John Weller Achieved $100 Million Production Goal. Also finds the ideal formula for achieving professional and personal satisfaction.
For several years, John Weller had a special goal: to originate $100 million in annual closed loan volume. He had already achieved great success as a loan originator—regularly closing an average of $50 million+ annually, but was raising his personal production bar even higher. “Every year when I wrote my business plan, my goal was the same–$100 million on about 350 closings,” he explained. “I had some superstar originator friends developed through Todd Duncan’s Masters Coach program who were regularly surpassing that goal, but for me it remained elusive.”
Weller, loan originator/vice president at Megastar Financial in Denver, Colo., would attain his ambitious volume target in 2010, following steady earlier growth and a series of events and other factors. In the process, he also would achieve a greater balance in his personal and professional lives that helped him close an impressive $60 million last year, while allowing for more time to enjoy with family and other relationships. “After working 60-hour weeks for much of the second half of 2010, my team and I took some time to celebrate, travel and recharge with our families,” he said. “And with all of the recent changes in compensation and regulations, I was very happy to have closed over $60 million last year.”
Weller received his initial financial experience in a Junior Achievement program and subsequent work as a bank teller during his junior/senior years in high school and during summer and Christmas holidays. After attending college and working several years in the financial services and sales fields, in 1993 he obtained his real estate license and joined GMAC Mortgage in Pleasanton, Calif. “In mid-1993 when I got started, there was a ton of refinance opportunities because interest rates were lower and property values were generally increasing. Rather than spending my time beating the bushes for Realtor deals, I was in a file storage room collecting contact information to call past GMAC clients to see if they wanted lower rates. In my first six months, I did about 75 loans and only four were purchase transactions.”
Weller later moved to the locally-owned Cherry Creek Mortgage, where he was assigned a small builder account as a preferred lender. He used those builder leads to further develop his Realtor base. “I continued the cookie approach with the builder sales reps and they helped me connect with more Realtors,” he said. “I recently closed a loan to refinance someone who was one of those builder clients; the fifth time since I helped finance the home purchase in 1996. The repeat customers and Realtor relationships from that builder account still reap rewards today.”
The Turning Point
In 2001, Weller joined Megastar Financial Corp. and during the next several years, continued to develop his Realtor network and employ “clients for life” methods to grow his referral base. “I have always enjoyed connecting with people and getting to know what’s truly important to them, so I under promise and over deliver,” he said.
Then in 2004, a combination of factors resulted in a major change in how Weller approached the business, his personal and professional relationships, and ultimately his long-term success. That was the year that Weller was in a very serious ski accident. “I remember the neurologists shaking their heads as they looked at my x-rays; in disbelief that I was fine and walking,” he said. “While it was a struggle to come back from the brain injury, I just concentrated on developing an even greater appreciation for life and the importance of relationships.”
During the next Todd Duncan Master’s Coach event, Weller met Tim Sanders and learned about the book “Love is the Killer App,” which emphasizes the value of creating strong, positive relationships with customers, work associates and family members, and “showing them love” by being a resource point for the things they most value. “Tim spoke to our group and we were all inspired. Right at that time I also fell in love with my now wife and her/our two amazing kids. I began to concentrate even more on family and strengthening relationships with my team members.”
Weller continued expanding his business and maintained a solid annual volume growing steadily from about $50 million to $69 million in 2009. Then in 2010, a combination of a coach’s advice, refined time management techniques, super low interest rates and the addition of processing support helped him attain his superstar goal. “I met a productivity coach (Jason Womack) and in 2009 and 2010 hired him to ride along with me during my normal schedule,” he said. “He helped me recruit a full-time team member in addition to a part-time processor, which improved the quality and quantity of service I could deliver. Prior to that time, I was very busy at 20-25 transactions a month, but the additional processors helped to double my operational capacity. I went from being able to close 20 loans a month to 50 and with outstanding quality control. I am proud of my team and the job they did.”
