Written by Alain Valles, CRMP, as originally published in The Reverse Review.

Can you name your biggest competitor? Is it a giant bank? An aggressive mortgage broker? The guy sitting at the desk next to yours? I say that none of those should worry you. For many loan officers and mortgage brokers, the biggest obstacle they face is not from others in the industry. The most challenging roadblock to success lies in the limitations they place on themselves.

This is a timely thought as we close out a tumultuous 2011 and prepare for a better and stronger 2012. Assuming your company has adequate mortgage products and competent support staff, the biggest adjustment you will need to make for the new year is in your own attitude and actions. Take a few minutes to assess your situation and, perhaps, learn from my experience.

More than 25 years in the mortgage business has taught me that success can be broken down into three components: -Mindset -Activities -Knowledge Base

When all three are aligned I am profitable and enjoying life. When they are out of balance I feel stress, frustration and financial pressure. Sound familiar?

Mindset Everything starts with my mindset. I truly believe it is in my control to at least start the day with a positive attitude. But what is a positive attitude and how does one get one? For me there are three mental checkpoints.

The first is to make sure that at all times I have a “giver’s” mindset. It’s imperative that we are always doing what’s best for our reverse mortgage clients. If you focus on chasing commissions you will veer from the path and suffer in the end. As legendary business coach Brian Buffini says, “If you give it out in slices, it will come back to you in loaves.”

The second key to a proper mindset is to have specific, tangible goals. It could be something personal, like the trip you’ve always wanted to take. Or the goal can be business-related, such as a loan production target. Either way, your goals need to be written down and shared with someone who will hold you accountable.

Now is the time to set them and plan backward on how to achieve them. Personal goal-setting is the best defense against distractions or interruptions because it allows you to measure every decision and whether or not it’s advancing you toward success. This will also soften the personal rejection we feel when we don’t get a deal, receive a disappointingly low appraisal, or are faced with yet another set of conditions. By focusing on your goals you’ll gain more resiliency.

The last mindset “check” is giving grace to others. Sure I’m annoyed with prospects when they cancel appointments at the last minute. I don’t believe their intention is to ruin my day. But when I feel my blood pressure rising, I purposely stop and give them grace. I’ll write them a note to say, “Sorry we couldn’t meet and I hope all is OK…” Almost without fail I’ll get a call saying, “Thank you for the note. I was sick that day.” Remember: The majority of reverse clients are not only in financial pain but are facing other challenges.

Activities Now that you have a positive mindset, what should you do with it? As a loan officer I divide my time into three functions: lead generation, lead conversion and administrative tasks. My most important activity is lead generation.

I separate lead generation into activities that will generate a reverse mortgage today and those that create new or deepen existing referral sources. You must set aside time every day for lead and referral source generation.

I break my lead generation activities into: -Current transaction pipeline (money coming to me) -Current leads (money that should be coming to me) -Current referral sources (money that may be coming to me)

A second activity is to know and track your lead and referral source conversion rate. I originate both forwards and reverses and was surprised to see my 70 percent lead-to-close conversion rate plummet to around 45 percent this year. It wasn’t that I was losing clients to the competition. The fact that appraisals are lower and times are tough led me to tell more prospective borrowers that they don’t qualify due to credit or income ratios. The emotional challenge is that I’ve been saying “no” to more people, which can impact my mindset.

A key component of your conversion rate is knowing how many “touches” with your referral sources you need to generate a loan. For me it’s around 15 calls, notes or in-person visits to generate a closed loan. I track the number of leads each referral source gives and the quality of the lead. It’s not just a numbers game of making more calls, but rather tracking the quality of the referral source and their leads. It’s one reason to always be investing time to educate current referral sources and generate new referral sources about reverse mortgages.

The last trick to maximizing your productive activities is to set aside time for administrative duties. I detest paperwork but know it must be completed. I time-block a few hours daily to get it done. I’m fortunate to have an exceptional operations manager who handles my loan applications. My wish for you is that by having the right mindset and better focus on lead generation activities, you’ll be able to afford an assistant who enjoys paperwork!

