After graduating from Antioch College (Ohio) in 1988, Michael Dunsky was looking for a good, reasonably well paying, entry level job.
The mortgage lending profession wasn’t necessarily on his career list, but when a friend working at a local bank suggested he apply, Dunsky did so and started out as a processor in the mortgage department. “I didn’t know anything about lending,” he said. “I began working with an IBM Selectric rather than a computer.”
During the next four years, Dunsky gained valuable experience as a processor, but he realized that originating would be a much more rewarding long-term career. “I didn’t have any sales experience, but I did have the foundation of back office work. The managers weren’t sure I could succeed as a loan officer and there was no such thing as loan officer ‘training’ at that time. But I was confident.”
After 26 years originating, it’s obvious that Dunsky can do it. He has been a perennial top producer since 1996 and last year did $70.1 million and 239 loans for Guaranteed Rate in Franklin, Mass.
Dunsky’s first effective marketing tactic was the well known Realtor “rate sheet” visit. “Twice a week I delivered rate sheets to Realtor offices,” he explained. “I put 40,000 miles on my car the first year originating but I met almost every agent in the area and eventually started getting referrals. Even though I initially lacked sales experience, I had a good face-to-face presence with people. My basic message to agents was ‘I can help you…I know which loans can be approved and which can’t….and we have great rates and service.’ In the beginning, I was too naïve to know I couldn’t fail, so I just did it and was successful.”
Agents responded positively to Dunsky’s approach. “I started with one loan, began developing relationships and also soon got involved with the community,” he said.
Dunsky later moved on to North American Mortgage and then Mortgage Master, and eventually joined Guaranteed Rate in 2010. “I saw it as a great opportunity to join a company that provided great support to its loan officers.”
Dunsky has continued to refine his marketing program. Early on, he learned a valuable lesson—that customers and prospects must be aware of the full range of your services. “I remember the day a customer called me to get a payoff figure because they were refinancing. They weren’t aware that I did refinances; otherwise they would have used me. So I began making a major effort to let people know I can help with all of their home financing needs.”
His current marketing campaign includes:
*Mailers—About five times a year he sends customers direct mail, including letters and oversized postcards, which his marketing department helps coordinate. The postcards have a special design element—the customer’s name is included within the cover art. “This is really great because it personalizes the message,” he said. “For example, if there is a photo of a street scene, the client’s name is on a street sign and if it is a 4th of July card, the name might be incorporated in the fireworks. On the back side there is a brief message along with a notice enabling the customer to participate in a drawing for a Home Depot card, gas grill or other item.”
The postcards offer visibility and by participating in the drawing, customers provide their updated contact information.
*E-marketing—Dunsky sends customers monthly e-bulletins that feature interest rate updates, purchase program news, and something more personal, such as a reference to planning for college (if they have children). “I’ve found that the key to successful e-mails is keeping the information brief, usually in bullet format, and of interest to the audience.”
*Phone Calls—“I’ll call at least four customers a day to leave a message or talk directly with them. Ours is a high tech business but we need the ‘high touch’ element too. Phone calls are a great way to keep in touch.”
*Social Media—Dunsky takes advantage of Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter by sharing both personal news and business updates. He has a business page as well as a personal page on Facebook. “They will often overlap; I’ll have personal notes on my business page and reference my business on the personal side,” he said.
He definitely has experienced the benefit of having a social media presence. “I recently had a call from someone in our town administration office who saw my Facebook posting and called me regarding their interest in refinancing. In another instance, I posted a brief human interest story about a woman who was caring for her child, sister and grandmother and I was able to help her with a loan. It had more than 900 ‘likes.’ About twice a month I’ll receive a contact from someone through social media.”
Dunsky does many of the postings and tweets himself, but also has an outside company that assists with the messages. “Usually I’ll post three times a week and they’ll do the others.” He noted that this kind of service can cost $125-500 per month depending on the amount of content.
