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Joseph Semrani is the head of a national telesales group in a mortgage division at M&T Bank and has been managing loan officers for the past decade at various mortgage companies.
Joseph Semrani is the head of a national telesales group in a mortgage division at M&T Bank and has been managing loan officers for the past decade at various mortgage companies.

We Blew $250,000 on Online Mortgage Leads So You Don't Have To

JUL 24, 2014 6:28pm ET
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If you worked at a bank and you spent $250,000 on a new marketing campaign and got no results, would you keep spending? You might—if you were crazy or were trying to get fired.

But just a few years ago, that is exactly what I did. And it was probably the best thing I ever did, because we eventually took the lessons we learned and doubled our online loan conversion rate almost immediately.

Prior to heading a national telesales group for a full-service federal bank in 2011, I was tasked with building an inside mortgage sales group for a regional lender. This group was to leverage the Internet to target potential borrowers who live outside of our service area. The idea was to build a direct-to-consumer scalable sales business that did not need to rely on referring partners. I was given a $250,000 budget. In the process of spending this money and having very little to show for it, this is some of what I learned about converting online leads.

You need a real strategy. You may think that converting online leads simply means getting leads from the "right" source and having your loan officers plow through them. While this approach helped us, and may help you close a few loans per thousand, the results could be a lot better if you're able to quickly rank and prioritize early leads based on the prospect’s motivation level and ability to qualify. We didn't do any of that at first. We didn’t know how.

You need discipline. Converting online leads requires consistency. You must know or be able to figure out the best way to connect with your customer, and then do it again and again. For leads that don't convert right away and require nurturing, loan officers need to be religious about follow-up. All borrowers want to work with lenders that do what they say they are going to do, but online borrowers are ruthless when lenders don’t keep their word. The behaviors we needed out of our loan officers required a discipline that was impossible without some kind of help.

Speed is a must. At one time or another, every salesperson has missed a sale because he or she didn’t respond to a prospect soon enough. But on the Internet, borrowers expect answers now. If you can’t respond to a serious borrower inquiry in less than 10 minutes or even seconds, you’re going to have a tough time selling mortgages online.

Lead conversion is science. You can have a strategy and execute it quickly and consistently, but you won't be able to reach your potential without truly understanding what is going on. That requires looking at all the data and determining things like which loan officer should get which type of lead, where the most qualified borrowers are coming from, and which contact strategy works best for a particular type of prospect.

The critical component we were missing was the right technology platform. Our failed experiment with online leads eventually led us to work with sales automation company Velocify. But before that, we had no way to prioritize a lead, match it with the best-suited loan officer, and get that loan officer on the phone with the borrower in seconds. We needed a system to tie it all together, and we didn't have one.

Through trial and error, however, our early efforts revealed an occasional "sweet spot" between the number of contacts we made—phone, email and text messages—and how far apart we made those contacts. We knew it was possible to create an ultimate contact strategy, which we eventually did. Today we enjoy a remarkable ROI on online leads despite the climate we are in—and that number continues to improve.

I'm sharing my experience in the hopes that others won't have to spend a quarter of a million dollars finding their own "sweet spot." It would have been nice if we didn't have to spend that money, either. But would I do it all again? Considering the lessons we learned and eventual payoff, you bet.

Joseph Semrani is the head of a national telesales group in a mortgage division at M&T Bank and has been managing loan officers for the past decade at various mortgage companies. He can be reached at JSEMRANI@mtb.com.

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