SEASON 1, EPISODE 10

Chairman, NY Investment Sales, New York Office Co-Head at JLL Capital Markets: Bob Knakal on Prospecting and Networking to Generate Business

Release Date: September 16, 2022

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In this episode of the Closing Table podcast, we’re joined by Bob Knakal, who is the Chairman of NY Investment Sales with JLL Capital Markets. Bob co-leads the investment sales division in New York City. From 1988 through 2014, Massey Knakal closed over 6,000 transactions with an aggregate value of over $23 billion. To date, Bob is personally responsible for the sale of over 2,000 buildings and over $18 billion in sales. 

Bob shares tips on how to be successful in the commercial real estate industry and what he does to keep a competitive advantage. He also shares his level of involvement when closing a deal and his secret to maintaining his relationships. 

Lastly, he shares his take on how technology has changed the way he closes deals.

What’s discussed: 

2:12 - How to be successful in the real estate industry?

3:57 - What does Bob do to stay competitive nowadays?

5:15 - How does Bob execute a closed deal? 

6:31 - How involved is Bob in a deal? 

7:22 - What are Bob’s ways to organize his connections?

11:03 - How different is Bob’s day today compared to when he started?

12:29 - What does Bob do to fill his pipeline?

14:54 - How has technology influenced Bob’s way of closing deals?

Transcript:

Transcript:

Intro:

You're listening to the closing table by ProDeal, the Commercial Real Estate Industry Insiders podcast. Closing deals is what separates the good from the great in this business. That's why we pick the brains of the world's best lawyers, lenders, developers and brokers with a reputation for getting the deal closed. Stay tuned for insider tips on how to succeed at the closing table to bring your business to the top. Now let's start closing some deals. Welcome back to the closing table. I'm Ian Group and today I'm here with Bob Knakal. Bob is the chairman of New York Investment Sales at JLL, where he co-leads the investment sales division in New York City. From 1988 through 2014, his company closed over 6,000 deals, over $23 billion in value. And today, Bob has been personally responsible for the sale of over 2,000 buildings and over $18 billion in sales. Bob's views and tips on productivity, work ethic and how you excel in your career are not to be missed in this episode. Now, if you close large deals, you know how much work goes into just coordinating documents - trying to find the latest version of anything in your email is a total time suck. ProDeal was purposely built for companies to track and organize their due diligence in simple, user-friendly ways and in an easy to adopt platform. Head over to pro deal 3/2 slash product to schedule a call with me and I will show you why firms like Fortress, Silverstein and Strong Hill Capital all use our platform. Now let's dive into today's conversation with Bob Knakal. 

Ian Group:

So the first question I wanted to ask you - say I did my homework, I did some research, I watched some of your interviews and your YouTube videos. You said in a previous interview that achieving some level of excellence early on, like being a captain of a sports team or being the editor of a newspaper, makes for some of the best professionals or brokers, which is what you do. If I'm listening to this podcast and I want to emulate what a successful individual is doing in their career in real estate, what would you say that is? 

Bob Knakal:

You know, I think that's a great question. I've seen hundreds and hundreds of people come and go from the business. And I think one of the things that is very consistent in the people who are top achievers in commercial real estate is that they really love what they do - they have a passion for it. We found that the traits that lead to people having that passion and another ingredient for success is to have some type of competitive background and achieving a high degree of success or excellence within that competitive environment - team sports has been a great one. Overwhelmingly, the people we've hired that have excelled at team sports turn out to be great salespeople or achieving a level of success as captain of the debating team or editor of the school newspaper or you know, something where in your background it showed you took initiative, you were a leader. It was something that generally folks who do those types of things are very competitive. Real estate is a highly, highly competitive business. There are thousands of people trying to do what anyone is doing any particular day. So we want folks who thrive on competition and have shown the ability to excel within that environment. And that generally leads to the probability of a high level of success in our business. 

Ian Group:

So obviously, as you said, real estate is super competitive. Do you stay competitive in other ways today? I see you've got a basketball hoop behind you. 

