Hiring ISAs: A HomeLight Elite Agent’s Secret to Converting More Leads (Part 1)

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“Too many leads” sounds like a great problem for a real estate agent to have. But without a way to keep converting leads at a high level, your business will dry up in a hurry.

When they get too busy, many successful agents and teams are turning to ISAs — inside sales agents — to convert more leads and sell more homes. This week on The Walkthrough, HomeLight Elite Agent Tony Baroni, whose business has nearly tripled (to 300+ transactions in 2020) since he hired his first ISA, shares his process for creating an ISA department inside his real estate team. This is part one of a 2-part series.

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Links and Show Notes

Full Transcript

(SPEAKER: Matt McGee, Host)

Have you ever had this feeling? You’re at a conference or workshop, big crowd around you, all the seats are full, and all of a sudden, you feel like the speaker is talking directly to you.

That happened to Realtor Tony Baroni six years ago this month. He was at a business seminar and heard something that caused one of those “a-ha” moments that can change your business.

Tony was already running a really successful team in Central Florida. Then came this moment that he realized he had to do something different to take his real estate team to the next level. He had to hire ISAs, inside sales agents.

Since then, his business has more than doubled. He’s become a HomeLight Elite Agent. And over the next two episodes, Tony is gonna share exactly how he did it, from hiring to training, how they handle new and old leads, how to know if you’re ready to hire ISAs yourself. All of that and more starts right now.

This is “The Walkthrough.”


Hi, everyone. Welcome to “The Walkthrough.” My name is Matt McGee. I’m the editor of HomeLight’s Agent Resource Center. “The Walkthrough” is HomeLight’s weekly podcast. We have new episodes come out every Monday. Click subscribe or click follow on Spotify. That way, you get all future shows automatically.

This is the show where you will learn what’s working right now from the best real estate agents and industry experts in the country. At HomeLight, we believe in real estate agents. We’re on a journey to find out how great agents grow their business, stand out from the crowd, and become irreplaceable.

You wanna get involved in the show, you wanna get in touch with me? You can leave a voicemail or send a text, the number is 415-322-3328. Again, 415-322-3328. You can also send an email. It’s walkthrough [at] homelight.com. Or just find me in our Facebook listener community. Go to Facebook, do a search for HomeLight Walkthrough, and the group should come right up.

There’s only so much you can do. The more successful you are, the sooner you max out your production. Whether you’re a solo agent or running a team, you have to decide, am I happy and satisfied with where I am, or do I want more? Do I wanna sell more homes? Do I wanna help more clients? Do I wanna make more money? And by the way, there’s no right or wrong answer. That’s the beauty of being a self-employed business owner, you get to decide what’s right for you.

Today, you’re going to meet Tony Baroni. He reached that point six years ago. His voicemail was full every day. His team was slammed with clients and leads. They weren’t giving their clients a good experience.

Tony: You know, essentially I was just trying to survive every day.

Matt: That’s when Tony decided it was time to create an ISA department — inside sales agents who would answer the phone and work with new leads then decide which ones to pass on to one of the team’s agents. It worked.

Today, the Tony Baroni team is 18 people strong. That’s both agents and admins. They have offices in Tampa and Orlando, Florida. And they’re so good at what they do, we invited them to the HomeLight Elite program a few months ago. That means Tony and his team are among the top 1% of agents on HomeLight’s platform.

Over the next two episodes, Tony is gonna share exactly how ISAs helped take his business to the next level. We’re gonna talk about everything from hiring, to training, to paying ISAs, to exactly how they operate inside a successful team, how they handle new leads, how they work with other agents.

That’s all coming up this week and next. And we’re gonna cover it all in order. So, today, we start at the beginning, the moment those bells rang, that “ding ding” six years ago.


Matt: So, what happened? Take me back to 2015, tell me what your business was like then and what happened to sort of get you on this path of saying, “I need to start bringing some ISAs in.”

Tony: Yeah. So, 2015, it was January actually 2015, and about every five years I like to go to a Tony Robbins seminar and I did “Unleash the Power” back in 2010. Did the firewalk, did the whole thing, life-changing for me at the time, super cool. And really my takeaway on that was after I walked on fire, bare feet, anyone familiar with that or has done that, you know, it’s 1,100 degrees to 1,500 degrees, barefoot you walk on these coals, right, and literally walk on fire and it doesn’t burn your feet. And really after you do that, you realize it’s all mindset, right? Like, what you set your mindset to essentially becomes your limitations, right?

