Courtney Graham on growing a mortgage business
Today’s episode of HousingWire Daily continues the Women of Influence podcast miniseries with Courtney Graham, who was a 2020 Women of Influence and is a 2021 Marketing Leader. Graham serves as chief marketing officer at Princeton Mortgage where she focuses on scaling the company culture to support its explosive national market expansion.
Graham is also the driving force behind the creation of Princeton Mortgage’s marketing machine that has been a large driver for increased revenue and production for the mortgage bank. During the interview, Graham talks about her current role as CMO and how she has helped the company achieve record growth.
She wraps by discussing some recent marketing trends that she is closely following and what she thinks it will take to get more women in the industry.
Here is a small preview of the interview, which has been lightly edited for length and clarity:
Brena Nath: What are some marketing trends that you’re closely following?
Courtney Graham: When I really think about what marketing is and what we should be focused on, a lot of that is staying up on trends. I think it’s really important for us to break marketing down into three different buckets. So number one, you have your brand awareness. Number two, you have lead generation. And number three, you have sales enablement.
So within those three buckets, I think you’re you’re able to categorize and summarize a lot of marketing behaviors and activities. Try to think about it in those three things. I think, from a trend standpoint, something that I’m continually thinking more and more about, is the ability for us to attract people.
HousingWire’s Women of Influence podcast miniseries spotlights the significant contributions of women who are driving the U.S. housing economy forward, interviewing our honorees over the years on the impact they’re making today. Hosted by Brena Nath and produced by Alcynna Lloyd.
Below is the transcription of the interview. These transcriptions, powered by Speechpad, have been lightly edited and may contain small errors from reproduction:
Brena Nath: Hi, I’m Brena Nath, HW+ plus Managing Editor here at HousingWire. We’re continuing our Women of Influence Podcast Miniseries here on HousingWire Daily, where we spotlight our women leaders over the years and our honorees and catch up on what they’ve been up to.
Throughout this series, we’ve known that there’s been a lot of exciting things going on in the industry, so I’m excited to have Courtney Graham with me today. She’s the Chief Marketing Officer over at Princeton Mortgage. So first off, Courtney, thanks for joining me.
Courtney Graham: Thanks so much for having me, Brena, I’m excited to chat with you today.
Brena Nath: I’m probably a lot more excited than you, you and I were chatting a little bit before this episode. There’s a lot to go over, there’s a lot to go through, and you have a lot of wisdom.
But one thing that I wanted to note, while this is the Women of Influence Podcast Miniseries, Courtney is a little bit of a unicorn here at HousingWire, and she was also recently named a 2021 HousingWire marketing leader. She is, as I said, the CMO over at Princeton Mortgage. So I’m just gonna read a little bit of her kind of write up for the marketing Leader Award, and then I’ll let you touch on just everything else. I know there’s so much more that you’ve been up to that doesn’t fit into this award profile, but kind of talks about how you’re the driving force behind the creation of Princeton Mortgages marketing machine. It has been a large driver for increased revenue and production for the mortgage bank.
In recent months, she has stepped into a larger role of CMO where she focuses on scaling the company culture to support its explosive national market expansion. And as you and I chatted before, last year was a busy year. So I wanted to just kick it off by asking that first question. Can you talk some about your current role now as CMO and kind of what you’ve been up to?
Courtney Graham: Sure. Yeah, I think it’s an interesting question in terms of ‘what is the role of a CMO?’ And I’m sure, you know, it varies a little bit company to company. But when I think back a lot around where I spend my time and the things that I’m focusing on, we talk so much here from a leadership standpoint about the most important thing that we can do as leaders is to make sure that we have the right people on the bus, and the right people on the right seats.
So much of what I’m spending my time on right now is make sure, from a recruiting standpoint, that we’re building a team that can go out and continue to grow and sustain that growth as much as we’ve had.
So I spend a lot of my time focused about making sure I have the right people on the team and building out the team structure that can support the growth and the goals that we want to hit.
From a more like specific strategic standpoint, where do I spend a lot of my time, Princeton Mortgage, you know, we have a big, hairy, audacious goal of funding 50,000 loans per year by 2028. We set this goal back in 2018, so we’re, you know, a couple years into it. And that’s what I spend my time a lot about, focusing on and thinking about. The number one driver for us reaching that goal right now is all about recruiting and recruiting retail loan originators.
So making sure that I’m spending my time thinking about and focusing on things that are going to help us achieve that goal,
I spend a lot of time thinking about, from a marketing standpoint, how are we attracting, you know, top producing loan originators to join Princeton Mortgage.
