WE’RE HEARING I have maintained throughout this series that the mortgage industry must embrace the virtues of driving conversion in order to have success in 2014.

In past posts, I discussed how it’s critical to prepare for success, to put the right sales efforts into the right markets to be successful, and to carefully balance the commitment between retail origination, bank origination and consumer direct efforts.

I have also advocated embracing data in an effort to determine exactly when your customers may be in the market for their next home, and create a stream of leads from current bank customers, or past mortgage customers or even unconverted leads.

In these posts, you may have noticed, I seem to gravitate toward war analogies. I talk about preparing for battle and using NSA-level intelligence gathering methods in your prospecting. I suppose it’s time for me to show my pacifist self and turn to something less deadly, but hey! This is your success we’re talking about here. So, today I extend the discussion by talking about a critical weapon in the war for increased conversation—lead management.

To me, lead management is like troop management on the battlefield. After warfare evolved (if you can use that word for something so gruesome) from small groups in a skirmish over hunting grounds into large armies over much larger territories, the old frontal assault became much less effective. Today, effective mortgage marketers have a very complex field of operations to oversee.

That’s not to say that the simple frontal assault is not still part of the market—a refinance is a good example. A refinance lead comes at your with a fixed set of data—current loan information, current payment, and current expectations—all the lender needs to do is address that exact scenario and determine how to help the customer.

It’s very much like a full-frontal assault—easy to see, easy to understand and in the good times you just pick off the best prospects. (Note: I am not saying that lenders should consider refinance prospects as targets—our friends at the CFPB would not like that.)

The key to effective lead management is very similar to the key to effective troop management. It comes down to knowing as much as you can about every contingent (lead) on the battlefield, and then having a process that drives that contingent where you want it to go. In the case of the mortgage lead, it’s to the closing table.

One of the challenges in the purchase climate is that lead management is not a linear process, as it is in a refinance. The same set of tactics won’t work for every purchase money lead.

When it comes to seeking financing for a new home purchase, you’ll find that many borrowers haven’t even signed a contract when they first approach their lender.

Our friends in real estate are partly responsible for this as they don’t want to waste time touring homes with folks who can’t get the money to buy them. We like it, too, because it allows us to get a headstart on a relationship and hopefully lock the borrower in even before they know what they want to buy.

It’s the same for the other types of borrowers we meet. People that are trading up to a new home often haven’t listed their existing home yet and first-time homebuyers, well, they’re basically clueless.

So, the path for the purchase lead is rarely linear; it’s more like a circle of various players all involved in moving the process along. Sometimes, the potential deal remains in that roundabout for a long time before it actually results in a mortgage.

For these folks, their set of data is in a near constant state of flux. It’s not possible to make a frontal assault, because it’s not ever clear exactly what position the prospective borrower is in. If a refinance lead is a frontal assault, then a purchase lead is sophisticated espionage, where each piece of data advances the cause. When we get enough information and it lines up with the requirements for a deal we can make, we move in!

This suggests that one critical element of lead management must be a system or process that asks the right questions and engages the critical stakeholders. I have seen far too many examples where loan originators (call center and retail) talk to a purchase lead like it’s a refinance lead. In some cases, they are out of practice, but in others they are untrained on the language, the process, the questions to ask and the critical steps in the process. You can tell if there’s a problem within the first few minutes of the call.

A purchase money borrower has more emotional elements in play in this process and a much bigger objective than a refinance borrower. In the refi call, it’s ok to get straight to the bottom line (“I can save you xxx on your loan”), but on a purchase money call you need to ask many more questions and get a lot more information about the status of everything in the deal.

For example, talk about why the borrower is buying a new home, and what the status is of the old home. Establish with the borrower a reasonable timeline for choosing and then buying a new home, and prepare to make the calls and send the emails necessary to follow that timeline.

If the borrower is working with a Realtor, find out who it is, and how they picked that real estate professional. Get permission to talk to the Realtor, and then engage that person right away about what you can do for the consumer. The point is that you need to have a management process that is totally different from your refi process, and a system that tracks these data elements and manages the lead flow accordingly.

Remember that this series of articles is about conversion, and each of these contacts with the customer is an opportunity to drive up your conversion. Too often we see lenders who are not committed to making the contacts necessary to be successful, and who then blame external factors on their inability to convert deals. We hear about Realtors taking the deal away, or customers being “flaky” about the process. Well, a good lender needs to engage Realtors and turn them into allies, because closing purchase money business isn’t a frontal assault. It’s a slow grind through a tough battlefield, filled with traps and dead ends that can kill a deal in a heartbeat.

Purchase money borrowers are already out there in this battlefield. They’re lost, probably afraid and don’t have a clue about their next move. Getting them to their goal will take a process. It will be much more complex than your refi process, but in your battle to increase conversion, it’s one you must master now.

Garth Graham is a partner with Stratmor Group, and has over 25 years of mortgage experience.