So, fast forward, five more years, I’m like, “Okay, I think I’m ready for another Tony Robbins seminar.” So I went to “Business Mastery” with Tony Robbins, down in South Florida. And first moments while I was in the room, you know, Tony was standing, like, right next to me because it’s actually a very intimate setting. There’s only maybe 1,000 people at the most. And he walks around the whole time, he’s standing right next to me, he’s like… I think he was talking to me, Matt, he’s like, “If you’re on your phone and trying to figure out how you’re gonna survive, like, the next five or six days with me, and you’re worried about losing business, and you feel like you have to be on your email and text messaging the whole time, then just know you don’t have a business.” And I’m like, look up, I’m like, “He’s talking to me, right? He’s totally talking to me.”

And I was stressed, you know, trying to get out of town and then I’m trying to do all this stuff. And I had a good-sized team already, at that point, several people, and I just didn’t have it like setup where I could ever have time off, essentially. And I thought that was normal because I’m a Realtor, right? And I’m like, “I just need to be on all the time and just the way it goes.” So he taught me at “Business Mastery,” my big takeaway of that week was really, you know, you have to answer your phone and you need to get back to people immediately. And the stats were very simple math. They were in the first five minutes… If you answer your phone, or you call someone back within five minutes, you have an 80% chance to do business with them. And if you wait until 10 minutes, it went down to 5%. So I’m like, “Oh, my God.” So, after 10 minutes, essentially, you’re not gonna get their business was my big takeaway.

Matt: You already had a team at that point. So, you have agents that are working for you, I assume you have admins that are working for you, a transaction coordinator, you had to have somebody to answer the phone. So what was it in your head that said, “All right, maybe the people, maybe the admin that I’m having answering my phone right now, maybe that’s not gonna be good enough?”

Tony: Yeah, because they were always on the phone too because, you know, at that point, I had one admin and we were doing I think about 115 transactions a year. So, you know, she’s pretty busy. She was extremely busy handling about 80% of all the stuff, right? And so, I realized it wasn’t fair to her. And then my buyers’ agents are all busy running appointments every day. So I’m like, “I need to create a department that helps me answer the phone, and then they need to be even better than my agents are at it or myself and be able to answer our questions, make sure they’re comfortable, and then hopefully, set an appointment so we can do business with them.”

So, that’s what we did. And I researched it and I found out there were some Keller Williams teams at the time that were doing inside sales and kind of coined the phrase ISA for inside sales agents, or inside sales associates, depending on who you’re talking with. So, I’m like, “Okay, I’m gonna do that.” So, I researched and figured out, there was a handful of friends that I knew that…some I did know, some I didn’t know, and I called them and I just interviewed them. And they gave me 30 minutes of their time. And I said, “Hey, tell me the good, the bad, the ugly about ISAs. My questions always are, you know, if you wish you knew something right away that you would have known upfront about ISAs, what would it have been and questions like that? And they all told me how they do it. And they shared everything.

I actually flew to Houston, Texas, and met with the Loken Group with Keller Williams Realty out in Houston, got on a plane, and shadowed them all day. And my model actually turned in to be a little more like theirs than anyone else’s, very similar to theirs, and kind of made our own spin and put our own spin on it, but that’s what we did.

Matt: What was it specifically that you learned that made you say, “All right, I need to do this and I need to do it now?”

Tony: Yeah, I think just, you know, knowing that everything was gonna be cared for. You know, we spend so much time and energy to get our phone to ring yet so many agents don’t answer their phone, right? So, how silly of a concept, right? You’re spending thousands of dollars to get people to call you, right, and then when they call you you don’t answer the phone. So, for me, it was an absolute no-brainer. And I just needed to find the right who and figure out, you know, kind of where to start and probably one of my superpowers would be just getting things started. I’m not afraid to get things going and then make adjustments as I need to. And I think that’s one of the fastest ways you can learn is you just get it going. You realize you don’t have it perfect but you go out and try to find the right model, right, talk to the right people that’s been there before you have, and hopefully model it and do a little R&D, you know, repeat and duplicate, and then put your own spin on it as well. And that’s what I keep doing over and over again, as our team grows, and I try to not recreate the wheel.

Matt: I wanna ask you a little bit more in just a minute about that starting process and what you learned from it. But first, I’m sure our listeners are wondering, okay, I heard Tony say that he was doing about 115 units before all this. What happened, let’s say what the first year or two after you started bringing ISAs on — what was the impact on your business?

Tony: Yeah, I mean, the first year, we went from 115 to 150, then we went from 150 to 200. Then we did 200. We went from 200 to 213, I’m sorry, 207. Then the next year 213, the next year 236, the next year 212. And then that leads us up to, you know, this past year we did 307. So, you know, it’s figuring out all the systems because what gets you to 150, and then gets you to 200, and then gets you to 250, and so on and so forth. All your stuff breaks along the way. Your systems have to change. You know, you have to make your systems better always. So, it becomes somewhat problematic. You have to change along with the times depending on the volume you’re doing as well if you care about the customer experience, which obviously I do.

