Residential Magazine

Nothing Builds Relationships Like Face-to-Face Meetings

Set aside your computer or phone and get out to meet your referral partners

By Jerry Kussy

Let’s face it, these past couple of years have proven quite the challenge for mortgage originators tackling the outside sales arena. During the COVID-19 pandemic, originators have adapted to using alternative methods of communication with their referral partners — video conferencing, texts, emails and, of course, telephone conversations. But nothing will ever take the place of meeting face to face.

At the end of the day, getting out of the office and meeting your partners for coffee, lunch, or maybe some late afternoon cocktails and appetizers is what salespeople thrive upon. Your referral partners are busy with their day-to-day tasks, but when you can get them to take a break from their hectic schedules, some relaxing conversation is just what the doctor ordered.
Face-to-face meetings build stronger relationships as the connection you create in this setting far exceeds what you can accomplish on the phone, for example. This holds especially true for relationships that are in the early stages of growth.
In these early stages with a potential referral source, trust has not been established, so taking time out of your day to meet in a face-to-face setting shows commitment. It represents that you value their time and are willing to grow the partnership from the ground up. It also is easier in this setting if you have materials that you are trying to present.
It is simple, of course, to email documents and marketing materials to potential referral sources, but many times this information gets overlooked. With a face-to-face meeting, you will have the participant’s full attention and you will be able to point out key information in the materials, something that is more challenging when using other methods of communication.

Personal level

When it is time to set up a potential meeting with a referral source, use what’s called the “ladder method.” Start these meetings at ground zero and climb the ladder as the relationship progresses. Too often, originators request a lunch meeting or maybe a meeting in the client’s office. When trying to establish these early relationships, a client may not want to spend an hour at a lunch meeting if there is no connection to begin with.
You have to start at step one or the first rung on the ladder. Instead of doing a lunch meeting, propose a meeting at a local coffee shop. Many coffee shops have evolved as places not just to drink coffee or tea but as places to sit, relax and have conversation. And this is a key part to starting a relationship — relax and have conversation.
Too often, salespeople at their first face-to-face meeting attempt to put on the “hard sell” by carrying out all of the talking about their company and the great things it offers. Change the flow of these meetings. Start out by thanking the prospect for taking time out of their busy day to meet you, then ask open-ended questions about them that are not necessarily business related. For example, where did they grow up? Where did they go to school? Are they married and do they have kids? What are their hobbies? And so on. The goal here is to have your potential client do most of the talking as it is human nature to enjoy talking about yourself.
After learning more about your client on a personal level, then it’s time for you to speak about yourself, also on a personal level, by providing answers to these same questions. It’s only after each of you have learned about each other that you can then turn to speaking about business. It is at this point that you ask about their business, not yours.
Some questions to ask may include: How long have you been in the industry? What is your main focus? How long have you been with your company? What does the company specialize in? After learning about the business aspects of your prospect, then you can go into your sales pitch, which should be brief and to the point. See, the whole point of this first meeting is to build the relationship, not on a business level but on a personal basis.

Social settings

Your follow-up appointment should be a lunch meeting, which is the next rung on the ladder. Now that the relationship has been started and trust is starting to form, take it to the next level and offer to meet for lunch.
Generally, people are indecisive on which restaurant to choose. Perform some research ahead of time, identify a couple of higher-rated restaurants near your potential client’s home or office, and offer to meet there. At the meeting, the same format holds true here as it did with the initial coffeehouse meeting. Start some conversations about current events while removing politics and personal opinions from the discourse, move on to each other’s personal lives and then get down to business.
The next engagement should be a request for drinks and appetizers in a more social setting at a local restaurant, which is the final rung of the ladder. Congratulations on making it to the top. You are likely to encounter some people who do not drink. If this is the case, not to worry as meeting for appetizers will work just as well.
People have family lives and other personal functions in the evening, so meeting for dinner is a little too much of a time commitment for many clients. Meeting at 4 p.m. for drinks and appetizers, however, is often the magic combination. It’s not too early where the client may feel they’re not being productive if they’re in a restaurant, but it’s not too late where the client must block off their valuable evening hours.
In this setting, speaking about business is not as vital. This venue is really where you really put the tires on the road and solidify your relationship. This is where you take a break from business and focus on communication, relaxation and the start of a true connection.
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The goal here is to get back outside, have patience and climb the ladder while knowing that each rung serves a purpose in creating a formula for success. Starting these face-to-face meetings at a timed pace will create a better foundation that will assist in building long-lasting, fruitful relationships. ●


  • Jerry Kussy

    Jerry A. Kussy is vice president of lending with Liberty Bank for Savings, a community bank in Chicago. Being in the mortgage industry for over 12 years as a loan officer and president of a local mortgage company, Kussy understands the importance of building referral relationships. In his current role at Liberty Bank for Savings, Kussy is involved with strategic planning for the lending department.

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