Build Great Business Relationships By Asking Good Questions With Heath D. Barnes

MLM 245 | Business Relationships

Being in the mortgage business is all about relationships, whether it’s with your financial advisors or real estate agents or employees. The best way you can increase and deepen those relationships is by asking really good questions. This episode’s guest is someone who lives by this, and he is going to tell us why and how. Jen Du Plessis has over Heath D. Barnes, leader, influencer, industry coach, and branch manager of Cardinal Financial Company, Limited Partnership. Here, Heath shares with us why really good questions help set expectations for what you have to live up to in your relationships, consequently helping with your conversion ratio in all aspects—from client ratio to other referral partners. Learn more about how to utilize questions in your business and your life in this conversation.

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Without further ado, let me introduce you to our guest. Heath Barnes is a Branch Manager with Cardinal Financial Company out of Texas. I wanted to have him come on here because he is a top producer and we want to get his secrets. What’s your secret sauce? How did you get to this point and what did it take to get there? I know you’ve done over $75 million in production several years in a row. That’s a wonderful and great production. The people that are reading are dying to learn about how this all happened. I want to welcome you to the show.

Thank you, Jen. I’m happy to be here. I appreciate the invite. With what I have to say, I hope someone can grab 1 or 2 nuggets that might improve their life a little bit and their business.

I promise you that’s going to happen because there hasn’t been a guest that we’ve had on here that hasn’t been able to give someone a nugget. The challenge is giving many nuggets that everyone says, “I have to do it all.” I want to remind everybody, please take notes, rewind, read this again, and take 1 or 2 of these nuggets and put them into action. Give us a little detail about how you got in the business some time ago.

It was 2002. At a similar time, as far as interest, everyone was refinancing. I was in the car business. It was in October of 2002 and I was engaged to be married. At the time, my fiancé told me if I didn’t get out of the car business, she wasn’t going to marry me.

That was because you were working long hours on weekends?

I was working six days a week and she didn’t feel like it would be conducive for a great marriage. I am financing the car business. I had a friend of mine that had a mortgage company. I went and talked to him and he was putting an ad in our local paper and they were doing refinances. I went from making $10,000 a month to making $2,000 a month. The first year or two in the mortgage business can be the toughest. Two months later, she told me she didn’t love me anymore and she was not going to marry me. I got a brand new job in the mortgage business and not making any money. It was the best thing that ever happened to me, us not getting married for a couple of reasons. Number one, she led me into the mortgage business but she also gave me a couple of other gifts. The one I still use to this day is the gift of questions and taking time to figure out my life and why struggle so much with connecting with people.

I was raised in an environment where questions weren’t part of our environment. My parents had difficult backgrounds. They didn’t want people asking them questions. What did they naturally do? They didn’t ask other people questions. That was in 2002. I struggled for about six months in the business. As everybody knows, early in the business, you do struggle a little bit. After that, I got a crazy idea that I would start my own mortgage company. I went to work for another company. At the time, you could do it alone and pay a company $500 or a net branch. That was the beginning.

No licensing, nothing.

If you really want to be great at anything, you have to hire a coach. Click To Tweet

I was operating out of my house, originating loans. I did the same thing with my boss, being an admin in the paper, and letting the phone ring. For the next several years, I was originating loans and growing my branch. This is a valuable lesson. I didn’t want anyone to tell me what to do. Most of us get into the mortgage business because we don’t want a boss.

We don’t want a boss. We want freedom. The sky is the limit for making money, all of those.

The true gift that I finally learned after about years of being in the business and going through 2008 is, if you want to be great at anything, you got to hire a coach. You got to find someone that knows the business that can tell you where you’re doing things wrong. If you want one takeaway, it’s this, “Have a coach in your life, for the rest of your life.” Someone else can show you the way. Someone else can say, “This is what you need to do in order to originate a lot of loans, grow a team, have the right mindset, and have the skills you need to get where you want in life.” I struggled for years. I originated a lot of loans and I was a little crazy. I didn’t have much life balance. That’s how I got into the business. In 2009, that changed for me. I joined The CORE Training and I did that for ten years until I finally realized that’s probably not the healthiest atmosphere. Although I learned a lot of good techniques in the mortgage business, I feel like I had grown past that.

Over time, your need for different coaches evolves. I have 5, 6, or 7 coaches. I feel that they’re my guiding light in a different aspect. That’s powerful for you. You needed the core when you needed the core. You’ve progressed on to something else. Good for you.

I went from not wanting anyone to tell me what to do. Being miserable in the business and thinking that if I made a lot of money, I would be happy. What I realized is making a lot of money does not equate to happiness. I joined The CORE thinking, “I’m going to do what they tell me.” What happens is, when you start doing something and you start becoming successful at it, you become attached to it. I said, “I can’t detach myself from it because I won’t be successful.”

Fear of missing out.

I was in The CORE for about three years and then became a coach with them. I was a coach for five years before I stepped down as a coach. I couldn’t detach from that. I couldn’t be successful in not being in The CORE. I finally made that detachment and still being coached.