Matt: There’s an “a-ha” moment for so many of us and for Tony Baroni, it was that Tony Robbins seminar in 2015, where he heard the statistics about speed to lead. Let me repeat those. If you reply to someone within 5 minutes, you have an 80% chance of doing business with them. If you wait more than 10 minutes, your chances of getting their business go down to 5%. Wow. So, Tony decided ISAs were the solution to that speed to lead challenge. His team was slammed. They couldn’t do any more than they were already doing. So, they bring on ISAs and what an impact. His team was already successful, you heard 115 transactions the year before they added ISAs. Then they did 150 the first year with ISAs, 200 the year after that. And then Tony’s team just surpassed 300 transactions in 2020. Now that you’ve heard why Tony decided to add ISAs and the impact it had on his business, let’s get into the how. My first question on that topic was, where do you go to find great ISAs?

Tony: I’m a strong believer and I know this is not the magic pill people wanna hear. It’s probably gonna be in your sphere. It’s gonna be your highest retention rate for someone that already knows your team and as an advocate, and a raving fan, and that could be the past client, or it could be, which I’ve hired several of those along the way, or it could be a good friend of theirs where they’re kind of endorsing you. “Oh, you’ve gotta talk to the Tony Baroni team if you’re thinking of going into real estate.” There is nothing more powerful than that, that third-party endorsement from someone they already trust. So, call on your database, you know, I know we’re talking to Realtors here. So we all know Realtors, you need to be calling your people daily, right? Do your lead generation, I believe in the morning is a great time to do it. And when you do, you’re simply asking them, “Hey, Matt, how’s it going?” And you know, you’re small talking, and then you’re just saying, “Hey, Matt, can I ask you a favor?”

Matt: Sure. Go ahead.

Tony: You know, one thing about our company right now, we’re growing super fast, right? So, would you keep an eye out for me for the right type of person? I’m actually hiring for an inside sales associate. This person that we’re looking for is gonna be super caring. They’re gonna love to be on the phone, they’re gonna love to not necessarily be the shining star, but necessarily they probably are because it’s that important on our team. So whatever you wanna say, you know, you kind of serve up the job description. You ask that person, “Hey, if you know someone like that, would you let me know?” And they’ll say, “Well, yeah, sure. I’ll let you know.” “Do you know anyone right now?” “No.” “Hey, another thing, Matt, I don’t want you to think of anyone with a job. I’m asking anyone that you think would fit that profile perfectly because most likely they already have a job but we wanna bring them on to our team and offer this career to them.”

Matt: Sphere is one of the places, then did you like put ads out on social media, you know, anything like that?

Tony: Social media, I mean, one mantra, we are always saying we’re always hiring as a team, you know. So, we’re constantly putting that out there. So, a lot of people do think of us when they think of real estate because we are hiring. So, we’re able to talk to a lot of people. And then you’ve got websites like ZipRecruiter, Indeed. You’ve got Facebook ads, you’ve got LinkedIn, you know, all these things. But we focused on mainly ZipRecruiter at one point and we’ve switched to mainly Indeed.

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Matt: Now, you mentioned things like, you know, somebody that doesn’t necessarily need to be the star, somebody that loves to be on the phone. You mentioned this profile. Tell me, what skills are you looking for when you hire an ISA?

Tony: Yeah, what skills? They definitely need to be organized. They need to have a good phone voice, quite honestly. You want that voice to be inviting, you know. You want them to be able to build trust on the phone and rapport, which is not everyone. That’s actually harder to do now than probably ever. Also, they need to be really good at texting too because texting is really important for a lot of leads. You know, I think five years ago, we’d say call everyone back. And now, what I do, which is a great tip for people, “Hey, it’s Tony Baroni. I’m gonna be calling you here shortly, returning your call. So I just want you to know it’s me.” And then I’ll wait a minute or two and then call. And my success rate goes way up for them to answer that call.

Or “Hey, you inquired on 123 Main Street. Just so you know, we wanted to answer you a question on that. I’m gonna be calling you here in a couple of minutes. If you can pick up, I’ll answer your question.” And they’ll try to text you. “Hey, you know, can you just give me the answer?” Hey, it’s really too long to text back and forth, can we jump on the phone?” That’s my style but some people on my team just text, you know, for the most part. So, you need to be good at punctuation because of that. Sounds silly but you know, you’re probably are pretty good at texting, throwing some emojis, things like that. Caring, you know, if they call a lot of outbound, they need to probably be pretty aggressive. You know, they can’t roll up in a ball and feel sad if someone tells them no, right? So, if you have someone more outbound, they need to be able to handle rejection at a high level.

