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Growth strategies: 2010

Mark Schnurman
Dec 29, 2009

During the past two years, the mortgage business has experienced a tremendous amount of turmoil. We have watched many well-known companies in our industry fail, while others still struggle desperately to stay afloat. However, the select few companies that have been scrupulous with their lending, creating operational efficiency, have been able to withstand the market and regulatory pressures. In June 2007, GFI Mortgage Bankers committed itself to using this period to aggressively grow its market share. By implementing the following strategies, GFI has managed to not only survive, but to prosper. Research tells us that the highest performing loan officers have used the following strategies to stay on top: ► Creating custom business plans that play on loan officer strengths. ► Communicating and connecting with people at an extremely high level. ► Dominating niche markets. ► Staying positive in the face of adversity and change. Creating custom business plans Every sales manager has a business model that they believe will enable loan officers to succeed and often try to force those models on others. The problem is that many times loan officers are not capable of executing those plans. Managers need to understand the strengths, weaknesses and competencies of each of their loan officers and possess the flexibility to help them identify ways of being successful. In theory, each loan officer operates as an independent business owner and, like any successful business, a well thought-out, organized plan is necessary to dramatically increase the odds of succeeding. A business plan can, not only help clarify your vision, but can help you develop effective operational strategies and understand the risks involved in your business. Loan officers who know and play to their strengths succeed; those who lack the clarity to know their strengths and the wherewithal to play to them fail. No amount of training or coaching will allow you to fit a square peg into a round hole. That is not a value judgment, only a reality. Hence, you are faced with two choices: Let loan officers fail or work diligently with them to create business plans that they can successfully execute. So, what are your strengths? Are you better at face-to-face interaction or phone conversation? Do you prefer the people side of the business or the deal side? Do you work better with realtors or certified public accountants (CPAs)? Focus on your strengths and free yourself up to succeed! Communicating and connecting with people at a high level While it may seem obvious, communication is the key to generating new business from a referral source. This is often easier said than done. Any referral source (realtor, attorney, accountant, financial advisor, etc.) worth the time and effort, already has a relationship with a loan officer. They may not be thrilled with their current loan officer, but why should they change? The devil you know is often better than the devil you don’t. Change is hard, so therefore, to successfully create new relationships, you must make a compelling case why a referral should give you their business. To do this, you must properly communicate your message. Industry research demonstrates that it can take up to 30 contacts to turn a prospect into a client. Most loan officers are not willing to commit the time and effort necessary to develop new referral relationships. Recently, a realtor told me that if she had a penny for every loan officer who visited her office once or twice, never to return, she would be retired. Consistent, repeatable, predicable and planned behavior is necessary to succeed. By implementing a process of mass customization, you can easily stay in contact and deliver white glove service with very little effort. A systematic follow up or drip campaign simplifies your job by enabling you to execute on an efficient approach, positioning you as an expert and assisting in the acquiring of referrals. Goals of drip marketing campaign: ► Build rapport and trust ► Display and establish expertise, professionalism and resources ► Model service-oriented behavior ► Committed to the referral sources best interest ► Compare favorably to other loan officers ► Frequent contact … more than current provider The first call on a potential referral source is important, but will rarely result in a business committal, as there are no magic bullets. The most successful loan officers that I work with create follow-up processes that give their prospect a Copernican complex. In other words, the referral sources think the world revolves around them. Make initial contact by interactive means (e.g. face-to-face or over the phone). After you make the contact, send an informal follow-up e-mail. The same e-mail script can be used after all first contacts and customized simply by referencing your meeting in the opening line. Send the e-mail on the same day as the meeting and include a photo (makes you memorable) and some collateral material on your firm. Sample: “It was great meeting with you today. I enjoyed learning about the success you have had in Soho and believe I can help you build on that success. My company has been in business for over 25 years, and we have all the programs, products and services to customize solutions and meet your client’s needs. As a direct lender, we control the process that ensures your deals will close on time. Finally, my approach focuses on making you look good. Attached, you will find some information on my firm, my service commitments and personal bio. I look forward to speaking with