December 3, 2017

JF1188: Taking A More Human Approach To Sales #SkillSetSunday with Michael Maher

Michael has a different way for us to be able to attract sales leads. He never asks for referrals, but he generates over 500 referrals per year. Michael attracts his referrals through love, generosity, and appreciation. He actually wrote the outline for his bestselling book and system in intensive care directly after he flat-lined for 37 seconds. If you enjoyed today’s episode remember to subscribe in iTunes and leave us a review!


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Michael Maher Background:

  • Leader of The Maher Team with Keller Williams
  • the story of The Generosity Generation
  • December 18, 2007, he flatlined for 37 seconds due to blood clots, he survived to tell his story, The Generosity Generation
  • Based in Atlanta, Georgia
  • Say hi to him at:


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Joe Fairless: Best Ever listeners, welcome to the best real estate investing advice ever show. I’m Joe Fairless, and this is the world’s longest-running daily real estate investing podcast. We only talk about the best advice ever, we don’t get into any of that fluffy stuff.

I hope you’re having a best ever weekend, first and foremost, and happy Sunday. Because it’s Sunday, we’ve got a special segment for you called Skillset Sunday; you know what this is – this is an episode where we dive deep into a particular skillset so that we as real estate investors and entrepreneurs can get better at what we’re doing.

With us today, we have a guest who is going to talk about the generosity generation, which is the human approach to sales. How are you doing, Michael Maher?

Michael Maher: Joe, I’m doing fantastic. I appreciate you having me on, and kudos on the success of your show. This is fantastic.

Joe Fairless: My pleasure, and thanks a lot for the props. A little bit about Michael… On 18th December 2007 he flatlined for 37 seconds due to blood clots and survived to tell a story. Now he has come up with the Generosity Generation – it’s a human approach, as he mentioned, to sales. It’s not about asking for referrals or doing the tactical things that we might think about, but rather it’s using certain things and attracting the sales lead. I’ll let him talk more about that…

With that being said, Michael, do you wanna give the Best Ever listeners a little bit more about your background and your current focus?

Michael Maher: Yeah, thank you. What a lot of people don’t know about me and my background is that I got into real estate and very quickly had success. I went from 7.1 million in sales, to 19.1, to 40.1 million in sales with 186 transactions, in Kansas City, as a real estate agent and broker. The years following that, I was doing between 180 and 255 transactions, and I was doing it all through referrals. The typical real estate agent gets between five and six referrals a year, and we generated – or I personally generated – over 500 a year and over 600 a couple of years, netting over a million dollars in six of those years, and over two million… Netting – not gross, but netting – over two million in two of those years.

So what happened is everybody started contacting me about “Holy cow, what are you doing? What’s your system?” and then they were finding out that I never asked for a referral; what I did was I just attracted referrals and earned referrals through the law of generosity and appreciation.

So I flatlined, as you said earlier, for 37 seconds, I came too and just really realized that my system about died with me… So at night, in intensive care, I wrote the outline for the book that became The Seven Levels Of Communication, with the subtitle of Go From Relationships To Referrals. That became an instant best-seller and has now been a number one best seller in the real estate sales category for almost seven years… And of course, that’s blossomed into speaking, coaching, training, and helping others live a lifestyle that this type of sales allows you to live.

Joe Fairless: So let’s talk about this… Obviously, we need to – what is wrong with the traditional sales approach that people take, and then how is yours different?

Michael Maher: Have you ever been chased by a stranger?

Joe Fairless: Yeah.

Michael Maher: So what are your two reactions when you’re chased?

Joe Fairless: I’m annoyed… When you say chased, is someone literally running after me?

Michael Maher: Literally, yeah.

Joe Fairless: No, I don’t think a stranger has run after me, unless we’re playing a sport.

Michael Maher: So what’s your favorite football team, or baseball team? Major league, or I don’t know.

Joe Fairless: We’ll go with Detroit Lions.

