The 10 Percent Difference

What separates the top 10 percent from everyone else?

It was Italian economist Vilfredo Pareto that came up with a mathematical formula describing the unequal distribution of wealth in his country, observing that 20 percent of people owned 80 percent of the wealth.  Pareto’s 80/20 principle has since been used to describe many similar situations, including the phenomenon in sales and mortgage origination where often the top quartile (25 percent) generate over 50 percent of a company’s production. When we dig further, often the top 10 percent generate the majority of the business.

This principle has always concerned me—wouldn’t you rather see at least the second and probably the third quartiles produce as much as the elite top 10 percent?  Is this possible?  Certainly it is, but not unless individual loan originators really want to improve their results and create a more secure long-term financial future for themselves and their families.

One obvious question is: what do the top 10 percent of elite producers know that the other 90 percent don’t know?  And could it be replicated?  With the goal of finding out, the dean of our Loan Officer University, Doug Smith, asked the question of our top performers.  It should surprise no one that there was a reoccurring theme throughout the answers.  There are some very clear common denominators that make up the 10 percent difference.

In reverse order of recurrence, here are the top loan originators’ answers to the question, “what makes you a top 10 percent producer?”

10. Become a student of your profession.  Loan officers have been told for years that the key to success is to learn how to become successful from others already there.  Top producers understand and practice this philosophy.  They invest in training, coaching, personal development, and themselves.  Other originators don’t take the time or spend the money for personal development.  As a result they rarely improve their results or their careers.

9. Have a dedication to the job.  Many loan officers appear to be in this business for the short haul; as a job and not a career.  This inability to “stick with it” causes them to fall short in most things they do.  When you are not passionate about what you do, it is hard to be passionate about helping your customers, continual learning, investing money, or anything else that matters for success.  By contrast, the top 10 percent are men and women consumed by the business and truly dedicated to what they do for a living.  They put their heart and soul into their jobs every day, with sincerity, integrity, and a strong emotional drive for success.

8. Be out there selling.  The elite producer out-produces everyone else because they out-prospect everyone else.  They are true salespeople looking for new and more lending and referral opportunities.  This includes regular sales calls to key referral clients, attending industry events, asking for referrals, community involvement, and more.  To write 300 to 700 loans a year you have to be selling and prospecting constantly.  This consistency of contact keeps their phones ringing with calls and new business opportunities.

7. Provide superior service.  It should be no surprise that top producers in a service-oriented industry are obsessed with great customer service.  Mentioned time and time again, superior service is a common trait of the top 10 percent.  This “wow factor” includes many things, from fully informing the customer up-front to handwritten thank-you cards, attending closings, and continual follow up after the closing.

6. Set specific plans and goals.  Top performers are driven by goals.  They do business “on purpose” with specific tasks in mind every day.  They write and follow annual business plans.  They continually strive to reach the next level of success.  It could be said that top producers go further than others because they are clear on where they are going and they have a plan to get there.

5. Follow-up.  Top producers have the discipline to deliver great follow-up.  They are responsive people who also can be counted on to follow through on actions and promises.  Top performers know that we work in a time-sensitive business and that to serve clients well and capture business, you must act fast and you must follow-up again and again and again.

4. Build a team around you.  It is difficult, if not impossible, to originate huge volumes of business alone.  It takes a lot of people working well together in a team environment.  Top producers have been successful at assembling a team of talented people that support their multi-million dollar sales effort.  Having a strong team means that things get done without undue tension, repetitive work and chaos, or blame and finger pointing.

3. Maintain a solid work ethic.  A key attribute of the top 10 percent is simply an unrelenting work ethic.  These people are fully engaged in their careers and are willing to put in the hours that it takes to be successful.  It would be impossible for a high performer to produce $40 million to $100 million a year without investing the time it takes to get the job done every day.

2. Market yourself relentlessly.  Top performers are great marketers.  They realize that the business does not find you, you find it.  These producers sponsor events, buy promotional items, manage database mining campaigns, and dozens of other business-generating activities.  Continuous marketing is integral to their success.

1. Build clients for life.  Some mortgage loan originators work deal to deal.  Because they must spend so much time prospecting for their next transaction, they have little time left over to do anything else.  Top performers have learned the importance of aligning themselves with customers and clients who can help take them where they want to go.  They understand that the mortgage origination business is a business of relationships—with borrowers and referral partners.  These strong relationships keep a steady stream of business coming in the door month after month and year after year.  Mentioned more often than any other single attribute, the willingness to build clients for life is the #1 distinguishing practice of the top 10 percent.

Of the hundreds of loan originators who are not in the top 10 percent, there are many who aspire to achieve success.  To get there, it makes sense to follow in the footsteps of those who are already there.  Knowing, understanding, and following these 10 common practices will lead dedicated sales professionals to enjoying the riches and rewards of a successful and very profitable mortgage career.

The “Top 10 Percent Difference”

Ten things separate the top 10 percent from everyone else.  These characteristics are consistent among all high performers.  To recap, along with what some of the top 10 percent had to say about what made a difference:

  1. Build clients for life.  “Customer service sets me apart.  Taking time to understand what they actually need.  Do what you say you are going to do and do it better and faster than everyone else.”
  2. Market yourself relentlessly.  “Keep in touch with your referral sources with mail, e-mail, phone calls, lunch, or whatever.  Reach out and touch someone!”
  3. Maintain a solid work ethic.  “I am not afraid to work whenever and for however long.  There is no sign on the front door saying we are closed on Sundays.  I let my client know that if they are working, so am I.”
  4. Build a team around you.  “We think the difference is that we really believe our team has unique and unmatchable value in our marketplace.  We just rebuilt our entire system from the ground up.  Our team is completely networked.  We are a marketing machine.  We are 100 percent game-ready every day.”
  5. Follow-up.  “I am ‘systematized’ in that I have a system and everything to guarantee consistency and follow up.”
  6. Set specific plans and goals.  “The 10 percent difference means that you follow through on your plans.  Plan your business in advance and then make it happen.  You will never get to the level you desire if you do not have a road-map to success.”
  7. Provide superior service.  “Exceed service-level expectations with both the client and the referral source.  Insure that communication is a top priority.”
  8. Be out there selling.  “Arrive at your office early every morning so you can get a leg up on the day so you can spend the majority of your time out looking for new prospects.”
  9. Have a dedication to the job.  “Being committed to working the entire day as efficiently as possible, learning from my mistakes, and continuously growing to be better made the difference for me.”
  10. Become a student of your profession.  “I seek others’ advice and opinions.  I firmly believe that ‘one’ is too small a number for greatness.  I have always had mentors and sought coaching.”

By Jerry Baker