Do you have your elevator pitch down?
We live in a digital world, and it’s easy to rely heavily on digital marketing tools to raise your business’s profile. Yet, when we focus too heavily on digital solutions, we can sometimes forget that person-to-person interaction remains one of the most impactful ways to form new connections and gain business. Concise and meaningful talking points that easily communicate your unique value proposition can be an important tool for making the most of these critical in-person interactions.
What are talking points?
Describing what you do isn’t always easy, especially when you’re on the spot. Sometimes, it’s hard to predict when you’re going to have a key conversation with a potential client. That’s why it’s always good to have talking points in your back pocket.
Talking points are short, succinct statements that describe key aspects of your business and the work you do. Often, talking points cover the services you deliver, what your company’s culture is like or how you work with clients to achieve their goals. In short, they are a series of brand promises that help audiences quickly get up-to-speed on how your business operates.
Best practices for developing talking points
Unsurprisingly, one of the best practices to keep in mind when developing your agency’s talking points is brevity. There is a lot more that goes into it, however, such as:
- Key messages: Before you can create talking points, you first need to know what your business’s main messages are. These messages should reflect your firm’s top priorities and goals.
- Integrate customer needs: Your company’s key messages and eventual talking points must address the needs of your ideal customers. To do this effectively, you should first understand who your customers are – both demographically and psychologically. And how do you do that? By building out buyer personas! Check out our earlier blog for more on building these personas.
- Create a logical flow: Although talking points can touch upon different or disparate aspects of your business, they still need to move easily from one point to the next. Flow is important. You don’t want to confuse your audience.
- Be benefit and customer-focused: When you are talking about your agency, try to put the focus less on you and more on your target audience. You will want to convey how your products or services will improve their lives.
- Show your passion: Imbuing business communication with emotion can be tricky, as you run the risk of coming off as unprofessional. But the truth is people are emotional by nature, and your audience will want to feel your passion. You can accomplish this by discussing not only what you do, but why you do it.
- Prepare for rebuttals: As you build and deliver your talking points, you may occasionally experience pushback from an audience. Objections are a fact of life, and it’s always best to be prepared to address counterarguments. Spend time thinking about potential weak spots in your business narrative. By doing so, you can be ready to rebut the rebutters!
Best practices for delivering talking points
Once you have your business’s talking points fleshed out, it’s time to sit back and relax. Just kidding! Getting these messages written out is only half the battle. You still need to practice and refine your delivery. Here is a good process you can follow:
- Practice makes perfect: There are no shortcuts to being a great speaker or advocate for your business. Instead, practice makes perfect. Practice your talking points in front of people you trust, in front of a mirror or even by recording yourself. Try doing this repeatedly until you feel calm enough to speak about your business in any context and at a moment’s notice.
- Stay loose: Have you ever heard that it is not really what you say that matters; instead, it is how you say it? Keep this in mind when delivering your talking points. This does not mean that you should be flippant or overly casual, just that you want to avoid sounding monotonous or like you’re reading from a script.
- Refine and edit: As you practice your talking points, stay open to constructive feedback. Think of your talking points as an ever-evolving process rather than something static and fixed. Accept feedback in good faith and use any criticism to improve the next pitch.
Be ready to pitch and reap the rewards
In today’s fast-paced economy, you need to be ready to pitch at a moment’s notice. By developing clear, concise and compelling talking points, you will be ready to spread the word about your business and position yourself to capture new leads and growth opportunities.
Alliant National salutes a title industry giant.
Like many industries, title insurance is a diverse field with individuals from all walks of life. However, if there is one experience many title professionals could say they share it is being impacted by Curt Niehoff during their careers. Affable and hardworking, well respected and generous, Curt was a force for good in the title industry for more than 40 years. His passing on May 2nd, 2023, leaves a major hole within the industry and is a significant loss for all who were lucky enough to know him.