Michael Maher: Okay… So great example, by the way. You’re at a Detroit Lions game, and Barry Sanders comes out of retirement, and you win your first play-off game. You guys are all excited and you decide to stay out afterwards and have drinks there at the stadium. This is the Pontiac Silverdome, is that correct? Is that still the…?

Joe Fairless: I think that now is the shell of a wildlife preserve or something, unintentionally, but yes, you can keep going with your point.

Michael Maher: [laughs] Yeah, so after the game, your friends kind of go one way, you go the other way to find your car in the parking lot – which, it happens to be easy to find, because it’s the only car left in the parking lot… But the lights are out in the parking lot and you start walking towards your car, and out of the corner of your eye, behind you, you see a shadowing figure coming out of the darkness and coming directly towards you. What are your two basic instinct reactions to that?

Joe Fairless: Oh, protect and figure out what’s going on…

Michael Maher: That’s right. So isn’t it interesting that we don’t instantly think “Woohoo, another Detroit Lions fan! Let’s go give him a high five!”, right? So instinctively we have the fight or flight response… We’re either gonna turn, face him and take it on, or we’re going to flee, we’re going to run. Well, it’s just like in the sales world. So much of what is taught out there is to approach strangers, chase strangers. So when we go at them, they instantly have these reactions – they’re either gonna fight or flight, and this is what happens… [unintelligible [00:06:22].22] and that does happen. Sometimes we’re calling, or we’re going through the doors, we’re meeting people, and all of a sudden they say “Yeah, I’ll work with you”, and there’s this little voice in your head that goes “Oh no, that was too easy”, or “What’s gonna happen here?” And of course, what happens is you didn’t even know you were getting in a fight; that person was looking for a fight, and now you’re in a battle.

This has happened probably with some of your investors with fires that have come along and said “Yeah, I’ll do it”, and you’re like “Oh, crap! That’s too easy” or different people during the transaction… But bottom line is some people are just looking for a fight; luckily, it’s less than 3% of the population. But when two people are fighting, we call it a battle. Well, how do both parties feel at the end of a battle?

Joe Fairless: Exhausted, probably…

Michael Maher: Yeah, exhausted, frustrated, and just not very happy. And the thing is, how likely is an exhausted client to refer you? The truth is they’re not going to refer you, and quite honestly, we don’t want the Fight Club community as clients. So we’re not gonna worry about that side.

And then there’s the other part – we’re taught to follow up, and likely this is 97%+ of the population. We call them, or we door knock them, or we chase them, and what do they do? They flee. Then we finally get them on the phone again and we talk to them, but the problem is most salespeople overpromise. They say “Well, no, we can sell this in three days. Our return will be 25%”, or whatever it may be, but they say “No”, and they flee some more. What are we taught to do? We’re taught to “follow through/follow up/nurture/chase”, essentially. Then what happens is we’re finally getting cornered. We overcome all their objections, we promise the moon, and they finally submit and just say “Okay, I guess I’ll do the deal” or “Okay, I’ll become your client.” But the problem is they’re passive-aggressive.

So the bottom line is the entire time we’re trying to work with them, they’re looking to get out, and the truth is we gave them the way out by our over-promising. The only way for us to deliver is to under-deliver, because we over-promised to get them as a client. So we under-deliver, and here’s the thing – a client that we under-deliver to, how do they feel? When we don’t do what we say we’re gonna do, how do they typically feel?

Joe Fairless: Right, I’m with you. Of course, they feel let down.

Michael Maher: Frustrated, let down, disappointed, whatever it may be, and the bottom line is how likely is that disappointed client going to refer you? The answer is they’re not going to refer you, so what do you have to do? You have to continue chasing. Now you are on this wonderful cycle I call the cycle of discontent, which is this chase, fight, battle, exhausted, no referrals, so you have to chase some more, chase some more; they flee, you chase some more, you finally get them, you under-deliver because you’ve over-promised, they’re frustrated, they don’t refer you, so you have to chase some more.

