How Not to Talk About the Competition

“Whether it’s Google or Apple or free software, we’ve got some fantastic competitors and it keeps us on our toes.” — Bill Gates

Recently I posted a blog about the mortgage broker business and … wow … did that get a lot of response. Some cheered on the message about the ecosystem of our industry and the need to compete aggressively but to avoid attacking the competition with negative statements. Others assumed I was endorsing a particular organization and felt that was wrong.

I’ve spent my entire life in sales. I began selling dictation equipment out of college, making about 30 cold calls each day to lawyers and doctors. You see, doctors use to record notes after visiting patients or treating them in order to have a record of what happened for future use with that patient and also as legal self protection. Lawyers recorded notes for aggregating case work and information to defend clients…..or maybe to sue doctors. It was the early 1980’s, before computers and dictation tapes were provided to administrative staff to type up and file.

My sales manager at the time, Tom, used to drill us in sales meetings each week about the features and benefits of our equipment. I would learn how to sell my products advantages over competitors like Panasonic and others. We learned to compare products using selling skills but also learned two rules. First, never bash the competition. It’s demeaning to yourself and falls into the “do unto others…” category. “What goes around, comes around, so be professional”, Tom would say. Second, always be professional. Business is business and never make it so personal that your emotions end up ruling your professional behavior.

I took this training to my first loan officer job in 1983. My company was overly committed to sales training. Identifying needs, selling feature/advantage/benefit, trial close, overcome objections, final close – classic PSS. It was religion. But one thing we were taught was the same as in my previous job – be a professional and don’t attack the competition – sell your product and company’s advantages.

Our industry thrives with large banks, credit unions, community banks, independent mortgage bankers, and mortgage brokers all competing for the next loan. Each brings its own value to the market and, as I said before, we all do better because of the competition. Just as Bill Gates said, “it keeps us on our toes.”

I deplore attacks on any institution or business model in our business. We have too much diversity and no model nor company is perfect. When I ran the MBA I lived in a world where IMB’s were focused on insuring a level playing field with large banks. I advocated to the FHFA and other regulators to demand a level playing field in pricing, credit terms, and regulatory policy because I knew if the playing field was level then the consumer would win. The MBA has factions that do not always agree, but they are there to be a bigger voice in Washington as a whole – despite these differences.

To be clear, I will never endorse any company that I do not work for or represent. In my semi-retirement I am spending my time advising and supporting our industry any way I can. I will advise those who ask, I will seek to understand the challenges and opportunities ahead, and I will maintain a vigilant focus on fairness.

If I have one message for everyone who works in this field it is this; you have one professional life and it will never be advantaged by burning bridges with petty attacks. Contribute by building your organization and those who you support. Leave the insults and attacks on the sideline.

My mom, one of the nations early woman Episcopal Priests, was relentless in her teaching me about building bridges versus walls. While I am far from religious today (a conversation about organized religion for some other unrelated blog) there is chapter and verse about this theme. Hebrews 12:14 says, “Pursue peace with everyone, and holiness — without it no one will see the Lord.” And Romans 14:13, “Therefore, let us no longer criticize one another. Instead decide never to put a stumbling block or pitfall in your brother’s way.”

Look – even when we get over the tips of our ski’s we can course correct.

Howard Stern goes on at length about how, in his younger years, he insulted all the competition without thought. He cites his own insecurities as the driving force. But in recent years he has spent time apologizing to many for his behaviors. Some have accepted his outreach while others have not, but the attempt has been real. In his recent book Howard delves into regrets from older interviews with stars like Gilda Radner, George Michael and Will Ferrell. He feels great remorse about not being able to apologize to Robin Williams as it was too late to do so.

Bottom line gang: Let’s accept the industries diversity, lets sell what we have and to our strengths, and lets compete as professionals. But please leave the insults and attacks on the sidelines.

That was my message last week and one that we should all stay committed to. And I referenced both religion and Howard Stern – how great is that? 🙂

By David Stevens

David H. Stevens, CMB, is former SVP of Single Family at Freddie Mac, former EVP at Wells Fargo Home Mortgage, former President and COO of the Long and Foster Realty Companies, former Assistant Secretary of Housing and FHA Commissioner, former CEO of the Mortgage Bankers Association