TABLE OF CONTENTS
The Genesis of the Vendor Management Industry . . . . . . . .6 How did our industry get its start? What did it look like in the beginning and who were the men and women who made it into one of the largest businesses in the home ﬁnance industry? Jeﬀ Schurman takes a look back at the genesis of the VMC industry.
Why your company should be a TAVMA member . . . . . . . . . . . .4 What the Vendor Management Industry can learn from McDonald’s . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .10 The case for the Virtual Conference . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .12 Using LinkedIn for Marketing . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .14 The power of Podcasting . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .16 Q&A: Lee Howlett of Fiserv . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .18
About TAVMA Founded in 1998, TAVMA is a non-profit trade association tasked with enhancing public awareness and promoting ethical conduct to settlement services industry vendors and service providers. The Association acts as a forum for the exchange of vital information and presents the positions of its member companies to media, government, user groups and vendors. TAVMA member organizations are committed to promoting excellence and integrity while adding customer and consumer value to the settlement process.
Find this and more at www.tavma.org Winter 2009 — TAVMA 3
Join Us in 2009 By Jeff Schurman
ken on your industry’s behalf at over a dozen conferences per year? Or that TAVMA representatives have been quoted in all the major industry trade publications including the Wall Street Journal? Or even that TAVMA has invested over a half-million dollars to inﬂuence the legislative process? How else could TAVMA do this were it not for the support of our member companies?
At its core, TAVMA exists to promote and protect the real estate mong the objections I hear settlement services infrom non-members of the as- dustry and to provide sociation is that TAVMA is useful information about too expensive, that it does “the same the industry to media, things” as other trade groups they be- federal and state governlong to, or that it doesn’t do anything ments, users and vendors the prospect can’t do for itself. Now of settlement services like the sales training seminars would tell title agency, appraisal, me to a) acknowledge the objection; b) and ﬂood reporting comrestate the objection, and c) overcome panies. We also do it the objection. So I follow the formula through my favorite If your company is because it’s the formula. But deep channels: speaking at innot a member of down what I want to say is this: Every dustry conferences and TAVMA or if you are a real estate settlement service provider the annual TAVMA conmember but are unsure Jeff Schurman in the United States – particularly ference and exposition. whether you’ll renew those operating in multiple states – your company’s membership in 2009, needs to support TAVMA. Because, in Did you know that prior to the I‘ll ask you to do me this favor. Go to many cases, TAVMA is all they’ve got. mortgage meltdown I’ve routinely spo- the website, www.tavma.org, and review our articles, letters to legislators, position papers, newsletters, and other materials. If you conclude that TAVMA is NOT the settlement services industry’s best hope for The short version of my overcoming balanced and fair recognition the objection pitch is this: amongst media, government, user groups, and vendors, then don’t join the association; you won’t see the TAVMA membership works out to 41 cents per value. However, if you do see the $1,000 of gross annual revenue. Companies spend more need for an industry advocate I’ll than that on Starbucks; respectfully ask you to become a TAVMA member in 2009. ALTA, RESPRO, MBA and other trades provide vital
Overcoming the objection
services, but to diverse constituencies… TAVMA is a niche trade representative to a niche industry that is oft overlooked and even less understood. TAVMA gives this unique group a voice to present its positions to government and media; TAVMA is the go-to source to rebut often-critical and inaccurate portrayals of the vendor management industry’s value proposition. How many competitors feel comfortable doing so themselves? Why paint a target on ones back when TAVMA so willingly does so at the cost of just 41 cents per $1,000 in gross annual revenue? 4 TAVMA — Winter 2009
You’ll find more information about membership under the Join Us tab on the website. Moreover, I would encourage you to contact any of our Board of Directors for a reference or to gain their insights into the organization. I hope you will decide to become a TAVMA member. We need all the support we can get... especially now when the market is so unfavorable and our legislators’ urge to regulate is on ❍ the rise.
VMC Industry The Genesis of the
By Jeff Schurman
ow did the vendor management industry get started? Like many questions surrounding the industry, it depends on how you define vendor management. For some, the roots of our business trace back to Lender’s Service, Inc. (LSI), which opened its new national service center in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania back in 1984. The NSC opened that summer, ushering in the vendor management company (VMC) era. Had the term been coined a decade or so earlier than it was (in the ’90s) surely what LSI did would have been seen as a “paradigm shift.” Ray Pronto, a vice-president at the time who would eventually go on to co-found ATM Corporation (Appraisal Title Management Corporation of America) with Fran 6 TAVMA — Winter 2009
Azur, once described the ﬁrst national service center for me during a business trip. e building that housed the company had an odd design that seemed less concerned with optimal space utilization than the appearance of worth. e second ﬂoor housed the executive suites, complete with a large conference room, and later, a solar room complete with bar and pool table. e ﬁrst ﬂoor housed a large air conditioned computer room, an expansive lobby, and a production area the size of perhaps two large conference rooms. As Pronto told the story to me, the production ﬂoor consisted of a line of folding tables and chairs, telephones, and map books and legal sized three-ring binders for tracking orders in the pipeline. More on the map books later.