So there’s that whole chase cycle, or the cycle of discontent, which is, by the way, taught in all the sales training out there. So that’s a downward cycle of sales, and that’s why 99% of all salespeople and entrepreneurs don’t make it, because they’re taught that they have to chase. They have to go through these things, and they’re told to watch movies like Boiler Room and The Wolf Of Wall Street and Glengarry Glenn Ross to get primed for what it’s like to be a salesperson, but what’s interesting about those three movies is at the end of them they all either die, or go to prison. That’s our model for top salespeople? I think we can do better.

So if there’s a downward cycle, there must be an upward cycle, and I believe that the positive cycle is the referral cycle, which is somebody refers you, and when they referred — you’ve been referred deals or referred clients, maybe even referred buyers to buy your fix and flip or buy a rental property, or even referred renters. What have you noticed about those referred deals?

Joe Fairless: It’s smooth sailing.

Michael Maher: Yeah, it’s easy. They buy. There’s no selling that takes place. So what you can do, which is so beautiful, is you can tell them the truth. In fact, you can tell them the worst case scenario; you can tell them the nuclear truth, and here’s what happens when you tell the truth  – no matter how the transaction goes, it wasn’t the worst case scenario. It wasn’t you in preparing them for the worst case scenario — it wasn’t the worst case scenario, because there’s only one worst case scenario, you only have one of those.
So anything you do is a positive. You are actually over-delivering, and an over-delivery is a wow. A wow-ed client, they’re like “Oh my gosh, I actually got 17% return instead of the 12% that they thought we would get”, because you just told them the truth upfront. Well, if they are wow-ed, what do wow-ed clients do? They refer you more.

That referrals come in, you tell them the truth, you wow them just simply by doing your job or doing whatever you would normally be doing anyway to get those returns or to provide that customer service, they’re wow-ed, and they refer you more clients. So that’s the referral cycle.

Joe Fairless: Is the key just to get the referrals in?

Michael Maher: Yeah, so how do we get more people on the referral cycle? That becomes the question. And the way to look at this is like bicycle… Bicycle – two cycles, right? The referral cycle is the front wheel of the bike. The front wheel of the bicycle is to guide you and to kind of keep your eyes on the prize, which is keep your eyes on referrals and keep your eyes on the clients, and the customer service, and so on and so forth.

Well, there’s a back wheel of a bicycle. And the back wheel – how do we get more people on the referral cycle? The back wheel is what I call the generosity cycle. The generosity cycle is what starts or gets us to the point of referrals, and when we lead with generosity, we give massive value first to someone else, what do they a lot of times [unintelligible [00:12:37].03] I’m sure there’s people – either guests or people you’ve helped with your show or with your real estate investing, that they feel this urge to do what?

Joe Fairless: Continue to give back more, continue to keep the cycle going.

Michael Maher: That’s right, they wanna reciprocate, they wanna give back to you. You’ve given a ton of value to them, they wanna give back. But here’s what’s interesting as salespeople and entrepreneurs – the problem is people wanna help us, they wanna give back, they simply just don’t know how… And what I teach is listen, let’s train everybody who wants to reciprocate or everybody who wants to give back to us that the way to give back, the number one and only way to reciprocate is through referrals; so let’s train them through referrals.

Generosity leads to reciprocity, reciprocity leads to referrals, and once again, there we are, we’re on the referral cycle. But here’s where this gets even better… So generosity leads to reciprocity, they wanna give back; the reciprocity – we train them that the best way to do that is through referrals. Over time they understand that message and start to give us referrals. Then referrals, as you and I both know, is the most profitable type of business, so we’re gonna make the most amount of money, because they’re referred; we don’t have to spend any money on marketing and advertising.

Well, here’s the deal – that profitability, your business making money… There’s something more important than making money, and those things are freedom, choice, relationships, family, love… Of course, wealth, having time. All of those words, if you mix them and put them all together, they lead to prosperity. And prosperity leads to more generosity.

So the back wheel of our bicycle is the generosity cycle, which is generosity leading to reciprocity, reciprocity leading to referrals, referrals lead to profitability, which of course, leads to prosperity, which leads to more and better and higher generosity.