“Curt was a gentle giant,” said David D. Lanaux, Owner and President of Title Professionals of Florida and a good friend of Curt’s for over 40 years. “He was big in stature, but he was also big in heart. The title industry has lost a great man.”
Curt Niehoff was born in 1954 in the tiny town of Carlyle, Illinois, located approximately 50 miles outside of St. Louis, Missouri. The only son of Robert Niehoff and Anne Wahl, Curt gained an early appreciation for the world of title insurance through his father, Robert, who was a past Vice President and Western Agency Manager for Chicago National Title Insurance Company. After graduating from Clearwater High School, Curt attended the University of South Florida before pursuing the title insurance business upon completing his studies. This launched a career that would last for over four decades and earn him a sterling reputation amongst his friends, customers and co-workers.
In the 1980s, Curt took his career to the next level when he was hired to help start-up several title insurance companies that were moving their operations to Florida. He made incredible contributions to the overall success of several of these firms, including Fortune 200 companies like TransAmerica Title Insurance Company and TRW Title Insurance Company. As his career progressed, he also served as a state agency representative for Ticor Title Insurance Company, Commonwealth Land Title Insurance Company, United General Title Insurance Company, Lawyers Title Insurance Company and Fidelity National Title Insurance Company.
The turn of the century brought Curt to one of the most important personal and professional moments of his life. In 2000, he met Cathy Rairigh, the founder of Island Title Services, Inc. within the Tampa Bay area. The pair fell in love and ran the company together until Curt’s passing. Pairing great customer service with consummate professionalism and authentic care for others, they built a company that won them the respect of many. Outside of work, Curt enjoyed an enviable personal life as well, indulging in his great love of music, cheering on the Tampa Bay Devil Rays and Tampa Bay Lightning, and caring for his dogs: Sailor and Dakota.
At around this time, Curt was also serving as an important advocate for the industry and a staunch antagonist of legislation that adversely impacted the state’s title agents. Curt waged, along with many other title professionals, an important battle against the “Butler Rebate” rule as just one example. Although the effort was in vain, his dedication to the cause was unsurpassed. Stemming from a Florida Supreme Court case from 2000, many believed that the Rebate might threaten insurer solvency. Curt’s efforts, along with many others, to prevent its implementation spoke directly to his passion for the industry and those who work within it.
In 2014, as Florida legislators debated the promulgation rule enacting “data call” requirements for title insurers, Curt once again acted alongside others as a vanguard for the field’s interests. The data call rule requires title agencies to submit records of their business transactions to the Florida Department of State. During that period, Curt drove from Tampa to Tallahassee once every 30 days to attend panel meetings and provide valuable input to protect the title agent from any negative side effects from the legislation. While Curt was not on the panel itself, he was instrumental in lobbying the legislature to protect the industry and those who rely upon it.
In addition to his lobbying work and advocacy for the industry, Curt was a huge believer in nurturing the next generation of title talent. He possessed a preternatural ability to identify promising young prospects and would routinely push for the hiring of young professionals. He always led by example, as well, never requiring anyone to do anything that he wouldn’t do himself. He would also frequently go above and beyond for those lucky enough to cross his path. As David Lanaux notes when discussing his own mentorship experiences with Curt:
“I knew nothing about title insurance when I met Curt in 1982,” says Mr. Lanaux. “I met him once, for two hours while visiting a friend in Tampa. He called me when I got back to New Orleans and talked me into moving to Tampa to take a job in the business. I learned everything from Curt that I needed to know to succeed in the industry.”
“Having worked with Island Title Services for many years, everyone at Alliant National had the opportunity to witness first-hand Curt’s generosity, his care for his community and, of course, his raw industry expertise,” said Debra Coffie, SVP and Alliant National Florida Regional Manager. “There is no doubt our field has been left poorer through his passing.”
