Generating small-commercial leads: The (tenaciously) personal touchTom Brubakerquality leads, marketing strategy, busy prospect, your community Brokers who are winning big in small-balance commercial lending have one thing in common: They tenaciously build and maintain a steady stream of quality leads. And they employ a variety of lead generation techniques, with an emphasis on a personal touch, to keep that stream flowing. It all begins with understanding small-commercial borrowers—how they work, what motivates them, where they get information and who they trust for financial advice. This knowledge is critical to developing a lead generation and marketing strategy that will get the attention of a very busy prospect. Take note of those two simple, but important words: "busy prospect." The point of departure for your small-commercial lead generation strategy is as simple as getting out and walking the streets of your community. That's where your prospects are—busy working and managing their enterprises. This being the case, the most productive, inexpensive strategy to generate leads is to canvas commercial districts in your community, always with a supply of brochures or introductory letters to leave behind. Keep in mind that small-business owners are jacks-of-all-trades. They make the pizza, balance the books, order supplies and clean the restaurant. Time is very limited, so strike at just the right time—never drop in on the pizza shop owner during the busy lunch hours. Without a doubt, after a few hours spent visiting with shopkeepers, building owners and real estate agents, you'll return with both applications and referral sources. Engage in this same type of inexpensive networking with your friends and acquaintances who own businesses, and with people you see at the gym or club. Take it to the next level at Chamber of Commerce meetings or gatherings of local business associations. Most members of Chambers of Commerce or business associations are small business owners who either own (or would like to own) a small-commercial property. Attend meetings and spread the word that you finance small-commercial and mixed-use properties. Take every opportunity to promote your expertise everywhere you go, making sure your message is consistent—even down to the fundamental details, such as including the phrase "commercial financing" on your business card, letterhead and signage. These methods are simple, yet effective, and you'll encounter opportunities to network continually during your regular daily routine. Take every chance to tell your story, and watch the referrals you get from this simple plan of action. The personal touch of your networking efforts will be enhanced by following-up your visit with a phone call to thank prospects for their time. Offer to send additional information or to see them anytime they have further questions, and be sure to refer them to your Web site. Another effective lead generation technique is referral marketing. Your existing relationships (and new ones that you continually establish) with professional contacts throughout your community—from attorneys, to financial advisors, to accountants—can provide a mutually beneficial exchange of new business opportunities. Keep in mind that you'll be speaking to people who are probably unfamiliar with non-traditional, small-commercial money sources. Clearly explain to your referral sources the types of clients and properties your lending can serve, such as cash businesses and non-traditional property types. Ask if they will be willing to display your business cards or brochures in their offices. Be sure to maintain a schedule for regular follow-ups with referrers, and seek to create win-win opportunities by also referring your clients to these professional service providers. Here are some examples of the types of referral partnerships you should seek to develop and build: •Property and casualty insurance agents: Property and casualty insurance agents have become a hot source of referral business for Mortgage Brokers. The selling point for insurance agents is that they will be able to offer their clients small-commercial financing through you. The more services these agents can extend to their clients, the more likely they are to retain business over time. •Small-commercial real estate specialists: Identify and contact real estate agents and leasing agents in your community who specialize in commercial properties. They're frequently seeking brokers and lenders who can quickly and successfully service small-balance commercial loans. When they learn of your expertise in small-commercial lending, they'll immediately see opportunities to expand their own sales and marketing efforts to commercial owners and investors that banks would turn down. •Accountants: Target a number of smaller certified public accountants in your community and arrange meetings with them. They'll almost certainly have numerous small-business owners as clients; if those businesses have expansion plans, the accountants are likely to be aware of them. Their knowledge of the business owner's tax returns also allows them to know which clients may need non-traditional financing sources to grow. Again, these are but a few of the plentiful referral opportunities that you can pursue. Beyond these, investigate the potential to form relationships that are tightly focused on commercial property needs, such as real estate investors, financial advisors, commercial property developers, banks and credit unions. For example, loan officers at traditional banking institutions obviously cannot serve every commercial financing request that comes their way. Just as obviously, they face a potential loss of loyalty—not to mention business—if they're unable to serve an existing small-commercial customer who does not qualify within their terms. Making these lenders aware of your ability to provide non-traditional commercial financing gives them an alternate funding source to recommend to their customers. As you develop your networking approaches with professional service providers, it's important to constantly tout the benefits that you'll bring to your referral sources. As your small-commercial lending portfolio grows, you'll be helping those borrowers to grow and expand their businesses. Consequently, the accountants, insurance agents and financial advisors who provide you referrals should see more profit-making opportunities for themselves from these same growing businesses. Earlier, I mentioned tenacity. When it comes to working with referral sources, you'll need plenty of it. You may need to follow up with your referral sources several times after your initial contact to continue educating them about the benefits you can bring their clients. Diligently send business to referrers whenever possible, and you should begin to see a steady stream of referral business come back to you. Obviously, you won't be able to reach or meet every suitable prospect or referrer in person. As your one-to-one networking efforts begin opening doors to new leads, you'll benefit even further from a solid plan to more broadly communicate and market your small-commercial financing expertise. It's obvious that a productive small-commercial lead generation strategy requires tenacity and diversity. Employing a variety of lead-producing techniques—all emphasizing your personal touch—enables you to build and sustain both awareness and consideration of your products and services. By testing and learning (a process that must include multiple contacts and regular follow-ups), you'll identify which methods offer the greatest opportunities for identifying and securing profitable small-commercial business. Tom Brubaker is vice president of marketing for InterBay Funding LLC, a commercial mortgage lender providing capital to small business owners and commercial property investors throughout the United States, Canada and the United Kingdom. With over two decades of experience in financial services marketing, Tom assists brokers in developing effective marketing strategies. He may be reached at [email protected].
About the author