Bob Murphy, the CEO of LSI, founded in 1967, came to the firm from Signal Finance Company, a regional consumer discount company (CDC) with offices in the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic regions. CDC’s were comparable to today’s subprime lenders. It was there that Murphy, a district manager, took notice of an upand-coming auditor and manager by the name of Fran Azur. Several years later, Murphy brought Azur to LSI to help him to expand the business. His formula: win appraisal management business and then pick up clients' title and closing orders in states where LSI had branch operations. It is Fran Azur who is regarded by many, including me, to be the Father of the National Service Center model for managing title, appraisal, and closing orders nationwide from a centralized processing facility. In the early 1980’s, Azur started to re-think the brick and mortar strategy in place at the time. Up until then, LSI’s strategy had been to open regional oﬃces in cities in which its big clients had a presence. Regional oﬃces grew to include Cleveland and Columbus, Ohio, Towson, Maryland, Richmond, Virginia, Merrillville, Indiana, and Pittsburgh, Penn. Interestingly, many of the executives who managed these regions played notable rolls in sprouting the next generation of VMCs. ose stories, I save for later. Yet while Azur conceived the NSC model, arguably, it wasn’t he who invented the vendor management industry; nor was it Bob Murphy. That distinction belongs to Bruce Felder, who in 1959 founded Legal Messenger Services, a small company in Cleveland, Ohio. But it didn’t stay small for long. In fact, it grew very quickly. And it got a new name: Record Data, Inc. The beginning of an era It was a simple enough proposition. A real estate loan application was
made, and if the credit report checked out, an appraisal order was placed with a VMC. A few days later, the appraiser called with a “verbal report.” The hard copy appraisal followed. The verbal report was just that, the appraiser calling in particulars about the subject: property address and a brief description of the neighborhood, site, subject property and comparables. And of course the one thing the branch manager really wanted: the market value. Verbal report in hand, the branch was authorized to make the loan, and if the value was high enough to up-sell the customer to a higher loan amount. Of course, the other sale would be insurance: life, household goods, and disability. Certain characteristics pervaded CDC customers. Many had credit
of local appraisers who simply don’t see this need for speed. One of the truisms in vendor management is that no one who ever came into the industry did so to fulfill a lifetime dream. They started out aspiring to do something else – law, customer service, journalism – before fate and opportunity brought them here, often to Pittsburgh. Most had no clue about what the industry was prior to the first job interview. Even preparing for that initial interview was difficult due to the utter lack of publicly available information. Even today, careers in vendor management are often born of happenstance. This was certainly the case for a young student from Cleveland Heights, Ohio. Bruce Felder was attending John Carroll University in pursuit of a dual
It is Fran Azur who is regarded by many, including me, to be the Father of the National Service Center model for managing title, appraisal, and closing orders nationwide from a centralized processing facility.
troubles, lots of debt, and a habit of making the rounds from one finance company to the next in pursuit of a debt consolidation loan. When the customer arrived at the CDC to refinance, one of the rituals was to obtain credit checks from other creditors, in many instances payoff quotes. This set off alarms at the competitor’s office and it wasn’t long before a representative of that CDC was on the phone soliciting the borrower as well. Therefore, speed was of the essence in getting the borrower to the closing table. Vendor management companies became the go-to source for obtaining appraisals turned around quickly. Even now, some thirty-five years later, VMCs still maintain these very same turnaround times, much to the chagrin
major – business and law – when he envisioned a new industry. This was in the late 1950’s and Felder was enrolled in a program at John Carroll that allowed students to earn a Bachelor of Science degree upon completion of Law School. In order to pay the tuition, Felder had a side job searching title records in Cuyahoga County, Ohio. His decision to quit law school and search records full-time was the genesis for what would eventually become a $3.5 billion industry employing over 10,000 people. When Felder landed a part-time job working afternoons in the Office of the Cuyahoga County Clerk of Courts, he didn’t realize at the time that his life was about to take a turn in continued on page 8 Winter 2009 — TAVMA 7
continued from page 7
make a home improvement loan on the their bottom line. Bruce Felder saw it. a new direction. His job was to review assumption the property value would Here is what Felder told me in an inlegal filings dropped off at the court- rise sufficiently to cover the additional terview a few years ago: “Historically, title loss claims came house by local attorneys, and enter in- monies lent. Small loan companies formation into the public docket. couldn’t compete for first mortgages mostly from inaccurate courthouse Some of his friends from law school and were locked out of second mort- records. Order-entry errors, encroachlanded part-time jobs in local banks gages as well. They were limited by law ments omitted by a surveyor and propand finance companies. Several upper- to securing loans with cars, furnishings, erty line disputes accounted for claims. Title loss claims didn’t typclassmen translated these ically arise between the last part-time gigs into fullExecutives discovered over time and owner and the owner in time positions upon gradtitle at the time of the uation. Knowing that through audits of numerous chargedoﬀ search. This created an opFelder worked in the loans that small loan oﬃce personnel were portunity for us; offering to Clerk’s office they’d often not necessarily title or valuation experts. insure title but only searchcall him to check if there Many didn't know how to evaluate a report ing (public records) back to were mortgages, tax liens, or where to ﬁnd critical information. the last owner or purchasejudgments, or other enmoney mortgage.” cumbrances on record is observation would against their customers or collateral. Felder refused to accept and personal belongings, all of which later prove to be a competitive diﬀerenmoney for these look-ups because he depreciated faster than real estate and tiator between vendor management was on the county payroll at the time. had more risk. Real estate was an ap- companies and traditional title agencies. preciable asset. “First in time, first in Whereas title agents routinely conducted He did them as favors for friends. a 60-year title search, VMCs, with unIt wasn’t long though before Felder right,” Felder called it. But beyond the legal constraints of derwriter approval, often searched as far realized there was a business opportunity there. So on May 1, 1959, Felder the day, title agents had purely eco- back as the last owner of record or instiquit his job with the County Clerk and nomic reasons to steer clear of this seg- tutional lender.e signiﬁcant volume of opened a one-man-and-his-wife oper- ment of the industry. Prior to passage title policies that VMCs generated