For anyone who has built and maintained a career across multiple decades, the question of legacy will often loom large. But in Curt Niehoff’s case, there is no question that he not only lived up to the example set by his father, Robert Niehoff, but also added his own special and unique contributions to the field. Curt believed wholeheartedly in the promise of the industry, not to mention the essential role it plays for individuals looking to build lasting financial security in America. For Curt, title insurance was about far more than paper pushing or title searches, it was about helping facilitate the lasting dreams of individuals, families and communities.
“We didn’t just lose another title professional. The industry lost an advocate, a believer and a consummate professional,” said Lanaux, while summing up Curt and his impact. “Curt was loved and respected by many. He will be missed and remembered by all who had the pleasure of knowing him.”
Brianna Steel is a seasoned escrow officer, having worked for a variety of title companies throughout Florida. Her years of experience served her well recently when a suspicious transaction came across her desk at Coastal Title Insurance. By trusting her instincts, collaborating with her team, and following best practices, she was able to stop a fraudulent deal from going forward. She was recognized by Alliant National through its crime watch program, which incentivizes anti-fraud efforts by offering agents a $1,000 reward.
Numerous red flags
At first, the transaction in question appeared to be a normal purchase order. Initiated by someone claiming to be “a representative” of the property owner, Steel and the rest of the Coastal Title team got started on the file as soon as they received a request from the lender.
Yet according to Steel, it didn’t take long for red flags to emerge:
- Red flag 1: The contract was missing a signature. The representative promised both Steel and Coastal Title that it was coming, but excuses kept piling up, such as the seller being unavailable. While this was suspicious, Coastal Title continued working on the file to ensure that there were no delays, while repeatedly asking the representative to complete the paperwork.
- Red flag 2: Steel and Coastal Title were asked to “split” the proceeds with non-owners/non-lien holders.
- Red flag 3: Document signatures did not match other signatures available in the public records – a huge warning sign.
- Red flag 4: All communication was conducted through one person claiming to be “assisting” the parties involved in the order.
Further complicating matters was questionable behavior on the part of the transaction’s so-called “representative.” For one thing, the representative instructed Coastal Title to wire the transaction payment to several different accounts – including one belonging to the representative – which Steel responded that they couldn’t do.
All these suspicions were eventually confirmed when Steel made a call to the supposed seller. The property’s owner informed Coastal Title that the person who had been claiming to be her representative had been terminated and had no authority to speak for her on anything.
A strong team and the right policies
In reflecting on this experience, Steel had several insights. She noted that fraud can only be prevented through productive collaboration.
“At the end of the day, it comes down to talking with everyone in your office and sharing any concerns or even weird feelings about a file,” Steel said. “We are also very strict on following the rules and guidelines for preventing fraud.”
Steel listed some of Coastal Title’s fraud prevention policies:
- Never accept wire instructions via email.
- Never send unsecured wire instructions. No exceptions. If a client gets upset, explain that the policy exists for their protection.
- Call all clients and speak with them directly for introductions. This helps ensure communication with the correct person. Steel noted that a lot of fraud takes place via email and fraudsters try to not answer the phone.
- All employees must complete annual Continuing Education classes on fraud, even if they are not licensed.
- Inform colleagues when a phishing email is received. This helps all staff members avoid accidentally opening a malicious email.
- Show bogus emails to other employees so they can see things in real time. This has advantages over simply looking at fake emails in lender portals.
Another integral part of this collaboration involves Alliant National.
“Sometimes we are on autopilot and overlook the small red flags and warnings,” Steel noted, adding that Alliant National’s Crime Watch program “incentivizes people to take a closer look at their day-to-day tasks.”
Fighting Fraud: Challenging and Rewarding
As we’ve seen, beating fraudsters at their game is not easy, and it is often only possible through strong collaboration. Yet the time, effort and energy are worth it in the end. Thinking back on her experience, Steel noted that fraud isn’t always obvious.
“It’s surreal and infuriating […] but it’s also not as black and white as we would like to think.” Steel said. “Florida has an aging population and a lot of vacation homes. It is not uncommon for someone to be ‘helping’ a seller through the process. But it is also extremely rewarding to stop these transactions and to protect the real seller and future buyers.”
