Feature: Build Your Referral Network

For HECM professionals working in the field, building relationships with referral partners can be key to success. There are so many different professionals who work with seniors, from Realtors and estate planners to CPAs, and seniors often look to these trusted advisors for insight. A recommendation from these professionals can go a long way.

“When you are referred by someone the retiree trusts, they tend to listen more without getting caught up in the stigmas,” says Bob Tranchell, a HECM specialist with the Federal Savings Bank.

Kent Kopen, a CRMP with United American Mortgage, agrees. “When someone is referred by a licensed professional they trust, and have maybe even trusted for years, I don’t have to sell myself much and we can quickly pivot to the client’s needs, concerns and aspirations,” he says.

It’s clear that a strong referral base can be a serious boost to business, but how, exactly, can one connect with enough professionals to build a solid network? To find out, we spoke with seasoned originators who have built their businesses from referral relationships. We asked how they connect with other professionals, what approaches they have found to be effective, and what originators looking to build a referral base must know. We’ve gleaned 12 tips to help you build your referral network, one partner at a time.


Ask for introductions.

A great way to meet potential referral partners is through existing clients. Laurie Libby, a CRMP who has been originating HECMs for 17 years, says this tactic has been hugely successful for her.

“I have many clients who have financial planners. If I have a client whom I did not meet through a financial planner, I will ask for an audience. I call them and introduce myself, and I have educated more than one of them,” she says. “I give them a case study with one of their own clients.”

Libby says this is a great starting point for people who are inexperienced in working with financial planners but who want to begin developing that network. “To get more comfortable with it, talk to a client’s financial planner first. The door is already open, the client introduced you, and the financial planner is probably very interested,” she says. “Clients who refer you to their financial planner—I think that’s one of the best-kept secrets on the planet.”

Get out there and educate.

If you’re looking to build a vast network, you’ve got to do the legwork. For some, pounding the pavement the old-fashioned way has proved to be effective. You’ve got to get in front of as many people as possible, they say, and educate them about home equity’s role in retirement.

“I stop in to locations. I don’t always get an audience, but it does allow me to follow up with a phone call,” says Libby. “I’ll leave behind a collateral piece and will follow up about that.”

Kopen says it’s important to find ways to share your knowledge. “Blog, give educational talks, comment on others’ social media. Not in a ‘Hey, I do loans, do you need a loan?’ sense, but make an intelligent comment that advances the dialogue,” he says. “Offer to speak at any and every organization you can. You’ll be surprised it’s not that hard to get a chance.”

Joe Conrad, an originator with Skyline Home Loans, suggests partnering with another financial professional to educate people. “Doing seminars and workshops with financial advisors, that’s a good tactic. A co-marketing thing is a great way to build relationships.”

Tranchell, whose business is 90 percent referral-based, says connecting and educating other professionals will help elevate the product, benefiting your business and also the industry. “Education is everything in our world. The more people you can interact with and educate, the better our product will be received.”

Beef up your LinkedIn profile.

It’s also important to establish a solid professional presence online. When another professional wants to learn more about you, LinkedIn is the most common resource. It’s up to you to make sure your profile paints a strong picture.

“You’ve got to be active on LinkedIn,” Conrad says. “You’ve got to be posting, you’ve got to be sharing. People go to LinkedIn to check you out, to make sure you’re real. You’ve got to have a good profile and make it clear that you know your stuff.”

Conrad says LinkedIn is a great way to showcase your knowledge. “You can post resources. You can show that you’re considered to be an expert and well-educated among your peers.”

Don’t be intimidated.

When approaching other professionals, be confident. “Don’t be insecure!” Tranchell stresses. “You have a great product to share.”

Libby also emphasizes the need to be assertive. “People are worried about approaching financial planners, but you know what? They are just people. They really appreciate the education,” she says. “Originators may fear that they are more educated, more skilled, or that they know better than the originator, and that’s not the case. Planners really want solutions, but they come with a whole set of perceptions about what this loan is, and that’s where you come in: You’re unlocking that part for them, offering solutions to extend a client’s portfolio and help them have a more comfortable retirement.”

Listen, learn and ask questions.

Before approaching potential referral partners, do your research. Learn about their work so that you can understand their perspective.

“Be interested and well-read in the field of the person you want to build a relationship with,” suggests Kopen. “Read their trade journals; attend their educational events; know the movers and shakers in their field and the key issues of the moment. Reference those when conversing—not in a show-off manner, but just enough to let them know you care about what they care about and you want to help them succeed.”

Tranchell also says it’s important to learn more about the partner’s line of work and have respect for it. “When trying to connect with financial planners, don’t go in with a ‘Look at what I can do for you’ approach. Find out their core values and share how the HECM validates and enhances those values.”