So the interesting thing about the back wheel or back-cycle of a bicycle is that’s where we put our energies. We should be putting our energies into generosity, giving massive value first to others; everywhere we go, give massive value to others, and they will wanna reciprocate, which we teach them that “Hey, listen, don’t buy me dinner, don’t give me a gift certificate, don’t send me cards… The number one way is through referrals.” Referrals is not a question, referrals is the answer.

Joe Fairless: Two questions… I’ll ask you them one at a time, because I hate it when people ask me two questions at once. The first question is you said when we lead with generosity, we add value first… What are some specific ways that you’ve seen that have been really effective?

Michael Maher: Well, it comes from genuine curiosity and asking great questions, which you’re a great model of. The first thing is – alright, let me ask you… With this show, the real estate investing show, what is your goal for this show in general? What do you want it to do, or do you have a stated, specific goal on what you want it to do?

Joe Fairless: The primary is to help my listeners get to know me better faster, so that we could potentially do business together in the future through my multifamily syndicating deals.

Michael Maher: Okay, very good. So they will either invest with you or partner with you, or find you multifamily deals, right?

Joe Fairless: Yeah.

Michael Maher: Okay. Here’s another question that I have – it might be interesting how many people knew that before this interview? Because you’re such a giver, you’re always asking these questions and it never comes up with maybe that stated goal.

Joe Fairless: Right.

Michael Maher: So that’s a great goal, and hopefully you’ll get an investor or two from this. Okay, and then when it comes to this show or your real estate investing business specifically, what is your biggest challenge right now?

Joe Fairless: Finding opportunities, which deals to purchase.

Michael Maher: Yeah, so if your listeners of this could find you deals and just refer them to you, it’d be fantastic, right?

Joe Fairless: That’s correct.

Michael Maher: Okay. So what have you tried so far to find opportunities? What have you seen in the past that has lead you to opportunities?

Joe Fairless: Broker relationships and…

Michael Maher: Real estate agent relationships?

Joe Fairless: Yeah, real estate agent relationships in markets that we’re focused on.

Michael Maher: Yeah, because they know what the deals are. They stumble upon them, and a lot of times the owner doesn’t wanna do the fix-up or the repair, or the [unintelligible [00:17:14].06] person is retiring, or whatever it may be, right?

Joe Fairless: Yup.

Michael Maher: What are you gonna do next when it comes to conquering this challenge of finding opportunities?

Joe Fairless: I’m gonna crack the whip even harder to the team members of mine who are on the ground, searching for opportunities… [laughs]

Michael Maher: Okay, so you’ve got this grassroots ground group of people who are looking for you already, so maybe growing that would make some sense, and maybe growing it with unpaid individuals, people who just wanna do it to help you, yes?

Joe Fairless: Perhaps, yes.

Michael Maher: Okay. So by when? What would that look like to crack the whip, and by when will you put that into play?

Joe Fairless: I don’t know, I haven’t thought about that… I already have brokers and team members doing direct mail, I have brokers looking for opportunities… So I’ve already got something in place.

Michael Maher: Okay, great. So maybe just honing that and educating the people who are doing that for you. Would it help to maybe add 50,000 unpaid salespeople to that group of people looking for deals for you?

Joe Fairless: If I don’t have to manage them…

Michael Maher: Yeah, you would not have to manage them at all… Just educate them over time on what the perfect deal looks for you. Would you be open to that?

Joe Fairless: Yes.

Michael Maher: Okay, so I have a group of 50,000+ people, a very active group, and I’d love to welcome you into that group, and have you come in. You would be the only real estate investor that would be in this group at this time.

Now, I am a real estate investor, but the bottom line is you would be looking for some unique product, right? So we could talk about that stuff, or at least get the message out that I am a real estate investor and we could figure out how we can help this group. And by the way, it’s 99% real estate agents. Would that help?

Joe Fairless: Yes, it would.

Michael Maher: There’s no cost.

