about the four quotes that have helped changed your life, what is your main thing at the moment? What is the note on that three by five card that you’ve got in front of your face?

Ultimately, the thing that drives me is reduced suffering. And the way it’s worked out for me is, predominantly, commercially, it is in the real estate industry with my online coaching business and it’s really simple. How do you reduce suffering for people? You produce good quality real estate agents that provide quality service to vulnerable people. And vulnerable people are normally buyers and sellers in real estate going through stress. So how do you reduce suffering for them? Also to real estate agents.

I can’t get over the amount of people that have had very challenging backgrounds, having had great educations and I’ve been able to work with them through my real estate gym. They’ve been able to be successful, make money and have a better life. And that’s been about reducing the suffering that they have.

I know that there’s a lot of people listening to the Sunday Rants that are not real estate people. They’re people, they’re in various industries, a lot of them aren’t in sales. I get real value out of knowing that maybe what I’m doing is reducing suffering for a subset of people.

We play your videos to the team here, sales and editorial. It helps put things into perspective and a lot of it is sometimes just that boost of energy that sometimes the sales people need after a whole lot of no’s.

Sales peoples are particularly aligned to a lot of stuff that I say because they go from the heights of exhilaration to the depths of depression in 24 hours.

And that’s the nature of their work.

What are you reading at the moment?

It is sales, Sales EQ by Jeb Blount, Rising Strong by Brené Brown and the other one is The Three Questions, By Don Ruiz. I’m 50% reader, 50% listener. I’m not great at both, but I’m a little bit of both. Particularly with a lot of the flying I do, I listen to audio books.

You’ve given so much advice to other people, is there one piece of advice that you’ve been given that you still hold onto today?

‘You’re gonna die.’ That came from someone in the medical profession when I got diagnosed many, many years ago with cancer. I’ve had cancer three times myself so that there is pretty transformational. It is the acceptance that there’s not an endless number of tomorrows, that time is a very precious commodity. That the mortality rate for playing it safe or risky, is exactly the same – 100%. So you might as well play big. That is probably the one sentence that has impacted the direction of my life.

That’s not exclusive to me. It was said to me at a young age because of illness. The truth is, you could say that to every human being – you’re going to die. Wake up from your coma. I think a lot of people are in a coma. They think they’re alive, but they died at age 30. Their plans and aspirations to do big stuff didn’t come out. They looked at their friends, their friends settled down, they settled down. Kids, mortgage, and then they sold out. They become comatosed watching TV, pressing the repeat button, going into a pin-striped prison every day, then escaping on Saturday and Sunday – temporarily relief. They lived that life till the age of 60-65, 70. That is not an exaggeration, that actually is a large group of people.

A lot of people just say ‘things aren’t great, but I’ll just put up with it’. And before you know it, you’re actually living a very mediocre life that was not the plan at age 12, 13.

Do you think about it? Is legacy a big thing for you?

It wasn’t, but it’s becoming more and more. And the reason I say it, is that I’m 51 now, I’m in the afternoon of my life. Even if I was going to live to 80-85, I’m already heading home to where I come from. I’m lucky enough now that fame is not an issue, so I’mgonna run out of time before I run out of money. So all of a sudden you think to yourself, ‘what’s the point of the afternoon of my life?’ And then you begin to think to yourself, ‘well what it is to impact people and the world for the presence that we had’.

Whether it’s 50 years or 60 years, or 80 years, what you did mattered. It wasn’t, but all of a sudden, because I’ve accepted mortality’s coming and I don’t know when that’s gonna happen, it is. My preference is that it doesn’t happen in my fifties, I’d rather it happen in my seventies, or my eighties. I actually think that your fifties and sixties are still times that your body is able to do incredible stuff. I’m religious and spiritual and my belief is that it doesn’t end when the heartbeat goes.

I was born on the 10th June, 1967 and I don’t know what day I’m going to depart. I don’t know how I’m going to depart and why I’m going to depart, but I do want to know that people have been impacted and that I’ve been able to help less suffering occur. That’s my thing, to have done things in life that reduce the suffering.

Ultimately, I believe that life is suffering. I believe that people are going to bury their loved ones. I believe that people are going to go through pain. I believe that people must factor that life is not supposed to be easy and it’s going to be painful and that you can actually just make it a little bit better for the person beside you, in your sphere of influence.

People underestimate the impact that they can have, particularly this new world of social media. Everyone’s got 100 people, right? You can affect 100 people who go onto affect another 100 people. And then they affect 100 people and all of a sudden there’s this ecosystem. So I just think to myself if everyone thought ‘how will I actually make the people around me reduce their suffering and have a better life?’, the world would be better than what it is.