Refining Your E-Strategy

“There is marketing strength in numbers by creating partnerships with professionals that share a common interest-providing services to homebuyers”

The American public appears to have an insatiable appetite for technology these days. The dot-com stocks are making a seemingly unstoppable upward climb, and web addresses and Internet access seem to dominate the advertising landscape.

The mortgage industry is caught up in the same technological euphoria. Every mortgage company, or affiliated service or supplier, clamors about its technological capabilities. But where’s the beef? How much profit has really been generated by e-commerce mortgage activities? There is a mixed bag of results, which indicates that a mere e-commerce presence is not an easy street to profitable loan production. The potential for success, then, lies within the strategy.

For as long as I can remember, mortgage originators have been looking for new ways to expand their business and serve customers better. New ideas, however, do not stay new for long. As innovative techniques prove viable, originators who look for easy, effortless tactics to produce instant sales results will be quick to jump on the bandwagon—making differentiation difficult to maintain. E-commerce fits this description.

The notion that there must be an easier or more certain method to generate hot leads and ensure satisfied customers can be a powerful attraction. E-commerce has that allure, but it is important to realize that it is a tool. You cannot afford to get caught up in the hype without a well-planned e-commerce strategy. Otherwise, it is no different than other quick-win marketing and promotional concepts in which success is short-lived.

No matter what the size of your business, your e-commerce strategy must be in sync with how you do business or how you plan to do it better. The Internet and new technological applications offer unprecedented opportunities to help grow your business as long as the implementation is in line with your business model and part of a well thought out strategy. In other words, technology should be an integral part of how you support your business. If you think in those terms, you will be able to develop a plan to stay on track even though you may not be able to execute the strategy all at once.

The Internet and web-based technology are strategic tools that mortgage companies of all sizes can leverage to generate and build relationships in order to increase production. The key is to use technology to enhance the company’s positioning, not to redefine it. For example, use the Internet as a simple communications vehicle, a marketing tool to generate leads, a business service that creates value in partnerships, a convenient source of relationship data, a means to coordinate work activities, and a tool to attract and retain quality loan officers.

Regardless of how you use the Internet, you should consider both current and future applications and make them an integral part of an overall business strategy. If a company’s business philosophy positions its loan officers as possessing unequaled financing expertise and provides easy access to mortgage financing with a high degree of convenience and personal attention, then the company’s Internet strategy should employ tools that facilitate and deliver that promise.

Communication Vehicle
Websites offer a simple, cost-effective tool for communicating between customers and loan officers. It doesn’t replace other tools, but it can certainly increase communication and create real and perceived value. The number of households across the United States with Internet access continues to expand. It is important to do business the way your customer wants to do it. Let them choose the phone, face-to-face, or Internet communication. Providing customers with easy Internet access during the loan process offers them convenience, while giving you the opportunity to capture their e-mail address for future communication.

Keep in mind the positioning example. Companies want loan officers to be seen as an expert. It also wanted them to be easily accessible and offer great convenience and personal attention. The functionality of its website should support and enhance this positioning. The customer should be able to submit an application, check the status of a loan in process, or ask a question. Loan calculators, informative financing information, and other tools that support the idea that loan officers are a knowledgeable mortgage professional belong on their websites.

Internet as Lead Generator
The Internet can be a lead generator. You can get leads for free (although it takes continuous work) or you can pay for them just like other media. Unless you are technologically inclined, I would seek expert advice in building a website that will get noticed with sufficient frequency in order to generate leads. You can also pay for leads from sources such as LendingTree, Inc. ( Internet lead generation is an important business source today, and it will only get bigger. You need to get in the game.

What amazes me about Internet leads is how slow some companies are to respond to them. This even seems to be true with companies that purchase leads. People use the Internet in large part because of the speed in which it delivers information. That means a quick electronic response is critical. Personal contact as a follow up can also be critical. Utilize auto-responder features in the software you’re using to automate the initial response. Automate the pre-qualification formula to provide an automated response so the customer is served quickly regardless of the time of the request.

Market Your Partnership Service
Affinity partnerships are powerful marketing tools. There is marketing strength in numbers by creating partnerships with professionals who share a common interest–providing services to homebuyers. The combined referral strength of Realtors, appraisers, title companies, and insurance agents can be substantial. The Internet provides the tools to keep affinity partners informed. It enables them to request and track service and helps ensure that service levels meet or exceed customer expectations.

The Source of Relationship Data
A critical element of any marketing program and e-commerce strategy is realizing the power of a customer database. Keeping customers requires continuous communication. Maintaining a database of current customers, past customers, referral sources, and prospects is essential. There is power in using a database for communicating on a regular basis to customers, but that power increases exponentially when you analyze the demographics and know as much about your customers as possible. The objective is to add value to the customer relationship through those services that are part of your support or affinity team. This information will lead to ideas and new services that will create a stronger customer relationship.

Coordinate Workflow
It helps to have workflow and process monitoring tools integrated into your loan processing software. But even if this tool is not available, you can create a manual monitoring system that can be enabled by the Internet. The loan officer and support team should communicate with the customer, as well as real estate agents involved, through loan closing. Milestones, such as underwriting approval, appraisal, and notice that the insurance binder has been received can be flagged to generate an e-mail, fax, or phone call to homebuyers and real estate agents. This is the type of value-added customer service that keeps them coming back and helps originators generate leads.

Attract Talented Salespeople
Good people, and particularly good salespeople, can go to work just about anywhere. Powerful marketing and communications tools can attract loan officers. The attraction is made easier when companies do not see the value in supporting loan originators with tools for success. An e-commerce strategy can help attract talented mortgage professionals.

When it comes to the mortgage business and the effect of the Internet or e-commerce, what we know for sure is that we are certain to see significant change. The mortgage and financial services companies are implementing Internet technology at an increasingly rapid pace. This new medium creates room for applying greater creativity and customer knowledge. In the long run, bigger companies may have advantages, but smaller and more nimble firms will initially have the edge. What’s next is up to you, but now is the time to build and execute an effective Internet strategy.