How Benchmark Mortgage Leveled Up with Total Expert

Sam Cress

Firestarter

Sam Cress

CRM specialist at Benchmark Mortgage

I joined the mortgage industry in 2022, starting in home remodeling and customer service before moving to the marketing side where I took ownership of building and managing Benchmark’s CRM (Total Expert) across retail, wholesale, and mortgage as a service. Having a well-maintained CRM is critical for us to support over 150 independent Benchmark offices and help loan officers deliver seamless, personalized customer experiences.   

Facing a challenge, seeing an opportunity

Benchmark is different than traditional lenders because we operate with a “mortgage as a service” model that offers more flexibility and individuality. Our branches operate as their own businesses but partner with the Benchmark corporate office for support with their operations and marketing.  

But that means we need to find efficient ways to serve 150 different businesses with different needs and priorities at once—especially as the market changes, we expand our builder division, and our consumer direct business grows. 

Getting loan officers and their teams to adopt a single platform for their sales and marketing efforts is a challenge even when all your employees are under one roof. For Benchmark, that challenge was amplified across 150+ offices. 

We needed a solution that could do more than just integrate different tools into a single platform. We needed a solution that quickly demonstrated value to our independent branches, simplified how they engage their prospects and customers, and automated their most time-consuming administrative tasks. 

 

How Total Expert has enabled Benchmark to innovate 

Total Expert and its Customer Intelligence capabilities allowed me to develop a communication strategy I’m calling “Benchmark 2.0.” Basically, it’s an evolution from some of the dated mindsets and processes that lenders relied on for so long; shifting to a modern approach that embraces data and technology to increase efficiency and productivity while still providing personalized customer experiences. 

The biggest hurdle with implementing Benchmark 2.0 has been convincing old-school lenders to “fix what ain’t broken.” Everyone has their own process, routines, and systems that work for them, so it wasn’t as easy as giving them access to Total Expert and expecting them to put it to use. On top of that, there was a vocal contingent who felt like Customer Intelligence was a little too “Big Brother,” so we had to shift the narrative to show them that Customer Intelligence doesn’t invade their customers’ privacy or take over their communications. It allows the loan officers to get notifications when there’s a prime opportunity to engage one of their contacts—and they’re still in complete control of the content in every communication.    

It’s still a work in progress, but our loan officers continue to see the value of having so many tools available on a single platform, and our adoption rates reflect that. Without Total Expert, they would be juggling seven or eight different platforms and tools every day. 

I believe the key to success is to dig deep into our KPIs across every Benchmark office to understand where we were finding success, where we were missing opportunities, and where we were wasting our time and resources. 

 

Making an impact across Benchmark’s branches 

For years, we struggled to convince loan officers to adopt new products and platforms. In their defense, with how quickly technology evolves, it probably feels like something new is getting thrown at them every couple of months and they just don’t have time to learn how yet another tool works. 

But once our loan officers and their teams get their hands on Total Expert, they see the value immediately. 

 

Increased adoption rate  

Since launching Benchmark 2.0, we’ve seen adoption rates of nearly 60% across our branches. Our secret has been finding internal success stories and shining a light on them to show the holdouts how much they could increase their pipeline, applications, or closed loans if they took advantage of everything Total Expert has to offer. 

Once our loan officers see—or actually use—Total Expert’s most powerful features (Customer Intelligence, Journeys, co-marketing tools, etc.), it’s almost impossible for them to move forward without it. 

To prove that point, we had a loan officer (I won’t name names) who legitimately kept his database on pen and paper. No digital tools could convince him that there was a better way to run his business. It took more than one conversation and a few hands-on demonstrations, but he now uses Total Expert every day! 

 

Simplified, streamlined nurture campaigns 

Our goal isn’t to dictate how our branches and loan officers communicate with their contacts. It’s our job to provide them with the foundational tools and resources to communicate more effectively. 

One piece of that was building a nurture campaign template that we could easily customize for our branches upon request to better meet their needs and serve their customers. This is a simple yet effective four-part campaign that includes cold lead engagement, prospect nurturing, in-process loan updates, and post-close communications. 

In just the first three months we’ve seen: 

  • 72% open rate across the campaign – 40% higher than the industry average  
  • 5% clickthrough rate 
  • Unsubscribe rate of only 0.1%   
  • 23% increase in conversion rates  

 

Closing 

While Total Expert has provided the functionality and capabilities to bring Benchmark 2.0 to life, it has been a huge team effort to plan, execute, and iterate. We’re constantly refining things, working with the teams at each branch to understand what they need and how we can support them, and pushing the limits of what Total Expert can do. Nobody has told us to slow down yet—and we don’t plan to! 

 

Bonus: What’s in store for the future of FinServ marketing? 

I’m watching AI and machine learning like a hawk. Given the current state of the industry, it’ll be interesting to see how much value financial institutions continue to put on true human interactions. It’s the quality vs. quantity discussion. Right now, engaging every contact with 1:1 communication isn’t always possible, but loan officers and bankers still see it as the best way to build relationships and close deals. I think AI has the potential to provide that experience to customers without asking loan officers or marketers to craft thousands of individual messages. The question is: how long until we cross that threshold? The outdated mindset that customers want (or even need) a 1:1 relationship with their loan officer is starting to show its age. People can purchase anything online with a few button clicks—from groceries to cars. So, why can’t we do that with a mortgage?