ation called Legal Messenger Service. of secondary mortgage acts in Ohio, prompted most underwriters to assume Pennsylvania and Maryland in 1963, the risk that the prior policy did not miss The early years consumer finance companies could a cloud in the chain of title. Felder attributed his observation of Friends in the banking and con- only lend up to $5,000. Given the sumer finance industry tipped Felder choice between doing title work on an this title loss characteristic on his exoff to a persistent obstacle to obtaining $80,000 mortgage loan from a savings perience in the bowels of a county title searches: title insurance agents. and loan customer and a $5,000 loan recorders office. He told me that he For one thing, they were expensive, from a consumer finance customer, it didn’t believe his competitors to the charging what Felder described as an made sense for title agents to put the east (in Pittsburgh) would have figured arm and a leg for searches. Moreover, less profitable CFC work on the bot- this out on their own because they, unthey often viewed consumer finance tom of the pile, often for weeks on end. like him, weren’t “title guys” as he decompanies to be second-rate citizens of By the time the title agency got around scribed himself. They were salesmen. From the first day in business, the banking industry. Felder likened to processing the property report or the prevailing view of the consumer fi- title search the customer was long Felder said, Legal Messenger Service was on a roll. nance industry back then as being just gone. Naturally, title agents then as now a step or two above the loan-shark inRecord Data dustry. Besides, banks in the 1950’s and preferred to conduct full title searches early 1960’s were where the action was rather than the low-cost current owner The demands on Felder’s time were searches that were popular among con- beginning to stack up. He needed to when it came to mortgage lending. By law, banks had the corner on sumer finance companies. They saw be out of town visiting clients and first-lien mortgages; home improve- current owner searches as undermining opening new offices. He switched to ment loans, too. They’d hold the first their ability to earn a living. What they taking night classes that began at 6:00 mortgage on a piece of property and didn’t see was an even greater threat to PM. However, he’d succumb to the 8 TAVMA — Winter 2009
long hours by falling asleep at his desk. mation within data fields. Moreover, dressed executives carrying expensive Realizing he couldn’t continue to do it they taught loan officers about the leather brief cases. The deal fell apart all he had to decide what he really meaning and legal significance of such when the offer consisted of a lot more wanted to do. So he quit law school things as quit claim and warranty stock than cash. Felder smiled when he and launched what would become deeds. RDI’s objective was to enable told me he had worked “too hard to Record Data Incorporated (RDI), the managers across the United States to wake up in the morning to find out first vendor management company. read and understand the “same” reports (they) made the wrong decision about some other company” they bought out. Twenty-nine years later, with 83 offices no matter where they were. Soon after, Felder mentioned the in 40 states, TRW made an unsolicited The end of the road suitor to a friend at TRW. His contact offer to buy the company. Record Data always had a good re- wanted to talk. As Felder told From 1959 to 1963, Felder cultivated his small business. During those years, lationship with the big conglomerate the story: “I kid you not. They came in and he created a way to franchise oﬃces in TRW. They’d have booths next to each Ohio, thus enabling the company to other at industry conferences. And asked ‘what do you value the company?’ minimize the need for employees. As they talked. Routinely someone from I put my forefinger in the air like this (as if to test the RDI expanded bewind direction). yond Ohio the franWe always knew chisee concept was where we were phased out in favor within 30-days… of company-owned we really ran a branches processing tight ship as far title orders, and later as operating exappraisals. Also bepenses. We alginning to evolve ways knew what was the consumer ﬁour NOI was. nance industry that They said fine, RDI served. we have a deal. I Tr a d i t i o n a l l y, said ‘all cash?’ title and appraisal They said ‘all orders were mancash.’ Within a aged in-house by few days we had local branch mana letter of agreeagers at such comment. Within panies as The 2 weeks they Associates Finance, From the beginning, the Vendor Management Industry completed the Beneficial Finance, brought a new set of tools to the lender. due diligence. It Dial, and others. Executives discovered over time and TRW would approach Bruce Felder closed. I’d wake up in the morning through audits of numerous charged- with an “If you ever decide to sell let and slap myself to see if it was off loans that small loan office person- me know…” pitch. TRW was inter- really happening.” The acquisition of Record Data nel were not necessarily title or ested in making a buy. But someone ❍ Incorporated closed in 1985. valuation experts. Many didn’t know else beat them to it. Out of nowhere a West Coast outhow to evaluate a report or where to This article is an excerpt from fit called to arrange a visit to Cleveland find critical information. Record Data addressed this need by with the intent to offer Felder a deal Jeff Schurman’s upcoming book on the creating educational programs and an for Record Data. They’d been buying genesis of the vendor management operations guide to teach loan officers up title companies recently and learned industry. Anyone with experience in the ins and outs of title and appraisal. from a mutual acquaintance that RDI this industry that would like to share They created standardized report for- was doing a lot of business. Within their memories for this project should mats and held seminars consisting of days, a small private jet touched down contact Jeff directly at firstname.lastname@example.org line-by-line descriptions of the infor- at the local airport with 3-4 well to arrange for an interview. Winter 2009 — TAVMA 9
Can Vendor Managers Learn from McDonald’s? You bet they can, if they can fathom how to put a bureaucracy to work in their business. By Jeff Schurman n our business, the value we oﬀer our clients is a product of three interrelated elements: Providing a better product, providing it faster, and at a lower total cost then a client could get it through any other means. Most of the folks working in our business know this, which is probably why the vendor management industry is so closely associated with the Better-Faster-Cheaper mantra. Or as I prefer to think of it, as a value proposition triangle. rough vendor management companies, lenders have the opportunity to reallocate resources so that they can focus on lending instead of ﬁnding appraisers, title abstractors, closing agents, and ﬂood determination providers. To them it’s simple outsourcing, converting ﬁxed costs into variable costs, improving productivity and long-term proﬁtability. ey seek out the best value and send their work in that direction. But you can’t do that, say the skeptics. After all, haven’t we all heard the consultant’s favorite joke: Better, faster, cheaper—pick two! e idea is that something that is good and fast won’t be cheap; fast and cheap won’t be good, etc. Yet if quality, timeliness and price boil down to a pick-two choice, how do we explain McDonald’s?