you soon.” The same day, send out a handwritten note. Handwritten notes are more formal and personalized, resulting in a more significant impact than e-mails. Your note should be simple and to the point, “Nice meeting you. I understand the critical importance of a loan officer to your business, and look forward to the opportunity to serve with you in the future.” The note should be accompanied by a business card. Within three or four business days, call the referral source to set up a formal meeting and send an e-mail out the same day. Your goal must be a minimum of two contacts (drips) a week, one being face-to-face. Drop by the realtor’s office once or twice a week. Send an e-mail every week, drop materials or a note in the mail and make a call. Persistent? Aggressive? Perhaps, but these actions are necessary for success. You need to differentiate yourself from the competition and shorten the time it takes to make the 30 contacts necessary to get business. Communication may seem obvious and simple. However, by using communication skills to create and implement your drip marketing campaign, you will watch your business grow right before your eyes. Dominating niche markets Developing and dominating your niche market is crucial to being successful in the business. Niche marketing is when all of your marketing efforts are concentrated on a small but specific and well-defined segment of the population. You must define your niche market and capitalize on it to the best of your ability. Whether it is a specific geographic region, industry or age group, this market should be a target group that you can closely relate to and that would consider you an expert in your specific field. You must also develop the ability to maximize your marketing budget by targeting your defined niche market. This will help you figure out where to advertise and will make it easier for you to develop products and services that appeal to your niche market. Ask yourself: What are the “extras” that I bring to this market? A perfect example of a dominator in the niche market is a mortgage banker who we will call “Tim” for sake of anonymity. Tim is a native of Bay Ridge, Brooklyn and has made it his priority to know everything about the real estate industry in this area. He uses this knowledge to leverage himself when he visits with local realtors. These neighborhood realtors appreciate the fact that Tim is born and raised in the area and that he possesses an intimate knowledge of the area in which they do business. They often see him around town and feel a sense of comfort in using his services. As a result, 85 percent of Tim’s client base comes from local businesses that know and respect him and are happy to support a fellow businessman.   So what’s your niche? If you haven’t already determined your niche market, find one and learn everything there is to know about it. Do whatever it takes to become the loan officer of choice in your niche market. Staying positive in the face of adversity and change Your career as a loan officer is the sum total of the decisions and choices you make. Your choices result in habits or patterns of behavior. Some patterns of behavior result in success; others result in failure. The patterns are quite clear if you look for them. Let me share some patterns of behavior that are leading loan officers to success in this difficult market. ► Attitude: It can be depressing to read all of the negative news regarding the housing market, interest rates and mortgage applications, but only if you allow it to depress you. Top loan officers see the weaker housing market as an opportunity to grow market share as competition declines. In addition, some loan officers let events drive their behavior. Top loan officers, however, let their behavior drive their attitudes. So instead of sitting around and complaining about the weak market, they are visiting their realtors, CPAs, attorneys and other referral sources and getting results. Start seeing the glass as half full. ► Commitment: Unfortunately, the mortgage business is very transient. In good markets, people join only to leave when the going gets tough. The loan officers who maintain and grow their businesses in difficult times are committed to the mortgage business and focus on the activities that have helped them in the past. In addition, top producers commit to building their knowledge base by learning about new products, services and ways of helping their clients. Take the time to create a business plan for your long-term success in the mortgage industry, and identify and learn in areas where your knowledge is lacking. ► Hard work: I am always amazed at the difference in work habits between producers and pretenders. Nothing in life is gained without hard work. The path to success is not always the path of least resistance. In today’s tough market, you need to work a little harder. Create a schedule that lays out your regular activities and stick to it. ► Success is simple: Look at the ideas and behaviors of top producers and imitate them. Nobody knows what 2010 holds for the mortgage business for sure, but these strategies have never failed in the past and are guaranteed to take your mortgage business to the next level. Remember, only the strong will survive in these times, don’t get left behind. This article was co-authored by Linda Arcadipane, director of marketing for GFI Mortgage Bankers Inc.  Mark Schnurman is director of human resources for GFI Mortgage Bankers Inc. Linda Arcadipane is director of marketing for GFI Mortgage Bankers Inc. She may be reached by phone at (917) 289-3125.
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