Matt: I was gonna ask you how important sales experience was, like, somebody that like maybe is a salesperson at, you know, the local furniture store or they’re the salesperson at, you know, the AT&T or the Sprint store or whatever. Does that experience help with being an ISA?

Tony: I think so. Yeah, I think so. I think the most experience is if you’re a Realtor because if you’ve been a Realtor, you kind of know what you would run the appointment, right? So, if you have never been a Realtor, it’s hard to gauge if you would run that appointment or not. So I always tell my ISA, “Would you run the appointment or not?” Like, you’re not sending people on a wild goose chase of non-qualified people that, you know… You don’t want the agents to feel like you’re wasting their time. And not everything’s gonna be a slam dunk. So you just need to kind of evaluate. Obviously, safety is a big concern. You need to make sure that, you know, you don’t get the creeper alert when you’re talking to someone and make sure you’re leading them in the right place. But if you’re an agent, you probably know that at a pretty high level already, you know, whether you would run the appointment or not.

Matt: I know you wanna hear what exactly the ISAs do on Tony’s team. Do they do inbound and outbound leads? Do they only work new leads or do they also communicate with past clients? What happens after the ISAs hands over a lead to an agent? I promise we’re gonna go really deep into all that in part 2 of this series next week. But I also wanna make sure we go deep into the hiring process now because if you don’t find, screen, and hire the right ISAs, you’re asking for trouble. You’re gonna be wasting a lot of time and money. And speaking of money, that’s where our conversation went next. How do you pay your ISAs and how much do they make if you’re willing to share that, but at least how do you pay them? Is it commissions, salary, some sort of mix?

Tony: So we do a mix of salary plus bonus. And, you know, I think it depends on where you are in the country, what the salary needs to be. For example, I was talking to a friend of mine in California, he has a team similar to mine. And, you know, there it’s straight-up six-figure salary if you’re gonna have an admin. You know, it’s just the way it goes, right? So, it depends on where you are. So you need to look at your cost of living and then my opinion is you wanna pay people more than less. So you don’t have turnover, you know, once you train the people and they’re ready to go, you want them when your competitors are calling trying to pick them off, you need to be higher because that…or create more opportunity for them, right, where they wanna stay long-term.

Matt: Tony, we have a listener community on Facebook and I put out a call there a few days ago, asking our listeners do you have any questions for Tony Baroni? We’re gonna be talking about ISAs. So Maria Jeantet is an agent in the Redding, California area. She said, “Please ask Tony, what are his thoughts on in-house versus virtual ISAs?” You obviously took the in-house route.

Tony: Yeah, I’m a big in-house guy, just what I’ve chosen because I like to be able to customize it the way I want. And I think it has its challenges not being in-house on, you know, how they follow the system, how do you track it? You know, we also do a lot of things virtually as a team as well. Now, with the pandemic, we went from a complete in-house office, everyday 9:00 to 5:00 to almost all virtual. So I’m not saying don’t go virtual, I just prefer people in-house. I’ve got a guy right now on my team and I mean, we talk every day, and he’s like, “My gosh, you need so much stuff done,” right? He has a bunch of clients. But it inevitably happens where they’re like, you know, “Well, maybe we should just talk about working together solely, right? I mean, because we’re just that busy, right? And I have all these ideas I wanted to implement. And I’m constantly trying to get stuff done.” And they’re like, “Hey, I need to attend to this other client.” So, you don’t have that flexibility when you’re not in-house.

Matt: Tell me if I’m right on this. I have this idea that going in-house, probably a better chance of success if you have existing structure, existing systems, existing processes in place, if you’re an agent, maybe a solo agent or you know, a new team, and maybe you’re not quite as organized with systems and processes and training, maybe virtual might be a little better way to get started.

Tony: Yeah, I think it comes down to systems, right, and then training. So, so many a times, we point the finger, right, and it’s like, well, so and so don’t know what they’re doing, or they’re not working hard, but they’re not being led properly is what I’ve found to be the biggest challenge. So, you know, people need the training and the tools to be able to succeed and then know what the expectations are. And then you kind of have a game plan of what success should look like on a day to day basis. And I think that’s the biggest myth. So whether it’s in-house or not, I think that that’s the biggest miss people have. You gotta have that stuff set up because you don’t go in-house, you go outside, and you don’t have any systems tools or whatever, then there’s no measuring stick for that person to know if they’re doing a good job or not. And so you gotta talk through a lot of the expectation. So…

Matt: I will ask you soon enough, I do wanna ask you about the accountability and how you measure their success. But let’s touch a little bit more on the training first because that’s what we’ve been talking about. How do you train your ISAs? Is it the same as your regular agent onboarding, just that these folks won’t be the ones going out to meet with the clients?