Building a better Better-Faster-Cheaper triangle McDonalds oﬀers an interesting illustration that shows us that, in reality, it’s not always true that having two elements 10 TAVMA — Winter 2009
negates the possibility of the third. Were chain’s equal devotion to treating cusI to explain the Better-Faster-Cheaper tomers to fast and cheap meals. e triangle while waiting in line at the local company has taken the value proposition McDonald’s, and ask a nearby patron triangle and matched up all three sides. e ﬁrm has achieved this, in part, which of these three value characteristics the restaurant emphasizes, would it be fair When we talk about bureaucracy, to guess that many what we’re referring to is a set of would choose Fast? Or Cheap? Probably, but standardized and replicable procedures does that mean that that require tasks to be performed in the same patron, or exactly the same way at prescribed anyone for that matter, times, using prescribed materials. would suggest that the food is not also Good? Founded in the 1950s by Ray Kroc, a man who sold milk- through focus. If you approach a Mcshake mixers to restaurateurs, McDon- Donald’s counter and ask for a peanut ald’s has grown into the most successful butter and jelly sandwich, you’ll probafast food restaurant in history. is sto- bly be disappointed; so too if you ordered ried franchise could not have done so for a Delmonico steak. e company buvery long without fusing quality, timeli- reaucracy is not set up to oﬀer cusness and cost.ey accomplished this feat tomized meals. Certainly, the manager in large part by creating a tightly con- could order a clerk to run to a local grotrolled bureaucracy. In fact, it is one of our cery to pick up peanut butter, jelly, and a best examples of a modern bureaucracy. loaf of bread. But doing so wouldn’t be at’s right. McDonald’s is a compelling very fast and it wouldn’t be cheap. By example of bureaucracy as being a force building its business around a speciﬁc menu of services, consistently produced for good. If you ask a McDonald’s manager and delivered (think technology, process, what the ﬁrm does, you’d hear that the well-trained personnel, and stringent company provides fast food, an industry quality controls), McDonald’s has grown the company basically created. It’s also into one of the most respected organizainexpensive, as dine-out food goes. tions in the world. When we talk about bureaucracy, Would our consultant be justiﬁed in concluding then that its food can’t be what we’re referring to is a set of stanvery good? But that’s not what millions dardized and replicable procedures that require tasks to be performed in exactly of people around the world think. In fact, McDonald’s cares immensely the same way at prescribed times, using about quality and delivers it despite the prescribed materials. This way of
thinking about manufacturing (and service businesses in more recent times) goes all the way back to the work of Frederick Taylor, one of the first management consultants, during his groundbreaking time studies. Virtually everything McDonald’s employees do on the line is timed.ey know how long to leave the fries in the grease, how many hamburgers and cheeseburgers to make in a measurement period, and the order in which condiments hit the bun. Everything is designed to ensure optimum eﬃciency in the production of a unique and valuable product, which is an ultimate goal of a perfect bureaucracy. For McDonald’s, this means that a Big Mac in Pittsburgh tastes the same as it does in Aruba, minus the sunshine. Peanut butter and jelly doesn’t ﬁt into this system and so it’s not on the menu. Avoiding commoditization By providing good products that are cheap and delivered fast, McDonald’s avoids the trap of commoditization, which can happen to companies that oﬀer products that are in demand but supplied without any qualitative diﬀerentiation. If the company ignored the quality metric in favor of low price and speed, it would lose its distinction in the marketplace and lose market share. at’s a trap that vendor managers must avoid falling into when delivering their services. In the vendor management industry, we commoditize our products by allowing lenders to assume that all VMCs oﬀer good products fast — and then press us to oﬀer our services for less. We allow ourselves to fall into that commodity zone and give up our qualitative diﬀerentiation in the market. e challenge for companies in our space is to diﬀerentiate them selves while still balancing between faster and cheaper. And saying ‘no’when a client wants a peanut butter and jelly sandwich if it’s not on our menu.