Kopen says to remember to listen more than you talk. “Be interested and forget about being interesting. People who try too hard to be interesting are a bore. The master skill in being interested is being a great listener,” he says. “At Merrill Lynch they used to teach that any meeting where you talk less than 50 percent of the time was a good meeting.”

Tackle misconception right away.

Misconceptions about reverse mortgages are rampant, even among other financial professionals. For some originators, this can be a significant barrier. “The biggest challenge is misconception and the lack of knowledge,” Conrad says.

To combat this, it’s important to address common falsehoods from the start. Libby says this is particularly important with estate planners. “They are often working with the adult children, and the kids are sometimes scared that the house is going to go to the bank. I dispel that myth right out of the gate. I take that myth and I squash it.”

Bring collateral.

When networking, leave behind materials that a potential partner can review at their leisure. Create collateral pieces that speak directly to that specific type of professional. For Realtors, distribute a pamphlet on the HECM for Purchase. For financial advisors, share research on how a HECM can be used in retirement income planning.

“It’s easy to create collateral materials, door hangers or flyers,” says Conrad. “It shows a potential partner that you’ve got the resources to help them. The idea that you can generate business for them becomes much more real when they see the tangible collateral materials that are there for them to use.”

Don’t bury them in detail.

While you do want to share information on how a reverse mortgage works, you do not want to overwhelm your audience with the details. Especially in introductory conversations, you want to assume a high-level approach and not get bogged down in the specifics, which can seem complex to those who work outside the field.

Libby says to keep it simple when meeting in person or posting online. “I’ll try to do one statement,” she says. “When you start burying facts in pages and pages of detail, I feel like you lose people. Stick to one simple statement at a time.”

Libby says to remember that even in the best scenarios, HECMs will only ever constitute a small portion of your partner’s business. They don’t need to know as much as you do about them.

“I tell Realtors, you can end up with two different transactions: selling a home and buying a home,” she says. “I say, ‘Just know that there is a great product out there for your 62-plus client. You don’t even have to know what I know, just refer them over and sit through a meeting, because once you go through one, you’re going to start incorporating it into your group of sales tools.’”

When their interest has been sparked and your professional partner asks for more specifics, then you can dig into your arsenal of case studies, research and graphs. But in the beginning, keep it simple.

Show your value proposition.

A partnership is give and take, and you’ve got to tell a potential referral partner what you can offer them. Explain how offering a HECM to clients can elevate their business. Will it increase the longevity of their client’s portfolio? Will it allow them to sell more houses? Be clear about your value proposition.

“Whether it’s a Realtor or a planner, you’ve got to show them how you can benefit their business. You have to show them how to generate a lot more revenue using reverse mortgages,” says Conrad. “They want to know, ‘What’s in it for me?’”

Build trust through sincerity and integrity.

While you may be able to successfully demonstrate how a HECM could help your referral partner, this alone will not seal the deal. You also have to convince your contact that you can be a reliable partner. There are lots of HECM specialists out there, and you need to show them that you are the right man for the job. Most professionals are protective of their clients, and they are not going to share them with just anyone. To build a relationship, you must be genuine.

“First and foremost, you have to create trust. You have to make sure they understand that you are there to make them look good. Financial planners who refer me clients know that I will protect their business,” says Libby. “Always be full of integrity. This is an industry that commands all of us to have a really strong moral compass.”

Kopen echoes this idea. “When it comes to building professional relationships, results come last. They are a function of doing the small things well, actions that in the act of doing them seem to make no difference at all, but over time they make all the difference in the world. It isn’t what you do; it’s how you do it. Pursue building a referral practice with a giver’s mindset, with grace, a good attitude and a long-term perspective, and a great outcome is all but guaranteed.”

Stay in touch.

Keeping in contact with your partners is essential to building a strong network, and a CRM (customer relationship management) system is the most effective tool to use.

“It is key to have a well-built CRM as the cornerstone of any referral strategy,” Kopen says. “You want to know as much about referral sources and prospects as possible. Every time you interact with a referral partner, take notes. Before the next meeting or call, read the previous notes. What’s the cliché? Nobody cares how much you know (about reverse mortgages or asset allocation) until they know how much you care (about them and what they care about).”

Kopen says many CRMs can help you do this. “Build automated workflow and campaigns in your CRM so you are touching people regularly, varying the modality of touch: call, email, text, send handwritten note. On-again, off-again networking is almost useless… You have to be consistent. Never forget a birthday and be thoughtful in your other touches. Avoid canned content; there’s little lift from it.”

Be patient.

The originators we spoke with target different types of professionals and have their own particular methods. But in speaking with them, we found many common threads, highlighting the fact that no matter what type of professional network you are looking to build, the steps toward success are essentially the same.

And while each originator had some unique thoughts to share, there was one tip that everyone shared: Be patient. Building a network takes time. Follow the steps above, and if your work is hard and honest, success will come in time.

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