 Bob Knakal:

You know, I still love to play tennis and golf. My biggest competitor today is my 13-year-old daughter who was in tennis camp all summer. And now I'm not a great tennis player, but I think I'm pretty good, but she beats me the majority of the time now. So that keeps my competitive juices flowing. And, you know, one thing I still love is the competitive nature of this business is still something that drives me very, very significantly. I've always been very competitive, and I am as passionate about the business today as I was the first day I started pitching. Business is my favorite thing in the world. I love to pitch business. I love to close deals. The real competition within our business is in pitching business and trying to win business. And I love the competitive nature of that. It's always nice to get a direct award when a client calls you up and says, Hey, Bob, I want to sell my building, right? I want you to sell it for me. But I really love it when we're competing against three or four other firms.

Ian Group:

Yeah, you mentioned closing deals. So this podcast is called The Closing Table. I'm curious when you do win that deal, how do you kind of mobilize from there? Obviously, it was a competitive process to get to win the deal, but now you have to execute. What are you doing to execute? What does the team around you look like now? 

Bob Knakal:

The team around me, you know, I have my wingman and right-hand man Jon Hageman. He's been my partner for over 20 years, going all the way back to the Massey days. Jon’s been a fantastic partner for me. We have a team of transactional associates, we have a communications director, I have a personal assistant, we have a senior analyst. You have a whole bunch of folks that just are from my specific transaction team. And then we have other people within our group that work in different geographical areas. This is kind of an outcropping from the old days. We sold the company to Cushman Wakefield. I left Cushman in 2018, brought 53 people with me here to JLL. The majority of those people are still intact and we're working together. I have a really big and great support team that helps with the implementation and the execution of our transactions. 

Ian Group:

So your involvement in the deal after you're awarded it is, I'm assuming, at a pretty high level. 

Bob Knakal:

Yes and no. I mean, it depends on the transaction. It depends on the client. I still make phone calls. My average so far this year, I've averaged 114 connections with property owners every week. So I'm still banging the phones all the time. I mean, that's the gasoline for the engine of our business, you have to be on the phone talking to people.I'm still out there granularly marketing property, making marketing calls, talking to folks. I'm involved, you know, primarily putting stuff in the front of the pipeline, taking stuff out of the pipeline and closing it. But I'm involved at various stages in the middle of the pipeline as well.

Ian Group:

How do you manage step by step? How do you actually manage 114 calls a week? Do you use a CRM? Or do you have a spreadsheet? 

Bob Knakal:

That is called Realnex, which works great, but my team uses that mostly. I am a very old school guy. So, you know, you're number 39. So here's my list of calls that I've made so far this whole year. I can tell you that we're sitting here Tuesday at 114. I've already spoken to 78 property owners, so I track stuff on paper. It's all about time management, really. The reality is, we're so busy reacting to things during the day between nine and five, it's really tough to get stuff done proactively. You block time out, so you have to work before 9:00, you have to work after five, you have to work on the weekends. And you know, we've always said, going back to the MK days, we joke around that to be successful in commercial real estate you only have to work half a day – it doesn't matter what 12 hours you work as long as you work and 12 hours a day. 

Ian Group:

So what time do you wake up to get it all started? 

Bob Knakal:

Generally, I wake up around 4:30AM to get to the gym to get my workout done and then it's on the field of battle. 

Ian Group:

And what time are you in bed by?

Bob Knakal:

I try to get to sleep by 10:00PM. For a lot of years my goal was always to wake up early. But I found that that's the wrong goal. The goal should be to get to sleep early because if you don't get the sleep earlier, you can't wake up early. And so one leads to the other. You have to get your rest and recharge and finding the balance in life is very important. Balancing your work, your career with your family, your friends, your health, your faith. That balance is different for everybody. But I think you have to proactively work on time management in order to achieve what you want to achieve in each of those different areas of your life. 

Ian Group:

I'm glad you brought that up. I think it's so important to set goals and to have perspective on all of that, because it's very easy to lose it if you're, I mean, I have two little kids, so if I'm working, it's very easy for me to keep going and going and not stop. But it's a priority of mine to have dinner with them every single night. 