To do that, companies must ﬁrst focus on their strengths and put a realistic value on those strengths. e next step is to align their entire organization to those strengths, creating a unique value proposition in the market. A value proposition is anything a company does that improves productivity, lowers overall operating costs, or provides the customer with a strategic advantage not available anywhere else. It’s doing in practice what you say you’re going to do in selling situations… and doing so consistently. Every company should have a process in place—part of their own bureaucracies—that deals with issues customers bring regarding products they have received. When a customer complains about the quality of a deliverable, management must take those complaints seriously and take action to learn from the mistake and write it into new processes to prevent similar problems in the future. Many successful pioneers in the vendor
management industry combined standardized processes, technology and welltrained personnel to produce better, faster, and cheaper title, appraisal and closing products and services. Preparing for the future at level of control is one of the most important beneﬁts the vendor management industry brings to lenders.We control the vendor engagement, monitor the status of orders in the pipeline, the delivery of the work, and keep the lender and
vendor at arms-length. Our ability to perfect this control is central to our value proposition. Our ability to master the bureaucracies needed to standardize these processes across geographies is what keeps us in business. ere is one important caveat. Among bureaucracy’s dark sides is that it can threaten creativity. Creativity possesses an organization with better decision-making, fresh ideas, foresight into future trends, ability to learn from past mistakes and build systems to avoid their reoccurrence. It is among the most valuable qualities employees bring to a company. Bureaucracy is like a Light Saber: It cuts both ways… sometimes lopping oﬀ body parts. us, it is best used wisely. A bureacratic system that neither promotes nor celebrates creativity, especially at the top of the organization, will sacriﬁce a critical competitive advantage. It will also make it more diﬃcult to recruit and keep good people. is is particularly true now, as we are entering a new age. Our society has lived through the agricultural age, the industrial age, and the information age. Now, we’re entering the creativity age, also referred to by some as the age of ingenuity. It’s not just the information that matters now, but the ideas that the data sparks in the minds of today’s executives. Consequently, I expect to see some companies working to be much more forward thinking in the days ahead, and avoiding some of the oldschool line of outdated thinking about vendor management that goes back for more than 30 years now. Do I expect to see a bunch of McDonald’s clones working in the vendor management space? No, but I do expect to see tomorrow’s competitors bringing something new to the market. ey will use new ways to communicate with their clients and vendor partners. And they will not sacriﬁce any side of the value proposition triangle. ❍ Winter 2009 — TAVMA 11
Virtual Conference By Rick Grant ne of the ﬁrst budget items to be cut in a downturn is executive travel. In the U.S. ﬁnancial services industry, arguably the hardest hit by the current economic downturn, conferences across the country have seen attendance fall oﬀ dramatically, even in the most attractive conference destinations. While everyone understands the need to cut costs, especially during a downturn of such historic proportions, the need for accurate industry information is also higher than ever. In fact, a downturn is precisely when companies need up-to-date intelligence on what is happening in the industry and what their competitors are doing. is is when it becomes more important that executives have access to thought leadership and networking opportunities. With modern technology, conference planners and exhibitors have an opportunity to bring this information to interested parties in a way that provides value at the same time it builds a rapport with these prospects that can be converted into future sales.
The move toward virtual events Last year, we saw a number of conference planners edging into the online world by providing additional content or networking opportunities via social media sites. The MBA recently provided a feed from its 95th annual convention for the benefit of members who could not be present. Interthinx provided a live news feed from a number of fraud-related conferences this past fall on its website. While these eﬀorts are good, most 12 TAVMA — Winter 2009
fall short because they: • provide information that beneﬁts sponsors or exhibitors more than the target audience • do not provide an easy method for getting and sharing feedback from the audience • provide no way to ﬁeld questions from the audience and provide additional targeted information • are not well publicized as they can leach away from paid attendees
Even so, thanks to webinars, most executives have experienced at least some aspect of an online event.ey are now familiar with the concept of using the Internet to tune in to see and hear someone present information.Today, we have access to some very exciting tools that can allow an organization to provide a conference experience in an online environment that goes far beyond what most executives are used to experiencing.
While web-based seminars, or webinars, have been gaining traction in the business-to-business marketing space for some time, they still don’t oﬀer the beneﬁts of a life conference. ey can provide a lively forum for sharing information,but it’s still a one-way communication process and interaction with the audience is limited. Generally, there are no provisions to allow audience members to interact with one another—one of the biggest advantages oﬀered by live conferences.
Going beyond the webinar e answer is the virtual conference, an online event that mimics the experience attendees have when they attend actual business conferences. Virtual conferences combine multimedia, broadband internet connections and new social networking technology for the Internet with real industry experts to provide all of the beneﬁts attendees expect from a live conference without the travel expenses. Using these tools it is possible to:
• stream audio and/or video at a scheduled time to provide keynote addresses or panel discussions. • capture content and provide it on demand, free or for a fee • provide any number of PowerPoint presentations with audio/video annotation • pre-produce audio and video for streaming at a certain time or on demand • link this material to web pages, to provide speaker bios, contact information, background or downloads • link all of this to a NING or other social network site to allow attendees to interact
Live events require an executive travel budget. Virtual conferences are a more affordable alternative. • provide social bookmarks related to the content via Delicious.com and link to this material • provide blog or twitter support during the program to increase attendee participation solicit and capture attendee feedback during each event • tell sponsors exactly who came to their virtual booth, what they were looking for and for how long Virtual conferences have many advantages over live events.
The most obvious advantage to a virtual conference of this kind is that is eliminates the need to travel and removes those expenses from the budget. During a downturn, this allows companies that would have attended the show to avoid canceling. In addition, and perhaps even more importantly, it allows companies that might never have attended a live conference to take part in the event. Another advantage of the virtual conference is that the conference planners can provide a much deeper level of material. Instead of a live presentation and a set of PowerPoint slides, attendees can witness the live event on video, read background articles by the speakers, download and browse the slides and participate in a live chat with other attendees, either during the presentation or afterward. In addition, it will be easier to attract high quality presenters who won’t have to travel or take time oﬀ of work to attend. Executives can experience a rich, full conference experience without ever leaving their oﬃce. Multi-tasking will allow attendees to browse session content at the same time they keep tabs on important company projects. Finally, while there are plenty of ways to allow attendees to interact with one another in a virtual conference, the ability to offer content in an on demand fashion will give more people more opportunity to experience it. Once the conference is over, the material is easy to archive as it’s already in a fully digital format.