Another thing that I think is kind of interesting in terms of where I spend my time, from a technology standpoint, there is so much that I think marketing is doing to help enable our sales team to drive recruiting efforts, drive…whether that be retail, wholesale, and so much of that is interlocked with tech.
So we do a lot in terms of, you know, where do I spend my time, recruiting and technology right now. And, you know, building out the best teams that I can within marketing and across the company too.
Brena Nath: Your profile talked about, even just in our conversation here, kind of that explosive growth. 2020 was a very unique year for the mortgage industry. And you’ve really helped a lot when it comes to that growth. And I think even, we could go before 2020 when it came to you setting the foundation for that growth, which is so important.
So can you share, like, what has been the key to success, or some of the key things when it comes to creating and fueling that growth?
Courtney Graham: Yeah, sure. I love talking about growth. It’s something that I think is one of the reasons why…I mean, I love working at Princeton Mortgage for so many reasons. Number one is the people that I get to work with. I love working with them and it’s been…I’ve learned so much from them too.
But I love growth and building. And so I love being at a company that is so hyper focused on growth and building the systems and the structures and the people that we need to accomplish that growth. And when we think about growth, we really think about it in…there are three specific things that we’re really looking for.
Number one is leadership density. So as I mentioned earlier, we have to have the right people in the right seats in order to help us grow. So it’s a huge focus for us across the organization, not only in marketing, but in every single department, we’re constantly looking at, “Do we have the right people in the right seats in order for us to reach the goal that we have right in front of us?” You know, whether that be a quarterly, annual, or you know, 2028.
Second is, the number one thing for growth for us is making sure that we have a scalable infrastructure. So, you know, you reference back to 2020, you have to be able to scale fast. You know, the mortgage industry is full of ups and downs, so you have to be able to respond and make sure that you’re reacting to that. Whether that be on the sales, ops, you know, marketing side of it, as well.
And then the third thing for growth is making sure that you have a really powerful sales and marketing machine. So for us, it’s really leadership density, scalable infrastructure and sales and marketing machine.
I’ve spent a lot of time you know, on that third one, on that sales and marketing machine. One of the things that was really interesting about Princeton was, as I mentioned, we really created our big, hairy, audacious goal in 2018. And that was a really foundational year for us where, okay, we knew that we had this big goal that we want to accomplish. And when we set it in 2018, it was actually, that would enable us to be a top 10 lender in 10 years.
And, you know, if you look at the numbers right now, 50,000 funded loans wouldn’t necessarily get you there, but it would get you pretty close.
And so 2018, we spent a lot of time figuring out, “Okay, we need to have something that is attractive for loan officers. What’s going to be our unique value proposition.” And so we spent a lot of time creating, you know, our value proposition as the effortless mortgage, thinking through our brand promise, which is the Princeton Promise. You know, a borrower can get $1,000 back at closing if they’re unhappy with our service, you know, no strings attached. It’s up to them to decide if they had an effortless mortgage or not.
And then we also spent a ton of time building out the sales and marketing machine. It’s, you know, our sales philosophy, and it’s the marketing tactics that we do on behalf of loan originators to help them grow and increase their referral partner network.
And it’s been really successful for us, it was great to be able to kind of have. You know, it was an investment, we took time and money to build this machine. But, you know, now when we have fellows that are following the system, they’re able to double their purchase volume in eight months, from following the sales and marketing machine. And it’s been a huge benefit and very impactful for, you know, the growth that we’ve had over the past three years.
Brena Nath: And I know the broker channels is only kind of one facet of what you do…
Courtney Graham: Sure.
Brena Nath: …but it is an area that we’ve been talking about a lot lately, that’s been growing tremendously, and wanting to kind of narrow in on just that niche. But feel free to talk outside of that, because I know there’s so much more outside.
Can you share a little bit, or not even just a little bit, but just your thoughts on what does that channel look like going forward? We just had all this explosive growth; we’re moving into the year 2022 if we can believe it. So what does the brokerage and/or what does that growth or the shift in the market look like in 2022?
Courtney Graham: That’s an interesting question, and one that I think, you know, we think about a lot. The broker channel has seen explosive growth, you know, over the past year. And I think for, you know, some warranted reasons.
I think the thing…the looming thought, whether it’s, you know, retail and wholesale, but I think it’s going to impact the broker community a lot too, is this margin compression, and really what’s going to happen with margin compression across the board. And so I think when I think about the broker channel, the wholesale channel for 2022, I think it’s going to be really interesting to see how everyone is going to be able to navigate that, and I think there’s going to be some really good things that come out of that and some really hard things that come out of that too.
