What Mortgage Originators Can Learn from Chess


In my training classes for originators, I often compare selling to sports to help students understand key concepts. The analogy works because students can easily relate to the similarities — the competition; the emotional highs and lows; and the identification of clear winners and losers at the end of a game. While all of this is true, a more accurate comparison would be selling to the game of chess.

Chess has a long history that can be traced back 2,200 years to the Chinese Warring Sates Period. The modern chess game as we know it originated in northern India in the 6th century and spread to other parts of the world. Today, more than 600 million people play chess on a regular basis. Why has chess remained so popular? One of the reasons the game has survived all these years is that anyone can become a top player. Winning at chess is not dependent on whether someone has financial resources or other advantages. Becoming a master is a skill set that can be learned.

There is nothing random about a chess game. This means that players determine their own moves and the repercussions that ensue are what determines the outcome. Making the right moves requires mental discipline and the ability to adjust and select the correct counter moves to achieve victory. Influencing individuals to purchase a home loan involves a similar dynamic.

Loan officers are challenged to make a series of decisions that will move a prospect or referral source to take action. Originators must determine how to approach prospects; what message to use; and how to influence and persuade prospects to act now. To succeed at this selling sequence, originators must have a structured and smart sales strategy in place. Without a strategy, originators risk losing the sale before the game has even begun.

In the current refinance marketplace, historically low interest rates mean average originators can be successful without having strong selling skills. Once interest rates inevitably rise, loan officers will need a higher level of selling skills to maintain their personal income.

According to the latest MBA productivity report, the average loan officer is closing 8 units per month, resulting in unprecedented earnings for many sales professionals. Likewise, lenders have also done incredibly well in 2020. According to a recent report by Garret, McAuley & Co., lenders who made a total profit of $2 million last year are now generating $20 to $25 million in profits this year. These are incredible numbers to be sure but the real question is whether lenders and originators have the discipline to improve selling techniques that will be required to win in a tougher purchase money environment. Staying the same could be a fatal mistake.

Like playing chess, mastering sales does not happen without an investment of time, effort and commitment. The best originators in our business have a systematic approach to getting better. Many take the initiative to learn on their own. For others, an accountability coach or advanced sales training works. If a supervisor can provide this support, that is terrific but it’s a long shot in real life. Even Russell Wilson, who wants to be the best quarterback in football, has his own support team independent from the Seahawks. While few can afford what Russell Wilson invests, all sales professionals can take a page from Wilson’s playbook and work at getting better at our craft every day.