While good moderators are important for live events, community managers are useful in an online environment. ese professionals take charge of session pages and facilitate interaction among attendees. is is accomplished by contacting attendees directly and soliciting their comments. ey also take an active role in promoting live events on the session pages. Exactly as with live events, the biggest challenge to anyone planning a virtual conference relates to pulling together the kind of information that will truly add value to attendees. Any effort to provide meaningful information to a target audience must start with an analysis of the information needs of that audience. Regardless of the technologies employed to present it, if the session material doesn’t directly impact the conference planner’s target market, the event will not be successful. In addition to targeted content, attendees at live conferences expect a certain level of information to be available, such as: • what the speakers said during the session • what the audience response was to the speakers • what was said in the hallway before, during and after the speakers spoke • who was exhibiting at the show and what new oﬀerings they were promoting • who was meeting with whom at the show
Making it happen Creating a virtual conference takes all of the skill sets required to launch and run a live event with the addition of a technical team to handle the Internet aspects of the show. New media skills are necessary as is a good understanding of the Social Media tools available to present and share information and allow for attendee interaction.
It is possible to provide all of this and more in the virtual environment. Conference planners who learn how to do it will be successful even if their target markets do not have the budget to travel. In spring 2009, TAVMA will host its first virtual conference. Stay tuned for more information about this up❍ coming event. Winter 2009 — TAVMA 13
Linked IN: Marketing Yourself ... Marketing Your Company By Raelin Musuraca
oday, I installed LinkedIN on my new iPhone. Am I an early adopter? Am I on the bleeding edge of technology? Actually, No. I’m what marketers call a “late majority” consumer. My colleagues usually drag me kicking and screaming into the next new technology. Back in the 90’s, my grandmother had a cell phone “just for emergencies” even before I had one. And, much like a cell phone — I strongly resisted the “social networking” fad. Until it seemed like everyone I knew was “IN.”
Participation on social networking web sites like LinkedIN.com has avalanched as of late. First it was one invite, then another, soon a ﬂurry ... and next thing you know an avalanche of LinkedIN requests in my email. So I joined, and I linked, and I found it to be truly one of the most advantageous business to business marketing tools available... and it’s free!
While your LinkedIN proﬁle is about you, think of it more like an advertisement for your business, for your company. People buy from people ... especially in a service-driven business like title and settlement services. People buy
marketing tactic, but instead a long term referral-based marketing tactic. Its effectiveness grows over time, and increases with how often you participate in the networking. Here ar some tips for effective marketing through social networking:
1. Pick one or two professional networking websites... using too many dilutes your effectiveness. e key with How do you decide LinkedIN is to look at it which one? In your inas a marketing tool for your business... it’s not a dustry, among your “I need a new job” tool contacts, which sites do or a “catch up with old they use most often? friends” tool (Use eUse the websites’ Ladders.com or Face“search for people” feabook.com for either of ture to look up high those). It’s an excellent profile professionals in LinkedIn brings your network together online. professional networkyour industry... use that ing site where you can site. I’ve spoken about connect with past colleagues, possibly from YOU - not the company you LinkedIN in this article because it is meet new business partners or cus- work for (or the company you own). the best site for my industry... markettomers, and join shared-interest ing; I have also found that the apSocial networking web sites are not praisal, title, and settlement industry groups where you can build your a “get me new business leads now” predominately uses this website as business. 14 TAVMA — Winter 2009
well. See the side bar for other social networking websites. 2. Build a robust, professional profile. While the profile is about you, use it to promote your current company as well. Add to it over time... when you update your profile a message is sent to all your contacts ... this is great way to stay top of mind. You don’t have to make a career change to update... just change the way a section is worded... or rewrite your Summary to include more recent topics... and be sure to use the “What are You Working On?” to promote projects, accomplishments, etc. 3. Join and participate in Groups. Groups come together from a variety of organizations, from college alumni groups to professional associations. I’ve seen a group of “alumni” come together from a certain company to share information. Groups allow you to put logos on your profile (think of the third-party credibility) and have discussion boards where you can participate and communicate with the rest of the group. This is an excellent way to promote your products and services — but be careful — don’t sell too hard. If you are on LinkedIN, look for the “Title Insurance and Settlement Services Network.” 4. Respond, search and update. Don’t just join and let it set. The
Getting signed up on LinkedIn is easy. Some functionality requires an account upgrade, but everything in this article can be done with a free account. goal is to increase your professional contacts. When people email you asking to Link to them, always allow this right away (it’s as simple as clicking a hyperlink) — but then also take the time to look at their contacts. Who do you know? Who can you link to? I generally spend 30 minutes each week updating my contacts, participating in discussion boards, or making edits to my profile. What’s important to keep in mind is that social networking is not just about Facebook and hooking up
LinkedIN is the largest business networking site. As of October 2008, LinkedIN had more than 30 million registered users, spanning 150 industries. Other business sites include Plaxo.com and Ryze.com. For a list of other professional, social and interest-related sites go to http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_social_networking_websites.
with friends (I also have a Facebook page that I use for personal networking NOT professional). It’s about extending the core of any good sales effort .... that is, networking ... online to the Internet. It’s no different than the networking you do at a trade show or conference... it’s just on a web site. It’s easy, it’s low maintenance - and it’s free! So ... get online and get IN... If you’re new to social networking, you can get started by sending me an email and I’ll send you a LinkedIN invitation to get you going. If you have a profile, but it’s out of date — don’t waste another minute ... get online and get that profile updated! ❍
About the Author: Raelin Sawka Musuraca is President of Sharp Creative. She can be reached at Raelin@SharpCreative.com Winter 2009 — TAVMA 15
Podcasting as a New Media Marketing Tool By Rick Grant
ikipedia.com describes a podcast as “a series of audio or video digital-media ﬁles which is distributed over the Internet by syndicated download, through Web feeds, to portable media players and personal computers. ough the same content may also be made available by direct download or streaming, a podcast is distinguished from other digital-media formats by its ability to be syndicated, subscribed to, and downloaded automatically when new content is added.”