So I’m kind of interested to see where it’s gonna go and how everyone is going to navigate it for sure.
Brena Nath: And part of, obviously, the backbone, which has been a theme for this conversation, is the marketing half of it. A key part of growth is that marketing machine. As an expert and all things marketing, you have a front row seat into the trends of what’s happening. Can you kind of touch on some of the marketing trends that you’re closely following? And I’m sure there’s maybe themes in there that go beyond this industry, some themes that stick in this industry, but as an expert would love to hear your thoughts on those themes that you’re kind of keeping a close eye on?
Courtney Graham: Sure. Yeah, it’s a great question, and it’s really fun to think about and kind of dive into it. When I really think about, “Okay, what is marketing? And what should we be focused on?” And a lot of that is staying up on trends, I think it’s really important for us to break marketing down into…I always look at it in three different buckets.
So number one, you have your brand awareness. Number two, you have lead generation. And number three, you have sales enablement. So kind of within those three buckets, I think you’re able to categorize and summarize a lot of marketing behaviors and activities. So try to think about it kind of in those three things.
I think from a trend standpoint, something that I’m continually, continually thinking more and more about is the ability for us to attract people. And I think that so many trends, whether that be social media, or flow systems, you know, whatever that is, the ability to attract people to whatever you’re selling, and, you know, even thinking about outside of the industry… Social media, it’s really interesting, you know, and just in terms of how it keeps growing and changing and it’s a lot to keep up with, and really figuring out, okay, making sure that we know who our target audience is, where they are, is this right for them? I think that’s, you know, trying to crack that code is really interesting.
And then the other thing, as we think about attracting people, and I know that this might not sound very trendy at all, but sometimes it’s always like…marketing keeps evolving, and we keep on talking about what’s next, what’s next, what’s next. But I think the more that we think about the basics of marketing, whether that be, you know, brand awareness, lead generation sales enablement, making sure that we’re doing the basics really, really well… I think it’s so important.
As we continue to go into all of these trends, making sure that we’re doing the basics really well. I think messaging and content is something that is very underrated in terms of ways in which we attract people. I think we, as marketers, tend to undervalue, maybe, sometimes what is being said, and over value the looks of things.
So I think for me, as I think about, “Okay, continuing to jump on trends, are we doing the basics really well? Do we really know our audience? Is this going to resonate with them?” I think those are the things, as I’m thinking about trends, that it’s like, “Okay, I want to make sure we’re doing the basics really, really well so that as we try new things, we’re setting ourselves up for the best success with this.”
Brena Nath: That’s such great advice too. Like, not just chasing the next shiny thing, but really those core building blocks. And then that can apply to so many things outside of marketing, I’m sure as well, that like, “Do you have your foundation?” versus always chasing this next thing?
Courtney Graham: Yeah, I think about this a lot, too. And as I mentioned earlier, I would say one thing that’s really helped me in terms of furthering my career is, I’m a really good systems builder, and I can build things and I can figure out how to make things happen. I kind of have a little bit of an engineering mind.
So it’s like, “Cool, we can figure out, okay, as we’re thinking about contact strategies, and you know, having a ‘what’s the best cadence between text messages, emails, direct mail, social, social retargeting,’ all of these things?” Great. Well, we can build a machine and a system for this and figure out, “Okay, what’s the…we know right now, if you were to look at analytics, we know that text messages have a read rate of 80%, whereas email has a read rate or an open rate of 20% still.”
So it’s like there’s a ton of value in figuring out how to do text marketing really well, SMS marketing really well right now, and a lot of value in figuring out those systems. “What are you going to say? Do you know your audience? What’s going to resonate with them?”
I think, again, going back to the basics, making sure that we know who we are marketing, and what’s going to resonate with them so that when we do build those machines and jump on, “Okay, what’s the next biggest trend?” Whether it be SMS or social or TikTok? You know, “What do we need to be saying to our audience?” I think is, you know, core to who we are as marketers.
Brena Nath: That’s such good advice. I like how you dug into that, especially because as someone who does value, I open every single text, when it is an ad still, it’s such a great point, and I always laugh when I am just another statistic that fits into the funnel. But so true.