Bob Knakal:

Yeah. And the reality of it is that each individual has to set a schedule and find a balance that works for them. In the commercial real estate business, the fact is that the more you work, the more work you make for yourself. Economists refer to this dynamic as a positive feedback loop. If I take a weekend in the summer and I decide to spend most of that time with my family and, you know, just work two, four, six hours, whatever, getting a couple of things done, my Monday and Tuesday are going to be pretty light. But if I work like this past weekend where I probably work 10 hours on Saturday and 14 hours on Sunday, I've been buried yesterday and today - the more you work, the more work you make for yourself. You have to proactively carve out time to do the things that you need to do to make sure that you're being fulfilled in each of those areas of your life that you want to devote time and attention to.

Ian Group:

Yeah. Agreed. How different is your day today compared to when you first started? 

Bob Knakal:

Truthfully, it's not very different and it's kind of like a comfortable old shoe. I love getting up and I've always worked out. And, you know, I just think that life is a little different now that I'm married. I have a 13-year-old daughter and spending time with my family has become much more of a priority than when I started in the business. I wasn't married, I didn't have kids. So it's a little different. I've shifted my priorities in terms of time management. But from a work perspective, my day today looks very, very much like my days looked back in the old days. I'm doing maybe less of the stuff in the middle of the pipeline because I have a wonderful support team that does a lot of that stuff. There are so many things on a transaction that need to be done, but a senior broker doesn't need to be doing all of those. So fortunately, I have a great support team that does a lot of that stuff in the middle of the pipeline. A lot more of my time is disproportionately spent at the front of the pipeline and the back of the pipeline. The fact is the day looks very, very similar to what it did 38 years ago. 

Ian Group:

What are you doing to fill the pipeline connections, going out, meeting people? How do you do it? 

Bob Knakal:

Networking is a big thing. Look, I believe that the number one thing that generates business in our business is prospecting. Prospecting takes all kinds of forms: it's making cold calls, it’s sending out email blasts, it's sending out texts, it's sending out good old-fashioned US postal hard mail, which I think is very, very underrated, especially today when people’s email boxes are so inundated and a lot of competition lost a lot of its effectiveness, and then it's networking. I try to do 261 networking things a year. There are 261 working days. I try to do at least one a day and that could be breakfast, lunch, drinks, dinner, going to a conference, going to a seminar, having coffee with somebody, but some type of face-to-face interaction. Clearly that was a lot more difficult during the pandemic, but people are back to meeting with each other. I think it's really important to be out and to be known, be top of mind as an intermediary who relies on the actions of other people. You have to have those other people who are taking action thinking of you. You know, ideally you want to do all the things so that when a property owner realizes, hey, I have to sell my building because of whatever loss of a tenant mortgage maturing or it's just time or a partnership dispute or a divorce, death in the family, what have you when that decision is made, hey, I have to sell my building, I want the first thing that they think of is, hey, I got to call Knakal and find out what he can do for me. By being on top of mind, you have to constantly stay in touch with people, constantly stay in front of them - show that you are aware of what's going on in the market, write market reports, do videos, do things to inform people and share information about what's going on in the marketplace and show that you're on top of things. 

Ian Group:

Yeah, well, you've got a podcast checked off your list today. So, nice job. Well, I've got one last question for you since Pro Deal, the company that is creating the podcast, is a tech platform. I like to ask at least one tech question since you started your career in the mid-eighties, 84, how has technology influenced the way you've closed deals as it has, and are you doing it the same way today as it changed for the better or. 