Joe Fairless: I get it, yeah. And now we’ll pause in this scenario, and I see what you did… I was writing down the questions, so that it’s not just applying to me… I see what you did, and it makes a lot of sense. So that is, instead of answering the question “What’s an example?”, you just rolled right into it, and I love that.

Michael Maher: Yeah. The other thing I would do… So the three facets or areas I wanna go into – I wanna go down to finding out what your goals are, and I don’t mean just your business goals… And I’m gonna help you achieve that as a surprise. I’m gonna help you achieve that.

Same thing with your biggest challenge – what is your biggest challenge right now? And I’m gonna help you conquer your biggest challenge; not just a little weenie challenge, but truly the winning challenge, the big challenge.

And then the other avenue would be, okay, what do you do when you’re not doing work? And you would tell me an interest of yours, and that would be a third realm of me being able to help you. If you said “golf”, I would say “Alright, well what are you looking to do with your golf game?” It’s like “Well, I wanna go [unintelligible [00:19:56].10]” and I’m like, “Okay, which part of your game do you need work on?” “Short game? Great.”, and then I would either send you a book from Amazon on your short game approach, or I would go to someone I knew who knew the short game and connect the two of you; I would send you videos from YouTube, or I’d google it, or I’d set you up with a [unintelligible [00:20:14].22] tour instructor in your area to have some lessons, depending on how many referrals you’ve sent me in the past.

So give massive value first, and please note that most of those will cost me less than $10 to $0, but you can get massive value first [unintelligible [00:20:30].22]

Joe Fairless: Except for the PGA one.

Michael Maher: Absolutely, but here’s the thing – I have some connections with PGA people who would be happy to do a one-hour free lesson to possibly get you on as a client for the long-term.

Joe Fairless: Right. I love that. We can replicate that very easily, that approach. That’s a great one.

Michael Maher: Anybody can do it. And the other part of that too is we all can help others. Thank god for Google, thank god for YouTube. There’s literally no challenge we can’t conquer in today’s world… Even the mindset challenge, we can conquer that. With enough videos, with enough psychotherapy, you can get somebody through the mindset issue of fear. But it’s one of those where we can all help, and we can all help in a big way, and we can all give massive value first to others.

Joe Fairless: The second question I have is you mentioned multiple times that you let your clients know the best way to reciprocate is to give referrals… Is there a way that you do that other than just saying that to them?

Michael Maher: Yeah, I really don’t typically just say it to them; it’s not a point blank. But remember, I said also that referrals is not a question, referrals is the answer. When I say “referrals is the answer”, I mean that 100% of the time. So let’s say I get you in this group and all of a sudden you’re making connections for deals… In a follow-up conversation I’ll go “Well, how’s it going in the group?” and you’re like “Wow, it’s been great. We’ve already made some connections, and I can even get a couple partners maybe.” And then what might you ask me?

Joe Fairless: I don’t know, “What can I do to help you out?”

Michael Maher: That’s right, “What can I do for you?” and “How can I help you?” My answer is “Referrals.” So if you said “Michael, it’s been great. How can I help you?” “Referrals”, that’s the answer. And then your follow-up question might be “Well, who are you looking to get connected to?” and that for me could change over time. “I’m really looking for sellers right now. I’m really looking for people — increased inventory we have, because we’re low on that, we’re selling the heck out of properties very quickly.” Or buyers, or in some cases, if I know you know someone really influential, then I would say “You know what? You are connected to the CEO over at John Davidson Motors. Would you be willing to connect me to him?” and all I would be doing is looking to meet with him to find out why he’s so successful… I would literally kind of almost interview him and ask about how he became so successful; it would not be a sales call at all, but “Would you mind just connecting the two of us and letting me do that interview, where I’m just looking to grow?”

Joe Fairless: What if they don’t ask “How can I help you out?” You know that they would be willing to, and they would be interested in it, but they don’t explicitly ask that.

