Three Keys to Transforming Comfort Zone Originators

Patricia Sherlock

Last week, I spoke at the Michigan MBA conference. This is a terrific group and I was very impressed with how active they are.  If you are a mortgage banker in Michigan, you should definitely join them and support their work. While there, I had an interesting conversation with an originator who does about $8 million in volume. He told me he could do more if he wanted to but said he was comfortable. He explained that his kids are grown and both he and his wife work but are thinking about retiring in a few years. This conversation was not startling but begs the question of how many more originators fall into the category of “working retired” where mentally and effort-wise, they may have already checked out. In a marketplace where each loan is important, I think that sales leaders are reluctant to admit when employees are not putting forth 100%.

After a long career in mortgage origination, it is not surprising that a producer would decide to generate just enough to keep his or her position. This originator was generating volume, liked where he was and had no intention of leaving. Yet, I felt that the lender was missing an opportunity because the originator had the potential to do so much more. Could someone have helped him move out of his comfort zone? Did he have a manager who could have made him excited about selling again or helped him see that he could contribute more for himself, his organization and potential customers? I will never know the answer to these questions but I see so many sales organizations with “working retired” sales professionals who are not willing to adapt to the new world of origination.

Certainly, everyone goes through periods in their career where the passion for their work needs to be rekindled. Obviously, originators should be aware that they are in a rut and need to change their behaviors. But managers and sales leaders should also play a role in addressing this problem.

In a business environment that is experiencing rapid change such as mortgage banking, employees who are comfortable are one step away from becoming irrelevant. Companies with a lot of comfortable originators are not likely to survive in the long term.

An example of an originator being comfortable is someone who has always dealt with the same Realtors and doesn’t market to add new ones. Prospecting for more referral sources is frankly too stressful. As a result, the producer won’t make the effort to adopt new selling behaviors even when the lender has provided tools that would make it easier.

This is a quandary that many lenders are in today. Lenders only want experienced originators who will bring a book of business yet so many of the producers they recruit have decided they don’t want to do more volume. It doesn’t matter how many basis points you give them. These sales professionals are at their peak and will only drop in production unless something changes.

What can lenders do to shift “comfort zone” originators into higher gear? In my opinion, there are three strategies that work.

First, during the interview process, sales leaders should identify whether sales candidates are mentally stuck in their selling performance.  A structured interview process includes listening to where the salesperson is on their personal journey and whether he or she has made an effort to learn new things. If the answer is no or the individual says they don’t have time to learn, that is a warning sign that the salesperson is stuck. On the other hand, top producers are always adding new skills to their business models and refining their selling strategies.

Second, instead of companies awarding sales trips, prizes and other perks, why not send the producer to an advanced learning course for selling? Many of the leading universities offer online courses that are inexpensive, yet can have a dramatic impact on a person and help reignite their love for selling. Learning new things is always a way to snap someone out of their comfort zone.

Third, install a mentor program for these experienced originators with other parts of the organization. Teaching another person is the highest form of self-improvement and requires the mentor to be on the top of their game. Teaching helps the teacher as much as the person trained. Believe me, I realize that every day when I am training originators and managers. Helping someone to learn something new is the greatest feeling ever.

The point is that current originators who are trapped in their comfort zones need a push to learn new skills and reach their fullest potential for themselves and their organizations. For management teams, this is a smart strategy that will reap benefits that reach far beyond the company’s bottom-line.

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