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   ARTICLE   |   From Scotsman Guide Residential Edition   |   February 2003

The Broker's Corner: Targeting the Agent

Editor’s Note: The following article is an excerpt from Blair Hanson’s book, The Step By Step Guide to Creating Real Estate Agent Relationships.  It was written to train loan officers in effective techniques for getting home loan referrals from real estate agents.  The ideas and concepts were garnered during Blair’s 15+ years in the business. Watch for future chapters in your monthly Scotsman Guide.

Who you target is a lot more important than you might think. The agents that you create relationships with, and how they conduct their business, will have a direct impact on your career growth.

Most loan officers call on an office without any particular target in mind. In my case, during the early years I was just hoping I would bump into someone in the hallway that wasn’t too busy to talk for a few seconds. Kind of like the sharpshooter analogy we used earlier, but this time picture him with 20 targets, and no instructions on which one he needs to hit. If he thinks like I used to, he would be happy to hit any target, even if the bull’s-eye didn’t count because he hit the wrong one.

The purpose of calling on the office is to identify someone whom you would like to work with. A target. In some larger offices, you may find that it is appropriate to target more than one agent. In many offices this will be imperative. But before you actually start into your “Target Marketing,” be sure that the person that you choose isn’t the office jerk.

Choosing your target can only be done by feel. In general you are trying to find a productive, well liked agent. I used to call them “nuggets.” Solid gold in its rough form. Up and comers who treat their business like a business. You’ll be able to spot them easily. They’ll be the ones that always seem to be in the office when you make your calls. They’ll seem to be busy most of the time, and not spending their office time at the front desk flirting with the receptionist.

The people you are looking for are the ones who know what they are doing. This is critical. Rookies, part timers, and less professional agents will almost always kill you in the beginning. Always remember that your future depends on that first agent’s impression of how well you did your job. A happy first agent is absolutely critical to your success. It is their relationship with you that will give you the leverage and credibility to gain the trust of the other agents in the office. New agents and part timers are so much less experienced, and have had so few deals that they might not know the difference between an excellent job and a poor one.

In our business, every deal is complicated, and things take time. We know that. But so many of the newer agents are just borrowers with a real estate license. Only worse, because they learned in real estate school how deals are supposed to go through. So when the going gets tough, the only thing they’ll have to go on is how difficult it was to do business with you.

In an agent’s mind, anything that goes wrong with a deal is the loan officer’s fault. Try explaining to a new agent that the appraisal came in low, or the septic system wasn’t approved, or the borrowers weren’t accurate about their income. No matter how articulately you explain that it was out of your hands, the agent will only remember that the first deal he gave you was a problem. He won’t have enough experience to know that things like this happen in the mortgage process as often as not. 

He won’t know that it isn’t whether there is going to be a “problem” with a loan, it’s only when and how bad. There’s no way he could know that it isn’t IF you have a problem, but how the LO handles the problem that separates the winners from the losers. He won’t have anything to compare it to, and therefore doesn’t realize that you actually performed a miracle. He’ll only remember the problems. And that is what he will tell anyone in his office that asks.

This is an excerpt from an actual conversation I heard in a real estate office.
“Hey Bob, how’s it going?” asks the top producer.
“Not good,” says Bob the new guy.
“What do you mean not good! I heard you sold two houses last month. That’s really good for a new guy.”
“Yeah, well the lender told me today that they couldn’t close one of them, after he had told me ‘no problem.’  I’ve just lost 50% of my income.”
“Ouch. That hurts. Who’d you use?”
“I used..…”  Insert your name here, and write off both agents.

See what I mean?  Here’s another one

“Hey Marcy, congratulations! I heard you closed your first deal!” said Sally the nugget.
“Thanks Sally.”
“Well, how did it go? What did you think of your first actual deal?”
“All I can say is I am never using XYZ Mortgage again. They were a real pain. Every other week they wanted something else. Inspections, paperwork, and I had to rewrite the purchase agreement three times!”
“Really? Well I’ve been down that road before. I know what you mean. Who’d you use?”
“I used..…”  Insert your name here, and write off both agents again.

The above conversations are based in fact. I overheard the agents talking while I was visiting an agent partner in their office. I had personal knowledge of this deal, as it was handled by a new guy in my office. The agent had written the agreement up wrong all three times, leaving entire sections that she was unsure of  blank , and she had forgotten about the structural building inspection requested by her own buyer in the very same agreement.

Needless to say, the new guy didn’t get any more business from either of those agents, and as far as I know, he never did another deal in that entire office. Yet he had done a very good job of processing that loan, and dealing with a tough situation under pressure. But through nothing more than naivete on the part of a newly licensed real estate agent, he had lost several months’ work breaking into that office. 

For that reason I recommend that you do your best to avoid new people and part timers when first breaking into an office. Later, when you’ve started doing business with the right person, these people will fall like dominoes. By then your credibility will be established, and your reputation will be safe.
Top producers can be just as bad for your career, but not for the same reasons. Top Producers have three basic elements in common.