It was the Apple iPod that opened the door to this new media format and the name was created by combining iPod with broadcast. In reality, podcast are narrowcasting, where content developers create and deliver audio or video files to a select group of people who ask for it by subscribing. This ability to let content consumers “pull” the information they want to them is attractive to marketers as it tends to be more effective than the old “push” method of bombarding prospects with material until they buy. In fact, marketers are finding out that well produced podcasts can be very effective at shortening the sales cycle as they open doors with prospects even before a company salesperson makes the call. The key, of course, lies in producing good podcasts. How to Produce a Good Podcast While producing multimedia may be viewed by many as an art form, there is more science than art in producing good podcasts. Good production is primarily a result of knowing who the podcast will serve and what the company hopes it will accomplish. It starts with making some decisions about the show to be produced.
hat is the key objective of the podcast? To keep listeners engaged, your podcast should only include information that supports the end goal. If your objective is to inform listeners about a new company initiative, don’t waste time talking about the weather in your home city. Capturing listeners within the first few seconds is important. In addition, if your objective is to get listeners to
16 TAVMA — Winter 2009
download a white paper, make sure this opportunity is highlighted throughout the podcast. hat value does the podcast offer the listener? Marketers are often so focused on the messages they must deliver to target markets that they forget to add value in every communication. Prospects will not “pull” information to them that does not add value. Failure to remember this is a major cause of podcast initiative failure.
hat technology will be employed? There are many different software applications that can be used to create a good podcast, but the technology should never be visible to the listener. They don’t care how you made the podcast, they only care about the value it brings to them.
hat is the call to action? There should be a call to action in every podcast. Even shows that are designed primarily to educate a group of prospects should have a next step that is easy for the listener to take. Without this interaction, the podcast loses much of its power. Even though web statistic tracking can show you where your listeners are coming from, you won’t really know who they are unless you can get them to interact with you.
Promoting the podcast While having a well produced podcast is certainly an accomplishment to be proud of, it does the company little
good if it is not viewed and enjoyed by the target audience. Here are some ideas for promoting your ﬁnished podcasts.
ost it to your website. Your website will beneﬁt from multimedia assets because these are the elements that create interest.ey bring in website visitors and they keep them on the site longer. But don’t hide the Podcast under a text link at the bottom of the page. Create a colorful graphic and post the show above the fold.
you know your clients have subscribed to your RSS feed and will automatically receive your next Podcast, send them a notice. And be sure to ask them to pass it along to others that might be interested in the material.
end a link to the media. Send news of the podcasts to the reporters and editors that write about your part of the business. ese guys are always looking for good stories and Podcasting is a hot story right now. Make sure you’re your public relations ﬁrm knows you want to release the fact that you have produced a new program so they can get the news out to the trade press. Producing a Podcast is a good news item that is likely to get covered.
A well produced Podcast will do a better job of explaining your value proposition then many pages of boring website text. If you have a good site master, you can embed the MP3 audio ﬁle into a ﬂash box. You can end it to the get as fancy as you bloggers. want. If you choose It’s great to to go with a simple have people talking link, make sure you about your comlet your website vispany. It’s even betitors know what to ter to have them expect. Let visitors talking about it in a know that it’s an forum that is open audio ﬁle and give to a big audience. the size in megabytes. Even though Web at way, if the ﬁle Logs (blogs) aren’t takes a few seconds Podcasts don't require an iPod. Any computer can play them. considered mass to load (which is media because they likely, given that the vast majority of businesses are wired with broadband) they typically cater to niche audiences, many blogs in the real estate and financial services businesses are becoming fairly won’t be as likely to click away in fear. prominent. There are a number of bloggers in this space that would also like to hear about your new Podcast. Find out end it to your mailing list. who is blogging about your industry and make sure you send Just like the rest of your company news, the very best place them a link to your new show. to send your new podcast is to the people you want to buy your products or services. Most companies already know who dd Podcast Links to Marketing Material. they want to sell to. ey have pre-qualiﬁed many of their prospects and are in the process of working them through the Your marketing department already uses a number of tools sales cycle. While these folks may not be the most eager to get to get the word out about what your ﬁrm oﬀers. Make sure that your news, they’re the people you most likely had in mind you add a link to your Podcast program on each of these tools. when you created the Podcast. So make sure they get it. Many can remember back to the days when a corporate e-mail or website address was rarely seen on a business card. Few comIf your podcast is well designed, packed with valuable in- panies fail to include that important information today. In the formation that is critical to their success, they’ll receive the near future, the company’s Podcasts will be just as important as material gladly and your corporate goodwill will increase. they will be the ﬁrst stop a new prospect makes before decidFurthermore, they will become more educated and will be ing to purse a deeper relationship with the company. Point to moved automatically further along in the sales cycle. Even if them in ads and other marketing material. ❍
Winter 2009 — TAVMA 17
Q & A
About Lee Howlett
A Conversation Q: How does Fiserv define itself these days and what are you offering the industry?
A: Fiserv Fulfillment Services Division is an outsourcing solution to the real estate lending industry focused on providing innovative, streamlined solutions for loan originations, servicing and loss mitigation. We feature end-to-end solutions for lead generation, loan processing, origination products as well as complete settlement/ closing srevices nationwide.
