Stacking goodwill

by 30 Jul 2012

Stop me if you’ve heard this one.  So there was this loan officer, and he was just getting started in his career.  He talked to a couple of the more experienced loan officers in the office and they told him that the best way to build a client base was to go to Chamber of Commerce meetings, Rotary meetings, networking meetings, and other community groups and get involved.

So he did this.  He went and passed out business cards, chatted with all sorts of people, collected contact information and followed up.  All the things you’re supposed to do. 

And he got no loans.

It wasn’t that people weren’t interested.  They were - sort of.  Many times the eyes started to glaze over, and a lot of people were feigning interest while trying not to yawn, but there were also a fair number of people that were genuinely interested in who he was, though not nearly so much in what he did.  Let’s face it: mortgages are boring.  Even to people that do them for a living.

He thought he was a failure.  The calendar was full, that’s for sure.  He had Rotary meetings and Chamber events and grand openings coming out of his ears.  But nobody was calling to do a mortgage.

Thus, he did what we all do.  He went into sales mode.  He had mouths to feed, after all.  He called aggressively and set appointments and practiced his close tactics.  Pretty soon, he had a couple of loans to do – but he also noticed that he was less and less welcome at the events.  He wasn’t forbidden, of course, but people not only did not go out of their way to talk with him, they passively avoided him.  It was uncomfortable for them and for him.

In depression, he went back to his more experienced colleague and asked what he was doing wrong.  And the veteran sat back in his chair and said, “Wait.”

“Wait?  Wait for what?”

“Trust me.  Stop pressuring people.  Just keep sending people your information, keep volunteering for assignments and projects, keep helping people, and wait.”

“I have to eat.”

“You will.  But wait.”

So he waited.  For a few months.  Things were really tight and the family was starting to complain.

And then Ben Bernanke announced a new Fed initiative, and someone called with a mortgage question.  Then a neighbor called.  Within a few months, a small but thriving group of clients was proud to have been served by this new loan officer.  He hadn’t done anything special, but all of a sudden the phone was ringing.  What the heck happened?

What happened is a thing we call “stacking goodwill.”  People want to do loans with people who they know and like.  The currency of a good transaction is trust.  Trust requires time and goodwill.  Reciprocity.  Shared experience.  That cannot be built in a day.

Now, it can be borrowed.  It can be bought, essentially, with a big name borrowed from others. (This is the celebrity endorsement path.  People do it because it works.)  For most of us, though, the kind of trust that makes a sale is built organically, over time, with hard work.  Work that truly looks like a pointless waste of time, for a good while.

It does, people.  But a lot of things, maybe all things that matter, are like this.  I garden.  I grow gardens for one purpose.  Eating.  I start growing seedlings in February.  I plant three times, in March, April, and May.  I weed.  I water (Utah is a desert, after all).  I pray.

And by the end of July, I’m eating salsa.  Six months of work, and I still haven’t eaten one mouthful of food from my garden.  What a waste of time.

I have eight children, so my wife has been pregnant for six years, all told.  Even with the last child, she was pregnant for nine months.  You’d think she’d have gotten better at it, wouldn’t you?

Sorry. It takes time.  Tomatoes, children, Notre Dame Cathedral, they take time to build and grow.  Friendships, trust, those take time and work.  They cannot be hurried.  They are built one experience, one project, one conversation at a time.

What the veteran knew that the newbie did not is that the newbie was stacking goodwill.  All the time that he was making what he thought were fruitless trips to the Chamber of Commerce meetings and cleaning up after parades with the Rotary Club, he was demonstrating to people the kind of person he is, and the sort of person he would be to do business with.  The people that call him now already know he’s not a fast-talking shyster with his eye on the bottom line, because if he were, he wouldn’t have been up at 5am hiding Easter eggs for the community hunt.

It’s almost as if there’s a bar that a salesman has to clear.  Everyone has this bar.  If you clear it, then you’ll get the business when it’s time.  If you don’t, you won’t.  Some people are natural high jumpers, but for most of us, we have to build a ladder a rung at a time.  Remember, just like with gardening, doing 90% of the job means not that you lose some of the sale, it means you lose the whole thing – 99% of the way there means you get nothing.

Stacking goodwill means that you’ll get there eventually.  If you just keep going, you’ll make the kinds of connections that lead to being able to help people.  They’ll trickle in, and then they’ll come in a flood (usually precipitated by something outside your control.  Greece is a fertile source right now).  When you’ve stacked enough goodwill, you’ll get loans.  You will have earned them.

To us, when we identified this concept, it was incredibly liberating.  I realized that I really could just do the right thing, help people and serve and stop worrying about whether I got a deal today.  Maybe nothing was ripe.  As long as I was weeding and watering, I would get fruit.  Then I could ramp up how much I was weeding and watering and know that eventually, I would get even more.  It was a miracle.

Be patient, young grasshopper.  Do the right thing.  Keep stacking goodwill.  Wait.  Your time will come, and it will be sweet as the fruit of summer.

Chris Jones is a branch manager with City First Mortgage Services and a ten-year veteran spanning the best and the worst of times in the industry. He is the author of the book Even Your Mother Won’t Call You Back, a primer on how to use the Six Channels of Marketing to do business more naturally and efficiently (available at Chris arrived in mortgages after careers with tech startups, stockbrokering, and running a presidential campaign. He’s a sought-after speaker and a part-time opera singer, which he insists isn’t as impressive as it sounds. Chris and his wife Jeanette live in Lehi, UT with their eight children.


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