Markets are improving but anxiety remains; learn to counsel others through their uncertainty.

What is the biggest challenge in today's still-unsettled market? Sales associates ask this question. Buyers ask it. Sellers ask it. Customers you meet at Starbucks ask it.

For sales associates, is it business building? We spend thousands of dollars at master retreats, learn the scripts of the gurus, talk about pricing and how to manage market time. We learn about Web 2.0, Twitter, and Facebook. And we prospect, prospect, prospect. One hundred calls a day.

But I think we have it wrong. Without a doubt, the single greatest challenge, even in today's improving market, is fear. Fear has become the largest obstacle in transactions. All the skill in the world, all the prospecting, all the social media won't matter if we don't recognize the fear. If you listen to what customers and your colleagues in the industry say between their words, you can hear the fear, and you need to address it.

Yet it's also our greatest marketing opportunity.

All Cards Face Up

When clients are hiding fear or acting overconfidently out of fear, your efforts to guide them through the home buying and selling process are made that much more difficult. Most sales associates don't push their clients. They don't demand they lay all their cards on the table. But with so much information left unsaid, how can we advance our customers' goals? Learning their motivation is paramount.

But before we can do that we have to address our own fear. We're scared of the market, scared of rejection and failure, scared of the answers to the questions we ask ourselves. We're not making our own mortgage payments. We have our own sleepless nights. Our own judgment is clouded. We can't generate ideas to help our customers. We stop innovating. Our minds narrow and we become rigid. Nothing flourishes in this environment, least of all a deal.

Broker-owners should recognize this condition and address it. Recently I heard a sales associate say he's waiting for the market to come back. I nearly screamed. Fear-laden sales associates who spend their time cooling their heels until the market recovers will watch their broker bleed to death on the battlefield.

It doesn't matter when the market comes back. We've got to find a way through the fear. That's the only behavior that will get our business back. Some sales associates will muddle through and survive. They'll hire coaches to train their behavior-they'll hit the phones and prospect their way through. This will work for a while. Real estate has always been a numbers game. Get yourself in front of enough people and you'll create a successful business-until you can no longer sustain that effort. This intense, almost militaristic approach to prospecting is a path to burnout.

Building Customers for Life

This time, if you follow the usual prescription, not only will you put yourself on a path to burnout but you'll also miss a singular opportunity to turn the issue of fear to your advantage. Learning to listen, learning to recognize fear, learning to counsel people and hold their hands through this scary time provides an unprecedented opportunity to build raving fans-people who'll have gratitude so significant you'll generate a reservoir of business you can rely on for the rest of your life.

It starts with you. How are you handling the fear being injected into your veins through media and culture and vibe? And what will you do to transform it, to learn and grow from it? To begin to thrive within it?