CBRE’s Travis Likes: The importance of cold calls and paying your dues

Travis Likes with wife Ingrid and daughter Vivienne.

Travis Likes with wife Ingrid and daughter Vivienne.

by Dan Rafter

Travis Likes knows what it takes to succeed in commercial real estate. He’s a vice president at the Cincinnati office of CBRE, and focuses exclusively on office and medical properties. Likes began his real estate career at Duke Realty in 2003, and despite what has been a relatively short career, he and his team average more than 100 transactions a year.

Likes recently spoke with Midwest Real Estate News about the reasons for his success and what drives him to succeed in commercial real estate.

Man in a suit: I’ve worked as a broker for 11 years now, getting my start in 2004. It all started with me getting an internship at Duke Realty. I got that internship when I was between my sophomore and junior years at Miami University in Oxford, Ohio. I dressed up in a suit and went door to door passing out resumes in Blue Ash, one of Cincinnati’s top suburbs for jobs. One of the companies that called me back was Duke Realty. I had a fun experience working with them. I did a lot of cold calls for them. I learned a lot about how deals were closed. That led me to brokerage.

Cold calls, influencers: After graduation, I went to work full-time at Colliers International. I started out making cold calls again for other brokers’ listings. That snowballed into other opportunities. I met different influencers. As a young person out of college, all you have to bring to the table is your work ethic. You end up working with more senior brokers to do the grunt work. That’s how it started. There is nothing terribly magical about it. You have to work long hours. You have to be willing to do the work that others don’t want to do. When you do that, you learn along the way.

Surviving the hang-ups: Cold calls aren’t everyone’s favorites. But you have to pay your dues. You have to learn how to have fun with cold calls. Not everyone likes to receive a cold call. You do get hung up on once in a while. You have to not take things personally. It is more about being strategic with who you are going to call and why you are calling them. I was always a big proponent of trying to meet someone in person. You never know who can help you out in this business. Meeting someone face-to-face goes further than e-mail or phone calls.

Embracing the difficult deals: I have been very fortunate in my career to work with great people and some fantastic teams. At CBRE, I work with some incredible professionals. They have a similar take on the business. We are problem-solvers. In 11 years, I think I’ve done one easy deal. You have to embrace that. The deal is not going to go smoothly. Our job is to find solutions. If leasing office space was like buying a gallon of milk, our clients wouldn’t need us. Continually trying to learn more about the business is something that I have never gotten away from.

Always getting better: Shortly after I started my career the downturn of 2007 hit. Everyone is still aware of that time. The brokers who got their careers started in and around that time, we all remember it. The memories are fresh enough that we are always chasing new business. We are always trying to get better. It makes me nervous when we have not had an issue with a particular deal. Until you have that problem, it’s not a real deal in my mind. It’s just not the normal course of business for us.

Variety matters: I love the variety of every day. Every day is different. In one day last week, I went from wrapping up a 100,000-square-foot-plus office lease to taking a phone call about a 2,500-square-foot renewal in one of our listings. That diversity of work, that constant change, is something that I really enjoy. All the brokers I know enjoy that. You can’t be in this business and want to do the same thing every day. Some days you’ll be in the office. Some days you’ll be out of it. That’s what makes this job so enjoyable. Along the way, you are solving problems and helping clients make money. While you do that, you make some pretty good friends along the way, with other brokers and with clients. Our industry is unique. In Cincinnati, you have 20 to 25 people who are the brokers who will do 80 percent of the business. In one meeting, you’ll be competing with a broker for a listing. That afternoon, I’ll be on the phone with the same broker trying to figure out a way to get that deal done. Of those 20 to 25 folks, we all get along. We have to.

A great time to be in Cincinnati: There has never been a better time to sell Cincinnati. It is flat-out on for this city. We are on the radar screen today. The city is adding new jobs left and right. There are so many success stories coming out of Cincinnati right now. It makes our jobs as brokers a heck of a lot easier.

The commission life: The number-one challenge in this business is how we are compensated. We are 100-percent commissioned, and it can be a long selling cycle. That makes it a challenge for people to get into this business. Every year, you start out at zero. You are betting on yourself every year that you can be successful. It is a challenge. If you asked a lot of brokers, that challenge is what fires them up. It is a challenge every day. Then there’s the fact that if you look at our business, our compensation is directly related to other people’s decisions. We don’t control what our tenants or landlords do. Their actions impact our compensation. That is not a new challenge, but it is one that is unique to our business.

Confidence matters: Certainly, everyone who succeeds in this business needs a pretty high level of confidence. You have to be able to go into a room and deliver solutions to some pretty powerful people. We handle real estate here for 60 percent of the Fortune 500 companies out there. These are powerful people, and you’re selling your ideas to them. You had better be confident that your ideas are good ones. If you look at the brokers who are successful, they are type-A personalities. They all have good people around them, too. You need to have that. You have to surround yourself with good people who are going to push you, people who are there to support you and come up with different ideas. A critical element of my success has been a team of great people.

Family time: When I’m not working, I like to spend time with my family. My wife is a residential real estate agent. We spend a lot of time talking about real estate in our household. And 11 months ago, we had a baby girl. We spend a lot of time with here. We’ll be at the pumpkin patches, that kind of thing. I used to play golf. I know that’s a bit of a cliché for this industry. But it’s hard to find time to play golf these days.

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