Winning Clients’ Hearts and Minds: A Conversation with Mike Lafitte

A VIEW FROM THE TOP

At the core of every great real estate decision lives trust. Before companies can be guided to the right solution or investment opportunity, they need to find the team and provider whose counsel and insight they trust. This, says Mike Lafitte, chief operating officer of CBRE, is what fuels better decision making, which leads to better outcomes.

Lafitte, whose responsibilities include implementing new strategies to drive value for the company’s global roster of clients, sat down for an interview with Blueprint, presented by CBRE, and shares his beliefs on the importance of earning a client’s trust and the lasting results it can create.

Blueprint: In an industry like commercial real estate services, where you’re primarily focused on finding the right solution for a client, how much of a role does trust play?

Mike Lafitte: Trust is at the center, always. We’re in a services industry. When I think about the highest calling that a service-driven firm has across any industry, it’s to serve clients well. Trust is something that has to be earned early, and from that, strong relationships grow. When we do that, everything else seems to really take care of itself.

“Trust is something that has to be earned early, and from that, strong relationships grow.”

At CBRE, we put our clients at the heart of everything we do: From the investments we make in our platform and people, to the decisions we make to flex and strengthen our offerings, everything we do is aimed at delivering better outcomes more consistently for all our occupier and investor clients.

There are so many benefits and by-products of serving a client well. When you build a reputation for delivering great client service, that reputation and the momentum it creates extends across all stakeholders — clients, employees and shareholders — and they all benefit because of this. Clients know that they get value; employees align around a mission and purpose; and shareholders benefit from a strong-performing investment.

Our product is a magical combination of expertise, market knowledge, technology, operating platform, and the advisory and consulting practices delivered by the team. To this end, we are continuously evolving our approach to client care with a simple focus on always connecting our clients with the right tools, resources and opportunities to turn their real estate into true competitive advantage.

To win the client’s heart, a company and its people have to be trustworthy. I think that’s the difference between the mind and the heart: One side is being the expert in the field, and the other side is being trustworthy in what you do.

Blueprint: How do you put that into action?

ML: You start by listening. We each have two ears and one mouth, and we should use them proportionately. It’s about understanding the situation, not trying to sell one product or another. It boils down to deeply understanding the needs of the client. Where is the point of pain? What are their challenges? What business problems are we trying to address through the built environment? Only then can you think strategically about solutions.

Speaking the language of the client — being fluent in their industry and their challenges — is a great way to begin earning trust.

Next, you need great execution, strong communication and a plan to surround the client with support and services that live beyond the sale. That’s what grows trust into strong and lasting relationships. In some cases, trust can be earned by saying “no” when that is the right or appropriate response. It may mean telling a client that there is a conflict of interest that needs resolution. Honesty is the right thing, always. And that engenders trust.

Blueprint: So, please walk us through this: When a new client approaches you, they may or may not know what they need. They’re looking for a trusted advisor. How do you build, nurture and strengthen that relationship?

ML: Being a trusted advisor over an extended period of time requires consistent performance, a strong team to deliver the work, and a full understanding of the client.

Speaking the language of the client — being fluent in their industry and their challenges — is a great way to begin earning trust.

Our ability to understand the client and the business of their business is critical to our success.

Client needs will change over time and the bar for service continues to rise. As we have grown our company and our suite of services, we now have resources to bring specialized expertise to bear for any assignment. We have the footprint, tool set and expertise to help clients solve virtually any real estate challenge in any market.

We also have a process that every one of our market-facing professionals practices. It’s grounded in aligning the team and resources to the right clients in a way that benefits everyone. And again, trust sits at the heart of this proposition.

But it’s not just about process. There is also a great personal side to this: the relationships that we are able to build with our best clients over time. This doesn’t mean that the expectations or demands of clients change. Rather, this approach enables us to understand their needs better and have a deeper connection and commitment to serving them consistently well over time.

Blueprint: Given how globalized the world has become, many if not most clients have demands that aren’t limited to just one particular market or even one particular region. How do your professionals accommodate the global demands of their clients?

ML: What our clients want is consistent service around the world. Even if it’s an emerging country in discussion, where resources may be limited, the expectation is still the same: consistent, high-quality service, delivered with professionalism.

When you win mind share and heart share of clients, everything else falls into place. You can’t win that until you earn trust.

Real estate is a hyper-local business, driven by market conditions, cultures and business practices. Superior service and relationships — grounded in trust — transcend all borders, languages and cultures.

Delivering consistently strong global solutions is where our matrix organizational structure really helps us. We have three dimensions to our matrix: geographical leadership, line of business leadership, and services functions like research and IT. The connection between all three is vital for our success.

When we get mandates for work from large, global companies to manage their portfolios worldwide, they really don’t care about how we’re organized. They care about our ability to serve them seamlessly and across borders. That’s what we have to be able to do, and that gets back to strong collaboration. And collaboration is grounded in trust: trusting the people around you to work together on behalf of clients.

When you win mind share and heart share of clients, everything else falls into place. You can’t win that until you earn trust.

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