Getting lost is a universally miserable experience that can range from frustrating to frightening. In high school, my friend Cynthia joined her cross country team for a long run in a nearby forest. When Cynthia got separated from her teammates, though, the adventurous workout became dangerous. She wandered for hours. As the sky darkened and the temperature dropped, Cynthia’s legs grew weaker. The trails all looked the same and without a compass to guide her, Cynthia was just plain lost. She imagined the worst.

Our customers arrive at our sales offices lost, too. They have read every builder’s website and examined every floor plan. But sometimes, the more information they have, the more overwhelmed and frustrated they are. Our job is to eliminate the frustration and lead them home. We can do this using the NWSE compass model and getting them to admit what they need, what they want, what they are willing to sacrifice, and what they expect.

First, identify what clients need (what I call the non-negotiables). These are the features prospects will not bend on.

It’s important to identify where their needs vary from their wants. This is their dream list—the shiny stuff like a study, a corner lot, or granite countertops. When you know which ones are negotiable, you can help them identify the ones they can do without.

Once you know what they can negotiate on, you can lead them to admit what they are willing to sacrifice. Would they be willing to let go of the study in favor of living closer to town? Would they accept a less desirable lot to have the gourmet kitchen they’re pining for? They may need to make a compromise, but it should feel like a win.

Lastly, you may need to help clients adjust what they expect. Your job here is crucial. Some buyers have unrealistic expectations—maybe because they bought their first home on a balloon loan that allowed them to buy way more house than they could actually afford. On the other hand, they may be excessively conservative and need to be led towards dreaming bigger.

My friend Cynthia needed someone to guide her home. She’ll always remember coming across a lone camper who gave her a ride. He dropped her off three miles from the school, though, because he’d been drinking and knew it wasn’t safe. She ran the rest of the way and found her coach crying in his truck. (He’d just dispatched Search and Rescue.) She decided in that moment she’d never again run in the woods without a guide.

Use this compass to identify where clients are on the map and how you can lead them home. You’ll turn what could be a frustrating experience into a pleasant walk in the park.


  1. How well do you know your buyers? Consider the last five buyers who came in. Can you identify each point on the compass for each? If it’s a struggle, then focus on that point next time.
  2. Get to where you give a clear statement to the customer: “Based on the fact that you need/want/expect… this is the best option for you.” If you can’t say the line, “Based on what you shared with me…” then you don’t know the prospect and you’re flying blind.

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