That’s one reason why Steel was eager to participate in this blog. By sharing information on best practices for protecting transactions, she can continue the collaboration far beyond the walls of Coastal Title. When asked if she had any final advice for title professionals involved in anti-fraud efforts, she shared:
- Trust your gut and talk with your team.
- If you have an intake person or processor complaining they can’t get a seller on the phone, listen to them.
- Look at the signatures on the contract and the last recorded document. If it was e-signed, make sure the email address on the verification is the same you are using.
- If you have a suspicious file, ask for someone else in your office to look at it and see if they notice the same inconsistencies.
- Don’t “call out” the person that you’re concerned about; instead, ask questions and play dumb. See if you can trip them up. If fraud is confirmed, share the information with your whole office and all your underwriters.
- At the end of the day, knowledge and awareness are key and will make all the difference.
If you want more information on how Alliant National incentivizes agents to detect and prevent fraud, check out our crime watch program.
Giving back to your community not only feels good, but it can also pay dividends.
Philanthropy and community giving have long been a part of business, harkening all the way back to the 19th century in some cases. Many businesses participate in programs like these simply because they are the right thing to do. But sponsoring a cause, or especially an event, can also be a great way to market your company’s offerings and even capture new business. Let’s explore best practices for how you can achieve those goals.
It can be tempting to think that sponsoring a local event is as simple as merely writing a check. There is a lot more to it, however, if you want to gain tangible benefits. Begin like you would with any other strategic initiative by determining your goals and objectives. Then, research different events that are seeking sponsors and where there is an overlap with your company’s identity and priorities, including your:
- Brand identity
- Target audience
Once you have selected an event you want to sponsor, the real work begins. At this point, you will want to conduct due diligence regarding your sponsorship’s terms and conditions. Be sure to assess the following details:
- Duration of sponsorship – You will want to establish a start and stop date for your sponsorship.
- Intellectual property – It is always wise to stipulate who will own any intellectual property or “IP” created for the sponsored event. IP can encompass many different things, including designs, logos and slogans.
- Brand reputation – Closely related to intellectual property is brand reputation, namely how your brand will be positioned and utilized before, during and after the event. Scrutinize the details to guarantee that your brand receives the right return on investment.
- Promotional obligations – When heading into an event sponsorship, you need to fully understand your promotional obligations. The event’s organizer must clarify what is expected of their sponsors in writing well before the event takes place.
- Liability and indemnification – Take the necessary time to double check if you will have any potential legal liability for your participation in the event.
During the event
Once the big day arrives, you can put your feet up and simply enjoy the event, right? Not so fast. The work of leveraging a sponsorship to promote your agency’s brand changes once the event begins, but it doesn’t end.
There are a few things to do during this period to get the most out of the experience. The first step is simple. Just get social. Liaise with event attendees. Capture content of the happenings to utilize on your social media channels in the days and weeks ahead. Discuss your business and its value propositions with key constituencies and exchange contact information. Whatever you do, just don’t rest on your laurels.
Finally, stay vigilant about how your brand is being presented and perceived throughout the event’s duration. If you have a booth or table and are not manning it directly, periodically check in for quality control purposes and to guarantee that visitors are getting their questions answered and their needs met.
After the event
Even after the event is over, the work is not yet finished. The post-event period is a critical moment where several activities must take place. In the days following the event, it’s important to move quickly to follow up on any leads generated through your sponsorship. Engage in post-event marketing by promoting your agency’s sponsorship through your owned channels or even by pitching a story to the media. You can also solicit feedback from your team and start laying the groundwork for future sponsorships.
Finally, take time to analyze the ROI. Take stock of leads generated and converted and examine your website metrics for any upticks in web traffic. Also, don’t forget to review your social media analytics for any boosts in engagement numbers.
Ask any event planner and you will quickly learn that putting on a good event is a big job. The same goes for sponsorships. Encompassing far more than simply doling out a little money, promoting your agency and amplifying your brand requires time and effort. There are no shortcuts, but when done correctly and thoughtfully, the results can be rewarding for your community and your business.