Tony: Yeah. We have a 30, 60, 90 — first 30 days, what they’re expected to learn. And we literally just check off the list, right? And that looks like videos of how our CRM works, right? That’s part of the 30 days. We want them to read this Millionaire Real Estate Agent book in the first 30 days because that’s really what our team is doing, things of that nature. And then before they’re on the phone, if they’re doing seller intakes, they need to prove to our director of lead generation that they know how to do the intake not just once, but multiple times where they’re like, they sign off and say, “Okay, you’re good to take the phone call now.” So, really the first 30 days, our ISAs are not really on the phone, they’re just kind of a fly on the wall learning. And then the next 30 to 60 days, they’re in production, and then 60 to 90, you know, at 90, hopefully, we’re gonna keep them on board, and they’re gonna stay, and we both agree we’re gonna work together and move forward.

Matt: So, that first 90 days is sort of a probationary period to kind of a trial-out?

Tony: It is, absolutely. Same with every position on our team is the way we look at it.

Matt: Gotcha. Part of the training, I assume, is getting them up to speed on the various scripts that you want them using, doing roleplay, that sort of thing?

Tony: Yeah, lots of script and roleplay, systems just understanding, like, here’s… I think it’s really important to go over always the why. You know, here’s why we do it this way, right? Like, we call the day of the appointment to confirm the appointment because we want to be like a setting of a doctor’s office of, like, that professionalism before we go out on that appointment. We wanna confirm that day. So yeah, absolutely.

(Speaker: Matt McGee, Host)

That’s Tony Baroni, taking us through the process of finding great ISAs, hiring, and training them. We talked about how they get paid, how they get onboarded, and a lot more. I will preview part two of this series in just a moment. But first, let’s do our takeaways segment. This is what stood out to me from today’s conversation.

Takeaway number one, the seed for Tony to hire ISAs was realizing the value of speed to lead. He heard Tony Robbins explained that if you respond to a lead within 5 minutes, you have an 80% chance of getting their business. And obviously, you need to set up your business so you can do that.

Takeaway number two, Tony says you might find great candidates for ISAs in your sphere and past clients. He also used all the normal job sites and social media to look for ISAs.

Takeaway number three, when hiring ISAs, Tony says they should be organized, have a good phone voice, be comfortable texting, and be able to handle rejection, especially if you have them working outbound lead gen. He also says it’s great if they have real estate experience so the ISA can make that judgment on when to pass a legitimate lead to the agents.

Takeaway number four, Tony prefers hiring in-house ISAs instead of using a virtual service. He says he can train his ISAs to do things the way he wants them to do it. He can better track what they’re doing. And he just says it gives the team a lot more flexibility.

Takeaway number five, when it comes to training and onboarding, the ISAs learn all the same systems and scripts. They do all the roleplay and everything that regular agents on the team do.

All right, coming up next week, we’re gonna go deep into the ISAs role on Tony’s team. What exactly do they do and how do they do it? One of the key things we’ll talk about is deciding which leads the ISAs should nurture and which ones they should give to an agent. So, here’s a preview of that.

Tony: So, in my mind, if you wanna do this effectively, the agents should be focused on 30-day business, maybe arguably 60 days. You know, but if you’re a buyers’ agent and you focus on buyers, who could buy today is who they should be spending all their time with. Everyone else should be nurtured by the ISA department.

Matt: So don’t miss next week’s episode, part 2. Hit that subscribe button so you get it automatically. If you have questions or feedback for me or Tony, a couple of ways to get in touch, you can leave a voicemail or send a text, it’s 415-322-3328. You can email walkthrough [at] homelight.com or you can find both Tony and myself in our Facebook Listener Community. Go to Facebook, do a search for HomeLight Walkthrough, the group should come right up. As I said, Tony is in the community already so if you have a question for him, something you heard, you wanna follow up on, that’s a great place to do it.

That’s all for this week. Thanks to Tony Baroni for joining me and thank you for listening. If you like what you hear, please rate and review us on Apple Podcasts or wherever you listen.

My name is Matt McGee, and you’ve been listening to “The Walkthrough.” At HomeLight, we believe in real estate agents. We’re on a journey to find out how great agents grow their business, stand out from the crowd, and become irreplaceable.

Go out and safely sell some homes. I’ll talk to you again next week, everyone. Bye-bye.

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