Knowledge Base The last success component is your knowledge base, which I divide into product understanding, sales training and personal growth.

Product understanding must extend beyond the basics. We all know a reverse mortgage borrower must be at least 62 years old. But how would you answer a condo association board’s question on whether becoming FHA-approved will cause the association to have a higher condo fee delinquency rate? Did you really invest the time to understand new underwriting guidelines? Have you committed to becoming a Certified Reverse Mortgage Professional (CRMP)?

The fact of the matter is only “A” students will prosper in today’s market. Now is the time to lean on your company’s and trade association’s resources to become the best loan officer possible.

The second part of your knowledge base is sales training. Professional sales is not the ability of talking an Eskimo into buying snow, but the ability to inform a person about a product so that they can make a fully educated decision. There are many sales training courses available, but avoid any course that stresses persuasion or fear tactics to convince a person to move forward. Learning to be a great listener to a senior’s concerns and goals is the best route to becoming their trusted loan officer when they decide to move forward.

I view my role as asking goal-oriented questions, encouraging a senior to share their fears and concerns about a reverse mortgage, and, most importantly, discussing other available options as well as inviting all of their family members or trusted advisors to participate in the decision process. I often say a reverse mortgage is 5 percent math, 85 percent Dr. Phil and 10 percent Jerry Springer.

Are you really listening to your clients’ needs, wants, and concerns? Or are you subconsciously hoping the appraisal will come in? This leads me to my last sales training comment.

The average senior has had more than six decades to be a consumer. They have mastered their own purchasing system. If you try to “sell” them, they’ll see you coming from a mile away and never do business with you. Even worse, they will report back to the referring source that you were a pushy salesperson and you’ll lose any hope of future referrals. The key is to listen to their goals, educate them about their options, and present solutions, even if the solution is not a reverse mortgage.

The last part of the knowledge base is often overlooked: personal growth. My definition of personal growth is the passion to be improving in all areas of life, whether it’s your spiritual area, family, career, financial situation or personal well-being. “It is better to work to live, than live to work” sums up my attitude toward personal growth. The goal is when you’re working at your fullest potential, to exceed your clients’ needs and be financially rewarded so that you can invest yourself in more important areas of your life.

For some there is a spiritual aspect to personal growth. A significant percentage of seniors say they have become more spiritual as they’ve grown older. Many of the seniors I meet with openly discuss their spiritual or religious viewpoints. At a recent appointment, the senior couple asked all of us to hold hands and pray before beginning. Another appointment went incredibly well, with the husband eager to move forward to get funds to fix the roof, but his wife wanted to think it over. I explained that a “think it over” response usually means I didn’t answer or explain everything. She said she was fine with moving forward, but was now waiting for God to give her the answer. I don’t recall any sales training that covers how to respond to that.

My favorite spiritual story was when I received the call from Martha, who said she had been looking and looking for my business card with no luck. So she prayed and when she opened her Bible, my business card appeared. I was quite impressed until later she told me she kept everyone’s business cards in her Bible. Be aware that spirituality and religion can be very important to your borrowers.

So now do you see who your No. 1 competitor truly is?

It’s always you. If you are diligently working on your mindset, activities, and knowledge base, you won’t have time to worry about things outside of your control, such as another company’s ad campaign or whether the market is up or down. Furthermore, you’ll be a better loan officer for your borrowers, which in turn will make you a more trusted advisor to all of your referral sources, which will increase business and help you achieve your goals.

I never expect to master all that I’ve shared in this article. I am a work in progress. What gives me joy and excitement is setting vibrant goals, working on becoming an even more productive loan officer and always striving to be completely transparent with my reverse mortgage clients. The fact is my reverse mortgage appointments cover everything you’ve just read. I share with my clients what I’m working on and in return they open up and share their life stories and hopes and desires. It’s as if they are having their first “check-up from the neck up” in a long time.

Now go out and have a great new year!