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   ARTICLE   |   From Scotsman Guide Residential Edition   |   March 2017

Cultivate a Stronger Branch

Planning and recruiting are the seeds of future growth

Cultivate a Stronger Branch

Whether they also originate loans or not, branch managers at mortgage companies typically are tasked with two primary functions: increasing their team’s production numbers and recruiting new sales talent to sustain and grow the branch. Luckily, branch managers don’t need to sit under an apple tree waiting for inspiration to hit them. Growing a stronger branch just requires planning and consistency.

The question that keeps most loan originators awake at night is: “Where will my next loan come from?” The answer is often: “Continue to build referrals while providing great service and value to existing clients.”

For managers, the late-night questions are: “How can I increase production?” and “Where will I find my next new mortgage loan originator (MLO)?” The answers to these questions are usually along the lines of: “Devise and follow a coherent plan,” and “Recruit consistently, openly and honestly.”

Increasing production

Each day a myriad of companies vie for the attention of loan originators, offering ways to improve their production with ideas ranging from lead generation to closing gifts. To effectively improve production numbers, however, branch managers should make sure MLOs start with a firm plan.

A robust business plan is one of the first tools a manager should obtain from every MLO. This plan is the roadmap to success, and the manager’s role becomes that of a guide, providing “guardrails” to keep originators in the office on track toward their goals.

There are numerous business-plan templates managers can obtain, but the best choices often come from peers or other managers. Components of an effective plan should include goals, marketing strategies, new business targets and skills to improve. Once a plan is chosen, review it with the loan originators in the branch and get them on board.

During reviews, ask MLOs who will be accountable to keep them on track to meet their goals. Make sure any originator who wishes to take sole responsibility for their goals has had success doing so in the past. For those who ask for help, this gives the manager the authority to get more involved with tracking progress.

Revisit and adjust these plans regularly — at least two times per year.

It also can be effective to enlist other MLOs to provide feedback during these review meetings. This can promote internal teamwork and an exchange of ideas. Don’t let veteran originators slide on setting goals, either. Regardless of how many years of experience they have, even weathered MLOs need a plan and a manager who takes an interest in their success.

Once goals are established, look for ways to remove obstacles to production so MLOs can move more efficiently through their days. Managers who find answers to unique scenario questions or resolve nagging issues with upper management will earn the gratitude of their originators. Originators who are more satisfied with their jobs and have more time to make sales will reward the manager with stronger production numbers.

Continuing education and training are a must for sharpening sales skills. 

It also is important to lead by example. Managers should make a plan and set goals for themselves as well. Attending referral-partner meetings and industry events shows everyone in the office the importance of these activities as well.

Finally, continuing education and training are a must for sharpening sales skills. Managers can impart tips from their own experiences or find external training and educational programs, but all of these options have limits. In challenging markets, especially, reaching further for new information is necessary to stay ahead.

Luckily, there are multiple resources available for expanding training beyond conferences and online courses. Look to vendors and referral sources such as private mortgage-insurance companies, title and escrow agents, real estate offices and even other branches for ideas. All of these entities are interested in building their business and often offer valuable training.

Another angle is to check out competing mortgage companies or even successful companies in other industries. See if it makes sense to employ sales training or production concepts used in their sales departments. Perhaps they have some amazing customer service ideas or improved ways to connect with clients.

Recruiting and production

Recruiting analogies are endless — recruiting is like dancing, fishing, dating, advertising, etc. Take your pick. The key is often consistency, but consistent at what? One strong strategy is “give to get.” Give information first that helps potential recruits gather valuable information. If recruits see a management style of readily providing helpful and timely information, they get a glimpse into the support they can expect to receive if they decide to join the new team.

Hiring the right MLOs to grow the team is a balancing act. Just as originators must identify the right referral partners to work with, branch managers must determine the ideal characteristics of MLOs that will fit into the team and company.

No one has the lowest rates, best service, highest
    compensation and best support.

Use the current team as a starting point. Use that template to narrow down prospects. If the company has a lot of training opportunities, for example, perhaps recruits who are new to the industry will work well and flourish. If the company is not set up to train raw recruits, taking on this larger project will be a disservice to all involved.

A branch’s track record and success will speak volumes for the team and the manager leading them. In turn, a team that is productive, successful and visible in the market usually helps recruiting efforts. So planning activities that expand the branch’s local brand not only help increase production, they can increase exposure to recruits as well. Consider hosting:

  • Networking gatherings with Realtors and referral partners;
  • Training seminars for local professional associations; and
  • Holiday or charity events that promote the company brand.

Invite recruits to these events to see the team and manager in action, and be sure to utilize social media before, during and after the event to promote it. Many of these activities also improve team retention, which is critical to stability and growth.

Promoting the branch will only get a manager so far, however. In the end, a manager’s word and reputation are the critical elements to successful long-term recruiting. It is important to be honest about the company’s strengths and weaknesses. Recruits know that companies cannot excel at everything. No one has the lowest rates, best service, highest compensation and best support. Therefore, discussing the challenges facing a branch, while difficult, is critical to building the right team.

Trust and honesty are obviously important to the conversation, given everything at stake for the parties. Overpromising does not help anyone when recruiting and lessens the manager’s credibility. That being said, if company weaknesses can be controlled or influenced by the manager, be sure to explain the plans for overcoming those weaknesses to recruits.

Many MLOs often make moves due to false expectations, however, so it is important not to embellish the truth. Exaggeration usually ends in unrealized expectations. Given the cost in time and dollars of hiring and onboarding a new originator, it can be detrimental to expansion efforts when new MLOs end up leaving shortly after being hired.

Originators who depart soon after joining a branch also send an unflattering message to the local market about the company they left, regardless of the circumstances. Competitors, future recruits and even referral partners may simply fill in the blanks for why someone left.

By being open and honest during the recruiting process, however, both sides can come to a fair assessment of whether it is the right fit. It is unrealistic to think that any organization will have no turnover. The key with any departure is to learn from it. Understanding why it happened can help managers avoid the situation in the future.

The final question a manager must answer when recruiting is where to look for new talent. The answer is: everywhere. In addition to regular sources — such as company recruiters, industry events and local real estate meetings — professionals in related trades can be great sources as well. Ask for recommendations from contacts at escrow, title, home-warranty and insurance companies. Account executives at local lenders are another excellent source for locating recruits.

Managers should look internally as well. The MLOs in the branch may have recommendations, but don’t forget that operations centers are filled with experienced mortgage professionals. Some team member may be ready for a new challenge or might just know a qualified MLO at another company who is looking to make a change.

•  •  •

Keeping MLOs motivated and productive while building a balanced team that retains a positive culture is no easy challenge for any branch manager. It is, in fact, hard work. In each of these endeavors, however, one key is to stay consistent, because discipline often makes the difference.


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