At a time when our industry is under threat from ID fraud, First International Title’s swift and decisive action in uncovering and halting two vacant property scams is an important example of care and diligence.
Sharon Garrison and Jenny Rodgers, both of whom work in the Florida-based company’s Port St. Lucie office, were recently recognized and rewarded through Alliant National’s “crime watch” program. The program offers $1,000 to an agency employee who prevents a fraudulent transaction that would have been written on Alliant National.
Clear warning signs
Like many transactions involving ID fraud, the malicious activities encountered and thwarted by Garrison and Rodgers had clear warning signs.
The properties in question were two vacant lots located in Port St. Lucie, Florida. The first was originally set to close back in March of 2023, but according to Garrison, the title processor at First International in charge of this transaction, red flags quickly emerged when she compared the name on the property deed with that on the seller’s driver’s license and found that the first name was misspelled.
There were similar warning signs with the second property, which was being processed by Rodgers. She was immediately on her guard when her property’s listing agent informed her that the seller needed to close ASAP due to her son needing surgery. It was also highly suspect that the seller’s passport and driver’s license had the same photo.
Due diligence in action
After noticing these discrepancies, both processors began delving deeper into their respective transactions. Garrison attempted to call the seller and listing agent, but she received no answer even after leaving multiple voicemails.
Rodgers also conducted her due diligence. She first reached out to the title company who worked on the property previously, only to be informed they couldn’t close the file because they had suspected fraud.
Having taken these steps, each processor then sent out Property Owner Notification letters, which are intended to trigger a response from owners. Phone number and IP verifications were also performed, which cast further suspicion. Garrison’s seller, for example, showed an IP address located in Miami, despite having claimed to live in New Milford, New Jersey. Rodgers’ IP verification revealed a similar discrepancy, with an IP address for Miami turning up when the seller claimed to be in New York.
Other actions included a rigorous comparison of handwriting via mortgage signatures and other forms of identification, assessing passport photos and conducting passport number searches. Rodgers also called the fraudster directly. She asked them to provide their date of birth so she could compare it to her records. Unsurprisingly, the fraudster provided incorrect data, and when Rodgers asked them to repeat it, they hung up.
A responsibility not taken lightly
The experiences of Garrison and Rodgers illustrate several things about the title insurance and real estates fields, specifically the importance of fraud prevention efforts.
Stopping fraud, according to Rodgers, is key to obtaining “cost savings for all parties.” But like any worthwhile goal, their respective odysseys show that beating back fraudsters requires a great deal of time and effort, not to mention passion and acute attention to detail. What’s more, it necessitates title offices having strong anti-fraud processes in place, which allows agents to objectively verify important information and stop scam transactions from going forward.
“First International Title,” said Rodgers, “has implemented Property Owners Notification letters, which we mail or FedEx to the owner based on the address on the property tax bill. This letter is a fraud prevention tool. It indicates that we have received a real estate transaction request on the property and asks the owner to call us immediately to verify this transaction is correct and if we should proceed with the sale.”
Of course, availing yourself of these resources and putting in the necessary effort becomes much easier when there is an emotional payoff at the end of the journey. As Garrison explained, while she “felt bad for the other party that was really excited about the purchase,” it was gratifying to help them not “lose the property and money.” Rodgers echoed these sentiments: “I felt a great sense of satisfaction knowing that I was able to help the person going through this awful event. She was very grateful we were able to stop these crooks.”
Alliant National’s essential role
As a title underwriter, Alliant National seeks opportunities to support and incentivize its agents’ anti-fraud efforts. Garrison said working with Alliant National teaches those in the industry “what to look for and saves all involved from experiencing loss in terms of money and property.”
By forging strong partnerships, Alliant National and its agents can push back on real estate fraud. And when that happens, everyone wins. Learn more about Alliant National’s crime watch program