Courtney Graham: Yeah, I sign up or everything. I’m like, “Cool, yeah, send me all your text messages, send me your emails, I want to see what’s happening. What are other people doing?” It’s one of my favorite… [crosstalk 00:15:59]. Yeah! I love the research part. And I think especially in the mortgage industry, actually love being in the industry, because I do think from a marketing perspective, there’s a ton of opportunity. And there are a lot of other industries who are ahead of us. And so it’s cool, let’s take a look at what other people out there are doing and learn from them.
You know, instead of trying to figure it out by trial and error ourselves, let’s take the best of what other people have already figured out and see how can we implement that into, you know, what we’re doing ourselves?
Brena Nath: And speaking of that opportunity, I love that as a transition to the final question that I like to ask on these podcasts, which is: Okay, there is so much of a runway here, I think, to make a difference in the mortgage industry. So from your perspective, what would it take to get more women into this industry, that’s at the heart of the Women of Influence Award Program, we’re spotlighting women leaders in this space. And I think there’s so much to be said about sending the elevator back down for the next generation of women to carry that elevator back up.
So for that runway and for the opportunities in the industry, how do we get more women into this space?
Courtney Graham: Yeah, it’s a great question and I think the more that I talk to people inside the space, whether, you know, women or men, it’s always a funny question in terms of “Well, how did you get into mortgage? How did you get here?” And it’s always a very common refrain that I hear, is that people just fall into it. They fall into the industry, whether it’s someone that they know, or usually it’s someone that they know, but there’s not a good, like, people don’t grow up really saying, “Oh, I want to go into mortgages.” Nope, I’m sure someone did, but not a lot. So people kind of fall into the space.
And then I think about it, too, from a giving space and opportunities for people to grow and develop in their career, I think, is crucial for all companies. To figure out what does that that career path, that development plan look like?
And I think about it even just from my own experience. How I was able to continue to grow and develop was just being surrounded by people who were always encouraging me, and could see things in myself, even when I didn’t see them in myself. And so I think what’s something that’s so important for us all as women is to…I know the impact that those voices had on me when I was younger than I am now, really trying to figure it out. I know that prior to you hitting record on the podcast, we were talking about kids and families and work life balance.
It’s tough, and it’s a struggle, and no one has it, you know, 100% perfectly figured out. And as, you know, working moms, I feel like there’s a lot of times when we feel like we’re doing it wrong. And so how can we, as we’re supporting and building up, you know, that next generation of women that are coming into the industry and leaders, how can we be those voices of encouragement, saying, you know, “I see you, I know what you’re doing is tough.”
I think the mortgage industry is a fabulous industry that provides a ton of opportunity for people. How can we continue to be those voices of encouragement and support, you know, as people are young and trying to figure it out and see, you know, “Can I continue to do this no matter what my life stage is, or you know, career plans too?”
Brena Nath: One thing that I’ve loved, I think, throughout this year, might go beyond it, but is really having the opportunity to create space for conversations. I think this, to your point, of just like creating that room, showing people that you kind of see them really goes back to that idea of like, there’s room to have these conversations. And I think as more women talk about it, to your point, or to share tips and tricks and knowledge really kind of helps grow everyone forward together. So I love that you touched on that. It’s very helpful.
Courtney Graham: Yeah, and I think this 100% goes for everyone, but I think especially for people in leadership roles, it’s super important to be really intentional with our time and our words. I think that, again, thinking about something that we potentially undervalue. I know, sometimes I would be thinking, you know, maybe about an interaction that I had with someone or how well I think someone is doing at something, and I kind of feel like, “Oh, they know that they’re doing a good job.” Well, no, not always, people don’t know that they’re doing a good job or don’t feel that support.
So I think it’s so incredibly valuable for us to be really intentional with our words. Whether, you know, especially in words of encouragement for people. And also I think it’s really important for us to be intentional with our words when we are, you know, giving feedback to one another, whether it’s positive or critical, because that critical feedback could be something that is the best thing for that person to hear, that woman to hear to help her change the trajectory and growth of her career.
So I think just as women and leaders just continuing to be really intentional with our time and with our words, and how we’re really helping to shape that next group of women and leaders.
Brena Nath: Well, Courtney, I think you and I could probably talk for hours about this subject. I think it’s something that you and I are very passionate about. And you brought so much wisdom to this podcast, appreciate you diving in not only into the marketing half of things and the growth in the strategies that you’re using there as a leader at a mortgage company, but also diving into kind of the woman of influence side of this, and how do we grow the next generation of leaders.
So thank you so much for all his insight and the tips that you shared and excited to continue this conversation.
Courtney Graham: Yeah, thank you so much, Brena. I really enjoyed our time together