Michael Maher: So somebody talks about themselves a lot. So I keep asking, and they keep talking, and so on and so forth. I’ll be like “You know what? Let’s stop right here. You probably feel like this was a game of 20 questions, and honestly, I’m genuinely curious, Joe, about your goals, your challenges – everything about you, and I think I’m just scratching the surface on how awesome you are, but here’s the thing… Let me just stop right here; instead of having this be 20 questions and me just bombard you with questions, let me ask you this – do you have any questions for me?” or I’ll say “What question do you have for me?”

I want you to know there’s something called question reciprocity. Question reciprocity is that when you stop in this line of questioning, the last question that you asked them is most likely to be the question that they ask you back. So you get to that point, it’s like “Alright, what are your challenges?” or “What’s your goal?” and they tell me what their goal is and stuff like that. I go “Wow, that’s awesome… You know what, I’ve got some ideas on that I’d love to share with you. But before we even go on, what questions do you have for me?” They’ll say “What goals do you have?” “Well, my weekly referral goal is to give 10 referrals and receive 5 referrals. So out of all the people you know, who can I help?”

Joe Fairless: Is that still your goal?

Michael Maher: My weekly referral goal is to give 10 referrals and receive 5 referrals, yes.

Joe Fairless: To give 10 referrals and receive 5?

Michael Maher: That’s right.

Joe Fairless: Interesting. This is fascinating stuff… I loved that last part – the last question you ask them is likely the same question they ask you… That’s great.

Michael Maher: Yeah, it is. I do podcasts, they don’t even know it’s coming. So I’ll do the podcast and I’ll go “Alright, let’s just roleplay it…” Literally, we’re in the middle of a roleplay and they kind of forget we’re in a roleplay; we’re just having our conversation, and literally, I’m asking about the goals and the challenges and what their ideal client is and how is the best way to refer them… And I’ll either get to the goals question or whatever, and I’ll go “Alright, let’s reverse this… What’s the question that you have for me?”, and [unintelligible [00:25:11].15] every single time they ask me the last question that I just asked them.

Joe Fairless: That’s fascinating, I love that.

Michael Maher: It’s not manipulation or magic, it just is. They could ask me some other question, like “Are you still single, or are you married?” or some other crazy, annoying, weird out of the box question, but do you know what they ask me? They ask me the last question.

Joe Fairless: That’s great. Well, Michael, where can the best ever listeners get in touch with you?

Michael Maher: Thank you for the referral mention, right? I think the best thing is, but they can also go to Facebook; they’re already there, probably most of them, right now., and in my photos, there is a photo that has been liked 738,000 times. It will say on there 738k…

Joe Fairless: Is it you with your shirt off, flexing?

Michael Maher: It is not me flexing; that one has just 612k likes… But it has 738k likes and it has 216k shares. And if they could like it and share — it’s a picture of a tombstone, so that will help them find that. It’s a very, very cool tombstone.
So bottom line is that they can go to No, that’s not my title; that was chosen by a PR person a long time ago… But 83k members there, and we’d love to have your listeners become members there, and share and post their photos and videos and posts that I post that are positive, inspirational and typically lead us down a path of generating referrals and great relationship with people.

Joe Fairless: Outstanding. This is a very practical, hands-on conversation. I’m grateful for it, I know the best ever listeners are as well… Some takeaways – we need to first lead with generosity and add value first. You went through a role-playing scenario where you asked questions; fortunately, we have a transcription of every episode, so Best Ever listeners, you can just go to and check out the transcription of this when the show airs… So you can read those questions.

Then the best way to give back or reciprocate to you is to give referrals. It makes so much sense… I have a background in advertising and I can tell you the number one influencer of purchase intent is word of mouth, referrals. So when we have word of mouth referrals, then that’s going to influence purchase intent more so than anything else on the face of the earth.

It doesn’t matter what type of ad or how creative you get with PR, it’s word of mouth referrals that’s the number one influencer of purchase intent, therefore, referrals should be at front and center of our business, and you have given us a step by step process for how to practically do it in our own business.

Thanks for being on the show, Michael. I hope you have a best ever day. Best Ever listeners, you can go to his website, which is in the show notes link… And talk to you soon!

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