  1. They are often more demanding than the amount of business they do would warrant.
  2. They are accustomed to being coddled, and butt kissed. They expect you to pay for this, and be available for that. They have gotten to their position by being hard drivers and expecting a lot from their partners.
  3. As a rule, they have very little patience for mistakes. You can absolutely guarantee that they will share their experience with you to anyone who asks. And because they are the Top Dog, they will be asked.

I have also seen the uglier side of why it is often a better idea to wait until you have a strong foothold in an office before going after the Top Dog. It’s called jealousy. I have seen it so bad that nearly every person in the office had something bad to say about the Top Dog, and was happy to share that with anyone who would listen. In other words, watch out. If you hook up with the Top Dog right from the start, you may blow your chance to lock up ten other “nuggets.” You will find that it is better to have 10 agents each sending you one deal a month, than one agent sending you 10.

If you are new, do yourself a favor, stay away from them. In any case, don’t even consider approaching a Top Dog unless you have your ducks in a row, are absolutely sure that you can flawlessly deliver P, P, and S, and have made sure that you aren’t killing the real golden goose--the other 10 agents.

When it comes to targeting an agent, 99% of the LO’s out there do the things we talked about before. They hit the offices and the open houses, trying to corner someone who will talk to them long enough to sell them price, product, or service. You know now, that this is not only ineffective, but is actually detrimental. You won’t meet any agents who want to do business with you that way. In fact, you won’t even get a chance to talk to the true nuggets. The agents in those offices that you want to work with are busy. Too busy to talk to another loan rep, who is only going to waste their time.

The people who you are most likely to meet and chat with during your visits to the offices are time wasters. You’ll meet hundreds of them over the years. They always have time to chat because of one important thing. They aren’t busy! The people who are busy have pretty much ignored you up to now. That’s just fine. Most loan officers spend the vast majority of their time talking with time wasters, because those are the ones who have time to talk in the first place. Very few LO’s work hard to get in front of the nuggets and diamonds, because they are so intimidated by the fact they are being so obviously ignored.

But you are different. You are going to learn to love to be ignored. Being ignored makes it much easier to identify the agents who really are doing business, and can therefore be a productive resource for you.

Don’t be intimidated by them. They need you. You just need to give them a reason to work with you. You’ll start that process by making a professional approach.

OK. So you’ve narrowed it down to the agents you want to work with. You’ve identified some generally well-liked professionals, doing a reasonable and increasing amount of business. You have their business cards. You have entered them into a database, and you are raring to go! Well guess what? Get ready for change. That precious list is going to look a whole lot different in a few months. In a few years, you may not find a single, original name on your list. That’s the nature of business. Agents will come and go, the most important thing of all, and the primary difference between those on the way up and those on the way down, is that you have a list.

The list is the key, not who’s on it.

Your target list is your demonstration to yourself that you are actively working to build your business. The list means that there is someone out there that your are working to get business from. Of all of the experiences in my book that are hard won, this is the hardest. If there is anything that I can impress upon you that actually sticks, I want it to be this.

Market or die.

If you ask any ten year veteran of the mortgage business, how many agents they have worked with for 5 years or more, you will learn that it always less than 50% their total agents. Then ask them how many agents they work with now, that they were doing business with in their very first year, you always hear none. This clearly shows that if they hadn’t continually marketed themselves over the years, they would have exactly zero agents working with them now. The same will happen to you.

No matter how good things get, keep marketing.

Besides all that, one of the key things you will eventually learn about getting business from an agent, is that the best agents are loyal to their current lender. These agents I call “Diamonds.” And unlike most loan officers who consider calling on them a waste of time due to their loyalty to their current lender, you’ll learn to love ‘em. Because one day, after you’ve played your cards right, they will be loyal to you.

Getting there involves a consistent marketing strategy that I call “Positioning.” We’ll discuss positioning in detail in future articles.

So, I repeat, when it comes to marketing, stay with it forever. Anyone who thinks that the primary job of a loan officer is to close loans has missed the point completely. The primary purpose of being a loan officer is to be the marketing arm of the company. You live to get leads, and make the sale. This separates the men from the boys, the girls from the women, and the others from the, well you get the idea.

How successful you are, and how much money you make three years from now, will be a direct reflection of how well you marketed yourself today. 

Market or die. It’s that simple.

The list is your proof to yourself that you are marketing.

Ready to go now? I hope so. But please don’t make the mistake of jumping up right now and getting out there. If you wait just a little while longer, I’ll give you something to actually sell.

Remember earlier when we touched on “the art of differentiation”? I mentioned that it was the basic foundation upon which a beautiful career can be built. Maybe what I should have said is that what it really is, is a secret weapon. It really is one of the easiest to deploy secret weapons in the history of business. And in the mortgage business it’s almost an unfair advantage. The vast majority of your competition is selling price product and service. All you have to do is find something other than P, P, or S, to sell, and you have instantly differentiated yourself. Cool, huh?


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