When you’re creating a business, there are so many possible missteps that it can be hard just to get out of the starting block. For Ramon Walker, broker/owner of Mount Diablo Lending, the drive to stay afloat played into this competitive nature. Although Walker has only been in the business for five years, he’s made it onto both Scotsman’s Top Originators List and the Top Producers List by National Mortgage News for three of those past five years, proving that there’s definitely something to the way he’s working – even though it’s different from many other brokers out there.
“When entering the business, I didn’t have a big book of business,” Walker said. “I didn’t have a large referral source, so I knew I had to figure out how to go straight to consumer and try to make it work that way if I was going to start a company.” Walker’s background in IT meant that his interest was meeting and engaging customers where they were: online.
Mount Diablo buys anywhere from 75-150 leads per day from various online sources, but the conversation doesn’t just end with the lead itself.
“I’ve pretty much worked with everyone and tried to become an expert on the lead aggregators and learn from them – how do you get your leads? Where are you sourcing them from?” Walker said. “The more you can ask the lead aggregator, you get a real good idea of who those people are, then you can start to tailor your sales strategy to them, instead of just looking at it as online lead. Then you have to know who else you’re competing with and have to have an idea of what their philosophies or strategies are at trying to convert these leads too.”
His team uses Velocify’s click-to-call feature and it wasn’t long before they realized that “every single person that we’d spoken with had already spoken with Quicken.” They saw that the logic behind loans from one aggregator were different from another and they started tailoring their strategy to those differences, highlighting their strengths, doing a kind of comparative analysis and attacking the credibility of the competitors – asking customers, ‘why would you work with a person who doesn’t have your best interests at heart?’
“You have to be tactical to make this work,” Walker said. “There are some friction points, people don’t like to be called a lot. They like competition but don’t like being bombarded. So is there a better mousetrap for getting in front of the consumer?”
Another notable difference is that Walker doesn’t place much emphasis on customer service. He has a saying in the Mount Diablo office: ‘With speed, service takes care of itself.’
“We don’t focus too much on service, or making sure we’re touching the client a specific amount of times. Our service is completely and 100% connected to speed,” Walker said. “We call the client when we need something, otherwise they might not hear from us.” This flies in the face of conventional broker wisdom, which is to communicate constantly and often with clients, with realtors, with lenders. But Walker actually thinks that this slows down the process. And clients, for the most part, are pleased with the result, if a bit blindsided. “At first they might be like, ‘what’s happening,’ but that was because we were working on their file,” he says. When it’s time to close, clients are often happily surprised.
Retention departments are particularly aggressive and so maintaining lightning fast turnaround times also help to protect the pipeline and prevent clients from giving more business to an existing lender.
Another difference between Walker and other brokers is that his number one goal has always been (and will always be, as far as he’s concerned) to get the customer the lowest rate in the market. This may mean that he won’t be able to suit the needs of every customer, it’s a tradeoff that he’s willing to take.
“That’s the beautiful thing about the mortgage industry, there’s a lot of ways to skin a cat,” Walker said. “There’s definitely niches where you can be more horizontal and have a wide spread of products, you’re not as rate sensitive, [but] that means you’re spending . . . a considerable amount of time learning these products so that when people come across, you’re not just spinning your wheels.”
And while that pays off for some originators, Walker insists that it’s important to play to your individual skill set.
“I think where people kind of make a mistake in our industry; you don’t ignore price. I don’t think that’s a recipe for success,” he said. It’s easy for consumers to access information these days, and armed with that information, they want the best price possible. “We want to end that conversation at the beginning.”
The benefit that mortgage brokers have, Walker says, is that clients tend to want to choose David over Goliath, they want to work with small businesses and not give their hard-earned dollars to the corporate beasts. But, Walker says, if you can’t give them what they need and deliver the value proposition, you have to remember, they’re not your friend.
“They’re looking for the best deal, and if their existing lender is going to undercut, why wouldn’t they?”
Unconventional methods can help separate you from the competition, as long as you’re able to weather the bumps that you may hit along the way. Avoiding the emotional roller coaster is key.
“This business is really about cycles. And then it’s about micro-cycles, the political climate, the stock market,” Walker said. “Keep your head to the ground. Work hard.”