Weller also credits disciplined time management techniques–much of which he gained from a book The 7 Minute Difference, and the accompanying planner (7 Minute Planner)—for the overall jump in his volume. “The book is really a workbook that helps you identify your core values and goals and then provides a handy tool to enable you to focus on priorities and accomplish tangible goals,” he explained. “The planner is like any other calendar or planning tool but it’s formatted like a scorecard. You record all of your daily contacts, including calls, meetings and notes sent and give yourself points for connecting with people in various ways. Family, coworkers, clients, referral partners…everyone counts, and the more personal connection, the better. I started using this in 2009 and it helped me do a better job of expanding and improving my business plan and priorities.”
Weller noted that one of the key time management lessons was the importance of focusing on the most meaningful and rewarding activities, as well as the powerful efficiencies of getting some tasks done much quicker and not allowing them to clog up the system. “As a result of the book and planner, I began concentrating on the most productive actions and either delegating the rest or letting some wait or just go away.”
Weller has worked hard to ensure the satisfaction and loyalty of his past customers. “Delivering world class service is about first understanding my client’s goal and priorities in detail before beginning an application or processing a transaction,” he said. “I ask a lot of personal financial questions and try to uncover their core values and goals. I learned many of these techniques in a book called High Trust Selling and by modeling my friend Steven Marshall. I see my role as a financial consultant to families, helping them use mortgage loans not to just finance their house, but to enhance their overall personal finances and well-being. Whenever I originate a loan, I try to create an understanding with my clients that if a future refinance transaction can save them $100 or more a month, they’ll want to re-apply for a low cost or no cost loan to capture those savings. It’s essentially a perpetual loan application and clients love it. I also remind them of potential opportunities when I call for the annual mortgage review.”
He provides new customers with a closing gift such as a personalized fire extinguisher or a Home Depot gift card and after closing a new address ink stamp. He also sends them the quarterly e-newsletter, “You Magazine” (from Loan Toolbox), which highlights finances, home repair, health and other topics of interest.
“In addition, our follow-up system that we call ‘In Touch’ automatically sends customers birthday and anniversary e-mails, and sends me a reminder to call them personally. After offering my birthday/anniversary wishes, I’ll ask about their family and friends and life events like job changes or their kids going to college, to see if I can assist them in any way. It is very common for me to originate refinance loans on customers’ birthdays and on anniversaries of their previous closing. I tend to originate pre-approvals and help them plan for their next home.”
Weller uses Mortgage Coach’s Edge program as a communications and interest rate/fee discussion tool to strengthen ties with past customers. “I really like to use the Total Cost Analysis to show clients the remainder of their current loan as compared to several options so that I can assist them with a refi or purchase,” he said. “I recently did one for a client that showed how shortening their term to 15 years at 3.25 percent was $70,000 in interest better than their existing loan that was 4.25 percent and had 18.5 years remaining. The Edge tools are an excellent way to provide actionable information that adds value and gives clarity; thus also increasing the opportunities for their future business and referrals.”
Weller’s rapport with Realtors has continued strong since he made his first contact with agents nearly 20 years ago. In addition to regular lunches to discuss mutual areas of interest, he often shares the concepts featured in the 7 Minute Difference. “I realized that many of my real estate partners could benefit from the specific business planning and priority management,” he said. “At my business planning lunches, I explain how the planner helped me and how it might help them. I even share copies of the book.”
He also emphasized how regular communications can play a key part in an effective partnership. “Agents know that I do a great job of educating my borrowers and motivating them so that they’re equipped to move forward faster than many other originators. Megastar’s In Touch program provides agents with numerous updates throughout the loan transaction, such as title work and appraisal received, approved to close and figures sent to closing. This is one of the main reasons we have such Realtor loyalty. Agents love when we tell them what they want to know before they have to call us or e-mail to ask.”
The Team Works
Weller knows that he would not have been able to achieve his sales goals without support from his team. “From the time of my accident until now, I’ve placed a huge priority on developing more processing and transaction resources and I have really strived to nurture those relationships with fun incentives and camaraderie,” he said.
