When you make an investment – from a simple bank certificate of deposit to a large shopping mall – you are going to be buying from someone whose greatest skill is employing sales closing techniques. Their skill in closing a sale will not include safeguarding your money or earning you any profit. And their number one priority is to make their sales quota to keep their job. It is only your personal education, experience and due diligence that can protect your money from the numerous people on the other side of the table.
It is a dilemma that in order to invest, you’ll be face to face with professionals who do not have your financial interest at stake – but they will all appear to be. Sales people will appear to be on your side right up until the moment you write a check or sign a commitment. Then any problems are yours alone, their verbal promises go up in smoke, they stop returning your phone calls and the fine print suddenly negates the possibility of getting a single dime back from your investment. In my experience, a salesperson’s top priority is never your best financial interest, and you need to realize this no matter how friendly they are or how polished their sales pitch appears. As you walk into a bank or brokerage office, or call a broker, you need to keep in mind that their personal goal is not in alignment with yours. To see past their sales routine, you need specific education, experience with the industry, and, hopefully, a knowledgeable mentor.
For example, I once received a solicitation from a loan broker who wanted to get me into a triple-net lease commercial building with a million-dollar loan. After a few questions it was clear that he was acquainted with lending, but not very experienced. But continued questioning revealed that his knowledge of commercial real estate would barely fill a thimble. And he was the principal agent trying to slam me into a million-dollar loan so he could collect a commission check and move on to the next deal. Although he sounded quite confident on the phone, his responses destroyed my trust in his ability to maneuver through the numerous issues and problems in my best interest. By studying an industry and talking to experienced players, you’ll be better able to ask questions with impact. And in this case, it was the difference between me keeping my money or locking myself into a contract guaranteed to be a huge financial disaster.
To inoculate yourself against sales pitches, you need to do a lot of comparison shopping or at least become a semi-professional in the industry you want to invest in. Develop a healthy amount of suspicion and skepticism of any sales claim, and hire experienced professionals to assist you on your side of the table. These would be attorneys, accountants, financial and operational experts that are being paid directly from you to assess every aspect of a complex transaction. He or she will support you in areas that you may be weak, and ask all of the confrontational questions that need to be addressed before you sign anything.
Due diligence acts as a barrier between your money and all the people that want some of it. I personally want Fort Knox around my money, so I make the effort to educate myself as to what is going on in the areas that I want to invest in. I take some facts that are offered to me and verify them independently, and then I get more facts and continue the process until I feel comfortable enough with the people I am dealing with. If I depend upon the sales people to perform due diligence for me, it is no better than throwing money into the wind and hoping for the best.