Lee Howlett is the President & COO of Fiserv Lending Solutions -- Fulfillment Services Division. Formed by the combination of Integrated Loan Services (ILS) and General American Corp. (GAC) it is a unit of Fiserv, Inc. (NASDAQ: FISV), that provides the lending industry's most comprehensive origination and settlement services. The Fulfillment Services Division of Fiserv Lending Solutions (FSD-FLS) delivers a comprehensive suite of innovative solutions for lenders from automated valuation models (AVMs) to traditional title searches. FSD products include the CASA AVM, QuickClose Lien Protection Insurance, the GATORS settlement management system, a full menu of appraisal products, broker price opinions, flood certificates, title insurance, closing services and outsourced loan processing solutions. For more information, see www.ils.com. 18 TAVMA â€” Winter 2009
We have some world class brands and partnerships, such as the Fiserv Case-Schiller Index, and our S&P/Moodyâ€™s relationship. Our expertise in large scale fulfillment services historically exceeding millions of orders per year has been most recently leveraged in this distressed market to provide loan modification services to consumers, including outbound call center contact, counseling and document production with a capacity of more than 10,000 files per day.
Where do you think the industry is headed over the next 12-18 months? A: Certainly we are in a very difficult and challenging environment. There is little market stability, the government is trying a host of actions to resolve the credit crisis and consumers are bearing the brunt of growing unemployment, declining home values and a 40% loss in the stock market wealth. For the next 12-18 months, FSD will be focused on providing solid service on core products as well as scaling and meeting the need for loan modification and loss mitigation services to keep customers in their homes. One silver lining is that the declining home values and recent interest rate reductions are creating a whole new era of affordability for first time homebuyers which may help put a floor under the marketplace. Sadly, many service providers will not survive this
with Lee Howlett of Fiserv period and only those with a strong balance sheet, staying power and the ability to marshal creative talent will be able to solve the ever changing landscape of lending in this unprecedented period. Lastly, while we are focused on today’s needs, we also are beginning to plan for what the new lending world may look like after current reform and transformation cycle is past.
What do you think mortgage lenders should be focusing on now? A: First, resolving the many roadblocks to free up the flow of credit to worthy consumers is paramount to renewed earnings and growth. I think the local and regional lenders get this and have done a fairly good job of delivering on their promise to the people in their communities. However, with a few bright exceptions, most larger and national institutions are still struggling with tightened lending standards caused by unresolved balance sheet risks that turn away many good borrowers. Secondly, helping people stay in the homes they love is critical to stabilizing the housing market and stopping this downward spiral. Lenders, with the assistance of government funds, need to get ahead of the consumers that are in distress and deliver quick, simple loan modification solutions that work for all concerned. This effort cannot happen quickly enough at this point.
affiliate networks and business intelligence of the entire FSD enterprise to make it a business solution as well as a very robust technology platform. It is deliverable to large scale users in a licensed environment or to start-ups as a variable cost ASP version. Given the new regulatory environment emerging from such issues as the pending Home Value Code of Conduct, RESPA reform, the demand for greater appraiser independence, the return to more traditional title/closing products and greater efficiency/reporting, we have seen interest in GATORS growing directly with lenders and VMCs despite the market turmoil.
How important will trade groups like TAVMA be in the days ahead?
A: TAVMA is more relevant and important today than ever before. It is the only lending industry vehicle whose mission it is to act as a single voice for management companies to address the regulatory and oversight changes being thrown about at the state and federal level. The challenges on the horizon ranging from the HVCC Certainly we are in a very diﬃcult and rules to RESPA reform challenging environment. There is lile represent an opportunity for TAVMA to be a key influmarket stability, the government is encer and industry leader. trying a host of actions to resolve the
credit crisis and consumers are bearing the brunt of growing unemployment, declining home values and a 40% loss in the stock market wealth.
What’s next for Gators Systems?
A: GATORS remains a strong product and great tool for many established and new industry participants. It’s niche is that it shares the attributes, learning experiences,
Individually, we all struggle as single companies to make our voice heard, but when we pulled together through TAVMA we have a much larger stage and louder voice. Given the financial constraints on our firms, we are understandably scrutinizing every cost with memberships to trade groups being easy targets for cuts, but in the case of TAVMA we should not be pennywise and pound foolish. Supporting and participating in TAVMA is, both personally and professionally, the right thing to do. ● ❍ Lee Howlett is division president and Chief Operating Officer for Fiserv Lending Solutions. Winter 2009 — TAVMA 19
Marketing & Public Relations support for the Real Estate Industry
You’ve noticed a change in the environment. How do you plan to come through the downturn?
In every environment, you have choices. Experts are comparing today’s events to those preceding the Great Depression. We’ve already lost hundreds of mortgage banks and now even traditional banks are failing. Those that remain are forming new partnerships with Wall Street firms just to stay alive. It’s a new environment all right. It’s making for some tough choices. Some will choose to hunker down, pare their operations to the bone and count on their cash reserves to see them through. For some, it might work. Others will take a different approach, a head-on strategy that pits their brightest experts and best product specialists against those who dare to suggest that America’s financial services industry is beyond repair. Every crisis in American history has been answered by innovation bred of our free enterprise system. The answers are in the minds of our top business leaders. We give those leaders a voice. We’re your industry’s best corporate storytellers and we want to help you tell your story, because speaking up now will make all the difference.
Find out what RGA can do for you today by surfing to www.rickgrant.net or dialing 800-979-9049.