*Community Involvement—Dunsky supports various organizations such as local food pantries, the Lions Club, RESPOND, INC., (a local organization that helps victims of domestic violence), and the Make-a-Wish Foundation. “Every time we close a loan, we make a donation to Make-a-Wish on behalf of the client and real estate agents involved. The client and Realtor both receive a card letting them know that I’ve made a donation on their behalf.”
Dunsky regularly tests new marketing ideas. “I have found that a major challenge is creating effective marketing that brings in more business. So, we’re always trying different campaigns, with e-mail, social media, and other areas; looking for the right formula.”
Realtors make up about 60 percent of Dunsky’s total business. Although he no longer makes weekly rate sheet deliveries, he does stay in touch with them and other strategic partners. “It’s no longer as easy to meet with agents in their offices, as most of them work from home or are usually out with customers,” he said.
Dunsky sends an e-mail update to Realtors (and financial planners) every two weeks and also strives to make regular phone calls. “My goal is to help agents be more successful growing their business by sharing ideas and of course, referrals,” he said. “I consider myself a resource and a professional extension of their business.”
Dunsky has a simple but effective approach to customer service. “My focal point is providing clear and effective communications and defined expectations (of the loan process) to borrowers,” he said.
He noted that by carefully explaining the loan process and the paperwork involved, his customers avoid any confusion and potential disappointment later on. “We have a 95 percent customer satisfaction rate and that is partially attributable to our upfront communication.”
He provides regular status reports and other updates to borrowers and their real estate agents. “The customer never has to call our office to find out what’s happening with their loan. I think we do an exceptional job of keeping customers informed.”
Dunsky knows how important it is to have assistance, which enables originators to maintain and expand their production. He’s had some type of support—ranging from general assistants to assistant loan officers—for nearly 17 years. “Having an assistant allows me to concentrate on business development,” he stressed. “It is difficult to continue increasing your volume without some level of support.”
Dunsky’s current assistant is his wife—Joanne Dunsky—who has been working with him for the last five years. Joanne coordinates most of the marketing activity. While working with family members can be challenging, Mike emphasizes that “We have a great working relationship. We discuss the marketing strategies, but Joanne does most of the actual implementation. Her assistance has been invaluable.”
Of course, company support can also make a difference. Dunsky added that Guaranteed Rate is known for its commitment to loan officers and staff. “The company is always willing to spend money to help originators with the growth and success of their business.”
Dunsky has also benefited from coaching. “I realized early on that I’m a good, average loan officer. I’m going to be good, despite myself, which is not where I want to be. After all, no one wants to be just ‘average.’ So I need that extra guidance and feedback regarding strategies in order to excel and that’s where coaching helps me the most.” He worked with a Building Champions coach for over 10 years. “Among other things it helped keep me focused,” he said. “I received great direction in the areas of execution and new tactical remedies.”
The Loan Process
Dunsky is closely involved with his customers during the loan transaction. “If they are extremely busy, I will suggest they can start with our secure online application, but I still like to be the one to take loan applications, usually over the phone,” he said. “This is the time when we develop trust and rapport; making an initial connection. The first few minutes are so important in building a long-term relationship. It’s the time you can ideally give them information and guidance that no one else does, thereby differentiating yourself from others.”
Dunsky generally doesn’t work evenings or weekends, but is available if an important situation arises. “I learned early on that you need your downtime, which I spend with my family. Otherwise, you can easily reach burnout.”
Of course, he does make sure that customers and agents know that he is thinking of them and ready to respond to any issue. “For example, every Thursday I send agents a note to remind them that I’m available all day Friday to help prequal their buyers in advance of their weekend house hunting.”
He rarely attends closings, not because they are unimportant, but because he’s done all the necessary advance preparations and set expectations accordingly. “I call customers directly and review the numbers before the closing and make sure they’re comfortable with everything. They just don’t need me there.”
Dunsky, 49, looks forward to another strong year. One of his goals is to increase and change marketing strategies and he is also considering plans to expand his team.
He emphasized that he has no plans to stop originating in the near future. “I love what I do. There’s such variety in our jobs; it seems like every day is different. Plus, we’re able to improve the lives of our clients, by acting as their trusted advisor.”
David Robinson is Associate Editor of Broker Banker.