Written by Don Graves, as originally published in The Reverse Review.

In today’s origination environment, what is the fastest way to go from an average producer to an exceptional producer? I’m talking about someone who is doing one or two loans a month and would like to see that number move to three, four or five loans per month while cultivating a growing list of referral partners. Wouldn’t you like to hear your phone ring every day from a qualified person who needs a reverse mortgage?

So what kind of strategy can make your phone ring? It is simply building a high-trust referral network.

I have worked hard to employ this strategy since I began in this industry 15 years ago, and it has helped me assist more than 2,300 people obtain a reverse mortgage.

It seems like yesterday, but it was in 1999. I was sitting at my desk as CEO for Habitat for Humanity’s Urban Philadelphia division when I first learned about the power of HECMs. My sister called me and said, “Little brother, I have a business opportunity for you!” That’s how it all began.

I had never been in 100-percent-commission, sink-or-swim, do-or-die sales before. So naturally, I wondered, how can I make this work? I did some research and learned that if I wanted to create long-term success in a sales setting, I needed to build a network. As Todd Duncan states in his book High Trust Selling, “Long-term sales success happens when high trust exists—when you are a trustworthy salesperson running a trustworthy sales business, and when it’s clear to your [partners] that you are a person of integrity who will not only do what you say, but also has the means to deliver.”

What is a high-trust network? A high-trust network grows from mutually beneficial and generous partnerships between individuals who actively work to help each other’s businesses.

Let’s use Facebook as a metaphor. Typically, when you join Facebook, the first thing you do is invite people to be part of your network. These people fall into three categories: friends, fans and what I call fanatics, or family. Here is what these groups represent when it comes to building a high-trust referral network:

Friends: In Facebook language, these can be folks from the old neighborhood—a second-grade classmate, your old soccer teammate, etc. In business terms, they are people you met at an event, people who came to a seminar or were introduced to you through a colleague or client. That’s the starting point—they’re friends on a casual level, nothing more. Since I use email as a primary communication tool, my “tell-tell” sign for identifying a “friend” is that they don’t mark my emails as spam! It’s funny, but it is true, and important for many reasons.

Fans: The key here is to take your relationship with friends to the next level—make them fans. In Facebook terms, these are the people who “like” your post or an event or campaign you’re associated with. They have gone past casual and have given some indication of warmth and connectivity. The business “tell-tell” sign for this group is they actually read my emails.

Fanatics/Family: You know this group! They are the sports fans who can’t stop talking about their team (even in the off-season). They have the gear and they give you gifts with the team’s logo. They are fanatics! In Facebook terms, they mention you in their posts or share photos that include you. In business terms, these folks trust you, they respect you and appreciate the work that you do, and they can’t keep their mouths closed. When someone mentions your type of business, they mention you. The “tell-tell” sign here is that they forward your emails. This is the group that becomes your network.

We all know that people do business with those they know, like and trust. For high-trust partnerships, this is essential. So how do you cultivate your existing relationships, encouraging friends to become fans, and turning those fans into fanatics?

Seven Steps to Help You Build a High-Trust Referral Network

Get an introduction. This is an obvious but often overlooked starting place. This is where paralysis, over-examination and inertia often set in. “Where do I start?” says the originator, “How do I get going?” The good news is that you don’t need to cold call. You simply need to ask someone who knows, likes and trusts you if they would be willing to introduce you to someone they care about who could benefit from your knowledge. Period! Everyone should have at least a few people to help them start out. Here is my short list: -My own personal advisors -My clients’ advisors (their attorneys, accountants, financial planners) -My Facebook and LinkedIn contacts (people I actually know) -Advisors and professionals who I had already served in some capacity

Set an appointment. Now this seems obvious, but it is often ignored. Once a person introduces you or gives you permission to call their contact (an introduction is so much better), connect with them for a short and simple conversation and then set a time to meet. The meeting should be in person, if possible. Don’t try to do much on the first call except set an appointment.

Make a lasting impression. This is where hard work, practice, skill and luck come into play. You have approximately 90 seconds to make your first impression and then you are awarded bonus time in three- to five-minute increments (kind of like a game show). Therefore, your first few moments should be scripted and practiced to engage your new partner. Today, I met with the sales and marketing manager for a large builder. I was introduced a few weeks ago through a Realtor whom I had successfully served (I helped him earn commission on an extra $114,000!). I knew I had a limited amount of time to make an impression. What I have discovered is the greatest impact we can make is to learn the skills of listening and asking thought-provoking questions. After I listened, I shared just a few ways my program was uniquely tailored to solve some of their problems. I understood the words of their industry (options, upgrades, revenue, margin and profit-plus). At the end of the meeting, I was asked to work with all 18 of the company’s new construction communities; 250 new homes are to be built and nearly half of them appear HECM eligible. Listening makes a lasting impression.

Send a handwritten note. This is really simple, but often disregarded. Email is quick, but a handwritten note in blue ink will set you apart from the crowd. I have gotten more response from this one thing than anything else I have done.

Develop a basic/sustainable follow-up system.  Here is a major place of defeat for many sales agents: not having a CRM in place. The key is to develop a system that works for you. Most producers I know don’t use a CRM. When I started in 2000, the first thing my sister told me to do was to purchase a CRM called ACT! I had no idea what it was or how to use it, but she said it was indispensable to growing my business, and it was. Today I have 15,444 contacts divided into 109 groups and 457 subgroups. My referral sources are grouped by industry (attorneys, accountants) and by the type of relationship (A/B are high trust, C/D are developing or emerging). Because I have a system, I can create a contact and set up an auto-reminder to do something with them every 30, 90 or 180 days. I don’t have to think; I plug it into the system, “set it and forget it.” So whether it’s ACT! or Salesforce or Goldmine or Zoho or something else your company provides, building a high-trust network requires a simple system to be in place in order for you to maximize the opportunities.

Stay top-of-mind.  Has someone ever asked you if you knew a painter or plumber or a place that frames art, and you couldn’t think of someone? This happens all the time. Let’s stay top-of-mind with our partners so that they don’t forget when our services are needed. There are four simple ways to do this: Send a simple email, make a phone call at least twice a month, visit in person or write a handwritten note. However you choose to do it, just make sure you’re keeping in touch.

Ask for an introduction.  Now we end where we began. And if we have done the other steps correctly, a person will introduce us upon our asking and it won’t be a stretch for them to do so, because they have experienced world-class professionalism.​

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