The term “persona marketing” might conjure up images of a large organization, with dedicated teams to marketing, graphic design and video production, but those need not be the hallmarks of successfully using the strength of your own persona to get out there and make people aware of the product or instrument at the center of your business. Particularly in a business like reverse mortgages, a personal touch is often required so that the senior client at the heart of the matter feels well taken care of.
To that end, starting to appeal to potential reverse mortgage through the personality of the professional seems like a natural extension of the more consultative approach that the industry strives for, but knowing where to start in such an endeavor can be a tricky prospect. For Ken Krajewski, VP and head of reverse mortgage lending at 1st Nations Reverse Mortgage in Southfield, Mich., knowing where to begin can often come down to leaning on the strengths of retail sales before transitioning those skills into a persona-driven marketing strategy.
This is according to a presentation made at RMD’s Sales & Marketing Forum in late March.
Getting started, or reinventing yourself
For Krajewski, who saw reverse mortgages as a potentially more rewarding career path after spending many years on the forward side, jumped headfirst into reverse in his first day on the job, he explains.
“On my first day in the reverse mortgage business, I didn’t have any experience of selling it or of talking about it,” he says. “I didn’t have a network of referral sources, or people that I could go to try to cultivate my business.”
That could mean that his own experiences have application to some people entering the reverse mortgage industry now, or who are looking to reinvent themselves in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic which has transformed much of the ways that professionals across several fields have had to operate, particularly with respect to the interactions with customers.
When beginning on cultivating a personal brand in reverse mortgage sales efforts, one of the things Krajewski did was he stopped referring to himself as a “reverse mortgage consultant,” or a “reverse mortgage advisor.”
“When I first started, I was doing a lot of consulting, educating, and a lot of teaching people what the product is,” he says. “I was teaching financial planners, Realtors or forward mortgage loan officers about the product, and then I would sit back and wait for the phone to ring. Eventually, I realized that wasn’t working because my phone wasn’t ringing as much as I wanted it to. So, then I started changing my shift to actually selling it, asking for business and talking about how [me and other professionals could] partner.”
Having an attitude of approaching another professional to introduce the idea that perhaps a reverse mortgage originator and someone else could be complementing each other instead of competing made a demonstrable difference, Krajewski says.
“I would ask, ‘how can I get reverse mortgage referrals or reverse mortgage opportunities out of you’ by approaching them that way first,” he says. “And that’s where I started seeing my opportunities for reverse mortgages take off.”
Establishing a reverse mortgage presence
There is also a need, after making that kind of adjustment, for determining what it is the professional is attempting to accomplish, Krajewski says.
“Initially, you’re a little fish in a big bowl in your area,” he says. “I needed to establish myself as the go-to reverse mortgage person in my community. And believe it or not, it’s kind of an easy thing to do if you’re working hard at it eight hours a day, six days a week. And the reason that it’s easy is because for most of us, you’re probably the only person in your immediate market, or at least there’s not a lot of people that are reverse mortgage experts.”
Taking advantage of, potentially, being the only serious reverse mortgage operator in your community can make a world of difference if the time and effort is put in, Krajewski says. If you don’t have competition, it becomes far easier to stand out in your local community and in its market.
“What differentiates you as a reverse mortgage expert is you’re probably the only reverse mortgage expert in the Rolodex, or in the network of people that you’re trying to pull reverse mortgage opportunities out of,” Krajewski says. “So, just getting out there and establishing relationships, and even finding the low-hanging fruit where you can make the biggest impact immediately [is key].”
For Krajewski, the resource he was most able to make that impact on was with traditional mortgage loan officers and banks that did not offer reverse mortgages as a part of their product suites, he explains.
“That was a quick way to get into an office, talk to people whether it’s the banker or the forward mortgage loan officer in that office,” he says. “They could say ‘you know, sometimes people come in and ask about reverse mortgages, but we don’t do it. And I don’t know who else to go to, so you’re the only person I have.’ That was pretty powerful to get me into that network, which was forward loan officers and bankers.”
Promotion in the right places
It also pays to know how other professionals in your community are advertising their own businesses, and calling them up to ask how their efforts are panning out. For Krajewski, seeing certain professionals like Realtors or financial planners use advertising in a local newspaper helped him to both cultivate relationships with those professionals, and to gain insight into how well advertising in local media might work. More valuable for those conversations, however, was getting in front of those professionals to let them know that they have a new contact in the reverse mortgage business, which could potentially lead to a new referral partnership.
“What I was trying to do is really just start a conversation, and get in front of as many people as I could,” he says. “I wanted to pass out as many business cards as possible and let people know that now, there is a reverse mortgage expert in the area. Now, there is somebody that they can refer loans to, and I wanted that person to be me. That’s how the personal marketing started.”
Creating an initial sense of buzz through these efforts helped Krajewski to be recognized by other professionals in his community as a go-to reverse mortgage resource, and potential referral partner, who can also help to correct misperceptions about the product category when they crop up, he says.
“That right there opened up a lot of doors for me because then, after I would have my conversation with that forward loan officer or elder law attorney, I would end that [interaction] with a question,” he says. “‘Do you think what I just shared with you was helpful? Do you think that what I taught you is educational?’ I don’t think I’ve ever heard anybody tell me ‘no.’”