Bob Knakal:

Well, it definitely has changed because I will take you back to 1984, and when I was selling properties then, we didn't have computers on our desks, we didn't have cell phones. We'd go to show a building - you had a roll of quarters in your pocket, and you were standing in front of the building waiting for somebody. If they didn't show up, you went down to the corner, called their office, if they didn't pick up the phone, you went back to the building, waited about a half hour, and then you went back to your office. If they didn't show the process was highly, highly inefficient. The pace of business has picked up and the capacity of a broker has picked up because of technology. But interestingly, you would think that more transactions are happening, but there in New York City, there were more buildings sold in the 1980s than in the 1990s, more sold in the 1990s than in the 2000s and more sold in the 2000s than in the second decade of this century. There actually have been fewer buildings that are trading. What I think has happened is that the ranks of the brokerage community are smaller because an individual broker can do a heck of a lot more now than they used to do just by virtue of technology. Technology has really empowered people at the top of the pyramid because you can do a lot more. But I think there are fewer people doing it because of the way technology has influenced things. 

Ian Group:

You held up your trusted pad and pen before. But are there any tools that you particularly use or anything like that that people might want to check out? 

Bob Knakal:

Now, you know, I think I'm happy to get my laptop on in the morning and I'm happy my cell phone works and I can text pretty well and use the cell phone pretty well, but again, fortunately, I have a great support team that does all the Excel spreadsheets and the modeling and all that kind of stuff. I'm a phone guy and I love to be out face to face with people. And, you know, to the extent that the technology tools we have help get us information faster, that's great, but, you know, I don't spend a lot of time in front of those technologies as a lot of other folks do.

Ian Group:

You're making calls and you're networking. That's the way to do it. I think whether you're a broker or you're a lawyer or whatever, getting out in front of other people is absolutely the name of the game. 

Bob Knakal:

The reality is, look, I think that there should be a whole different college curriculum. I think that learning whether prepaid rent is an asset or a liability or whether it's a debit or credit really doesn't matter. I think a lot of the stuff we learn at colleges is to learn how to learn, not necessarily what you learn, but I think a big part that is overlooked is salesmanship, the psychology of why people do what they do, likability. You know, people work with who they like and they can't like you if they don't know you. So you have to be out in front of them, calling them, talking to them, meeting with them, interacting with them, staying in touch with them. I've often said that in real estate, if you look at a capability scale and said zero is someone who doesn't know anything and ten is someone who's a genius and knows everything about real estate, you can't be a three or a four and get by, but you don't have to be a ten either. You could be a solid seven or an eight and if people really like you, you will be very, very successful in this business and probably win business over the person who's a ten if that person who's the ten is not likable and the seven or an eight is likable. I think focusing on how to engage with people, talk to people, bond with people. I've always said that you put two people in a room and let them talk for 20 minutes. There has to be something that they have in common that they both like. That commonality is the basis of a relationship that can last a really long time, so, you know, I think that focusing on those types of things are things that help people in the business world, particularly in commercial real estate. And I think if you think about it, obviously commercial real estate brokers are salesmen, but I think attorneys are salesmen, title salesmen, bankers are salesmen. Everyone in some capacity is a salesman. We're not sitting in a factory making widgets. We're interacting with people and people work with who they like, so, you know, I think that's a really big part of it. 

Ian Group:

Mandatory curriculum. I agree with you. Sign me up, Bob. I really want to thank you for being here. This is such a pleasure. And yeah, I mean words of wisdom.I took a lot of good notes from this call. 

Bob Knakal:

Great. If there is anything I could ever do for you or any of your listeners or viewers, please feel free to reach out to me at any time. 

Ian Group:

We'll put your email in the show notes. Bye Bob. 

Bob Knakal:

Thank you. All right. Take care. 

Outro:

Thank you so much for listening to today's episode of The Closing Table. The Commercial Real Estate Industries Insider Podcast brought to you by ProDeal. If you're ready to start closing some deals, I highly recommend checking out ProDeal. Here's why it's a due diligence platform that helps deal teams streamline track and organize due diligence. It's especially helpful for big deals, portfolio transactions or shops with high volume, with endless amounts of documents, checklists and emails. Isn't it time that you and your team use a tool purpose built for your deals? For more information, please visit our website at ProDeal360.com and request a demo. Tell us you found ProDeal on the podcast and we'll give you 30 days for free. If you'd like deals, content and advice on how to rise to the top, please be sure to follow us on LinkedIn and Twitter. Now let's go start closing some deals.

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