An open house means an open door to loan officersJeffrey NelsonReal estate agents,mortgage brokers Imagine passing up a great opportunity to market to real estate agents—or even worse, blowing that opportunity with a bad approach. Can't believe it happens? It happens every time you drive past an open house. Open houses offer a great chance to meet real estate agents and set up a foundation for a working relationship. But, it can go in the exact opposite direction, if not approached correctly. What happens? Too often, loan officers approach every meeting with agents as a high-powered sales pitch instead of a chance to start a relationship. Before they know it, they've been kicked to the curb. Maybe you are not aware of your sales pitch. Or maybe you think it is the only way to market yourself. If you spend your time trying to convince real estate agents to work with you, you are soliciting. Every day, real estate agents are faced with solicitations from loan officers. That's why they automatically switch to the "off" position. Open houses are the perfect opportunity to talk with real estate agents. Most of the time, the agent is waiting for someone to walk in the door—visitors may be few and far between. They welcome a break from the monotony, and that is where you come in. When you stop at open houses, you have a perfect occasion to talk to the agent—usually undisturbed, without phone calls or other interruptions. But you need to be ready to talk—not pitch. Engage the agent Instead of walking into the open house intending to win a new client, start with a goal of building a relationship. You should be attempting to engage the real estate agent in conversation, take the opportunity to develop a better understanding of the challenges he faces and discover his problems. Take some time to find out details about the agent's practice: • How long has he been in business? • Is he a buyer or seller agent? • What are his business goals? • What is his number one challenge? • What is stressing him out the most? • What is necessary to fix the problems? When you engage the agent in uncovering his problems, you present a prime opportunity to establish an appointment for future discussions. Schedule time to meet again and continue your discussion before leaving the open house. Lots of agents will wiggle out of a standard sales presentation appointment; so instead, you demonstrate how much you want to understand their business before you try convincing them of anything. Practice graciousness Your next step is easy, but almost always overlooked. You've got that important appointment scheduled—most people walk away, perhaps call a couple of days before to confirm. What a great opportunity for the agent to cancel the appointment! A far better strategy is to take time immediately following the appointment to send a handwritten thank you note. Thank the agent for taking time to speak with you, and announce you are looking forward to meeting with him on the scheduled appointment date. Not only does the handwritten note provide the confirmation of the appointment, it also reinforces the impression of your graciousness, as well as confirms how excited you are to meet with him. Make the call Instead of calling to confirm the appointment, giving the agent an opportunity to cancel, follow up with additional questions. Again, as part of your commitment to building this relationship, you merely want to find out more information about the issues facing the agent and how you could possibly help him in his future. Remember, do not make this a sales call. This is an information gathering call only. Arm yourself with information The open house gave you a great opportunity to gather information and lay the foundation of a relationship. With your next meeting, take as many supporting documents as possible. Don't worry about bringing along glossy brochures or marketing pieces. Instead, take some time to do some research. Find supporting articles or tips that help solve the problems faced by the agent. By doing so, you are positioning yourself as a critical resource in the agent's mind. Use actions to show your unique approach If you have followed these steps, you have already set yourself apart from other loan officers. You have taken an opportunity that many people pass up and made the most of it. Instead of forcing a sales call, you created a new pattern for a successful relationship. Imagine the opportunities you have been passing up. Never look at an open house in the same way—instead of seeing a property desperate for sale, picture an agent desperate for help with problems. Then, picture yourself as the answer to their problems. Open houses can truly open doors to a bright future relationship. Jeffrey Nelson is founder and president of Salesachievers Inc., a consulting firm that trains loan officers how to earn more referrals from real estate agents, as well as the author of "Become an Agent Magnet." He may be reached at (480) 367-8350 or through his company's Web site at www.soarinsales.com.