Donna Calkin, who joined him as a processor in 2005 and later moved into a custom-designed role of Transaction Manager, has played a major role in the team’s development and implementation of efficiency strategies. “She manages the paperwork, handles compliance issues, lock desk and other critical areas so that I am free to talk and meet with clients,” he noted. “She also serves as the ‘glue’ between me and our processors because she speaks the language and has the experience and compassion for the difficulties they face.”
Team Weller also includes Laura Settoon, senior loan specialist (processor, underwriter and closer); and Lisa Doyle and Sherea Risk, loan specialists. In addition, Matthew Berry, a full-time fireman, works as a loan originator and part-time assistant in Weller’s branch. “I helped convert Matthew from a ‘work at home broker’ into a full service mortgage banker. I mentor him and help him solve problems. He will also step in for me to take care of leads and Realtors outside of my core clients.”
Weller strives to keep his team motivated, through a positive work environment and other incentives, including short-term production contests with cash prizes. “For example, in late 2010, when we realized we had a chance to break our company record for closings in a month ($13 million) and my personal best of 58 loans in one month, we created a fun incentive. The deal was that if we broke both records that month, we would all go to the mail with $1,000 each to shop. The fun part was that the rule was that you had to spend the entire $1,000 on yourself and we met for lunch afterwards to share our self-indulgences. That incentive was so successful we repeated it several times, with a big one if we could break the $100 million goal. I also believe in regularly sharing meals with team members to connect as people first and then to achieve business purposes.”
Weller also pointed out that Megastar Corporate has been particularly supportive. “The key to Megastar’s success over the last 10 years—growing from a handful of originators to a $1 billion+ per year powerhouse—is our culture. It may sound trite, but we really are a family, and we work and play together in that spirit. Anna Padila-Fitzgerald, Megastar’s CEO and owner, recently won the Ernst and Young Entrepreneur of the Year Award for Financial Services companies. It is easier to achieve big goals when you work with a forward-thinking, service-oriented organization.”
Weller’s team and corporate backing have enabled him to focus on a streamlined transaction process. After taking an initial phone application, he passes the borrower information on to one of his assistants. “I will typically talk to clients on the phone to start the application. Once the paperwork is ready, I will then meet most of them so they can sign the docs. I found that meeting clients is important, especially after the GFE changes. Having a face-to-face discussion has enabled me to clearly establish client and team expectations, as well as walk them through all the disclosures and explain how the new Federal and state regulations affect them. Of course, this also offers a wonderful opportunity to outline the financial benefits of working with me and to plant seeds for referrals to their friends and family.”
Weller is certainly glad of reaching his $100 million production goal and having rested and enjoyed his family, travel and boating more in 2011, said he’s ready to pursue it again. “My projected fundings for the first quarter of 2012 are nearly $30 million, so it appears that the conditions are right to shoot for $100 million again,” he added. “I’m seeing a tremendous amount of excitement in the real estate community and with clients about the record low interest rates. I think the real estate market is stabilizing and we could be in for a pleasant surprise for this year’s production.”
Having weathered the same industry challenges as other veteran originators during the last few years, Weller welcomes the new regulations and other changes to the mortgage lending landscape. “To be honest, all the new GFE and compensation rules and tougher underwriting guidelines for the last couple of years have been like fuel for my business. The harder the industry gets for my competitors, the easier it is for me. Most of my competition doesn’t have the benefit I do for having highly trained business managers like Donna and Laura who know how to process, underwrite and close transactions independent from out-of-town underwriters. Nor do they have the autonomy like I do at Megastar. I am happy that the government regulators took on the shoddy business practices and sketchy business models that some originators got away with for years and I’m happy to be with a company that gives me the opportunity to be part of the conversation of moving our business forward.”
Weller is concentrating on maintaining the best possible balance between professional success and personal contentment. “I want to stay healthy; continue developing our business; maintain great relationships with family, the team, and customers; and have fun along the way.”