I call it curiosity. Every year I have a theme word that drives my business. Several years ago, I didn’t have an actual theme word. I had a word that was a phrase that says, “I’m not going to be a yes woman. I’m going to start telling people no.” That’s where I developed the concept of working with people, in a sense that I work with people that compliment me and don’t complicate me. I started saying, “Don’t be a yes woman. Only focus on people that compliment and not complicate.” The following year, my word was curiosity. I was trying to figure out a brand. I had a brand but I was still fine-tuning a few things. I did this crazy big thing that is scary. I sent an email to the people that you work with and people that know you and say, “If you could say three words about me, what would they be?” Not sentences, only three words. Everybody was nice and they said, “You’re this and you’re that.” It was great, but I wanted everyone to be truthful.

Thank goodness I had someone in my life who is truthful and his word was, “Not present.” While I was out skipping stones across the lake, get a little bit of this and a little bit of that as many of us do in this business, I said, “Hold on. Halt.” He said, “You’re wonderful. You’re producing all this stuff. You’re great at everything, but whenever you’re with everybody, you’re running around like a little bee trying to get pollen from everybody in an event. I’d rather see you sit and talk with three people and have the other watch you. Talk and spend time with three people than you going around superficially.” The next year was curiosity. Be curious about people. Spend time asking questions, going deeper with people. I love that you said that because that resonates with what I went through and I’m great at not doing that. I’m definitely present. I want to talk about that for a moment if we can retract on that to talk about some of the questionings that you’re asking people these days. Let’s break this out between your referral partners and your actual clients if you don’t mind to give some people ideas.

MLM 245 | Business Relationships
Business Relationships: When you start doing something, and you start becoming successful, you become attached to it.

I’ll give you a little background there. My fiancé who drove me into the mortgage business, on our first date, we were having dinner. Three hours into dinner she looked at me with this big smile on her face and I’m thinking, “She’s about to say, ‘Let’s continue the evening.’” Instead, she looked at me with a big smile and said, “Would you like to ask me any questions? I know all there is to know about you.” Up to that point in my life, I always have the mindset that other people liked me and I needed to tell them about me or do something. She taught me the power of the question. Since that time, that’s one of my modes that’s always rolling in my mind. The greatest compliment you can give me is to tell me something no one has ever asked me before.

Being in this business, it’s all about relationships. Whether it’s with financial advisors or real estate agents or your employees, the best way that you can increase those relationships or deepen those relationships is to ask them a good question. What are some questions that I ask? Let’s say I’m with an agent for the first time. I’ll ask them, “Tell me about an interesting or difficult time early in your life that you think helps create who you are now.” We all have been through something in our life that is personal and taken us from where we were to where we are, whether it’s a career or personally. I’ll reframe that to a real estate agent and say, “Tell me about an interesting or difficult time early in your career that helped shaped you.” I’ll ask you that, Jen. What’s the interesting or difficult time early in your career, either in your podcast, mortgage, or coaching career that created who you are?

I know that people that have been reading this blog for a long time know all things about me, everything about me. There are several. The reason I’m starting a new podcast called Breaking Through Glass Ceilings because we’re always breaking through these. We always have difficult times. Being in the business for years and being a woman, I created a path for women in this industry. My biggest challenge is we’re being overlooked for promotions and whatnot and being the token woman in the good old boy club of banking and mortgages.

I decided that I’m going to prove my worth through proving how much better I can be at an originator at that time so that I could then subsequently become a branch, district, region, and then a divisional manager. I lead with what I can do. It made me one of the best tacticians in our industry. I know numbers inside out, backward, sideways, and I can run them by hand. I don’t have to rely on a computer unless I want to rely and I usually do these days. The ability to be able to be a tactician in this industry is huge. That had made me to the point where I could do over $1 billion in funding.

Congratulations, that’s a lot.

Those questions, they’re fantastic. Thank you for sharing that.

That’s one question I ask when I interview someone, and about 50% of the time, tears come out. If I get tears from someone who I’m interviewing about a job, whether it’s a divorce or a tough time as a kid, there’s a connection there. Another set of questions that I ask, whether it’s a client and they might be shopping me or they talk to me about, “Is this your best rate?” I get a sense that they’re shopping. I will always ask them, “I’m curious. What are 1 or 2 things that you’re looking for in the lender that you decide to go with?” What you’re doing there is you’re helping set the expectation of what they expect from you. When you ask someone what they are looking for in a good lender, Jen, what do you think they’re going to say?


If someone says, “I’m looking for a good rate.” “What’s a good rate for you?” They’re going to tell you, “I got a guy quoting 3.5%.” “What else besides rate and fees are important to you about the lender you choose?” Most people are going to say, “Communication.” “What does it mean for you?” “I want to be updated every week.” Understanding what their style of communication is. You can finish it up with, “What’s one thing you absolutely won’t stand for with your lender that would turn you off?” You can use that same technique with real estate agents or if you’re dating, “What are 1 or 2 things that you’re looking for in this person you’ll marry?” What you’re doing is you’re setting the expectation for what you have to live up to, whether it’s an employee or a spouse or anyone else. What makes us happy in life is when we know what the expectation is and we live up to it. We have a blueprint that we expect our life to look like. If we get out of line, we’re not happy. The same thing with people. If we can understand what their blueprint is of us, then we have a better chance of meeting that blueprint.

Making a lot of money does not equate to happiness. Click To Tweet

I want to add another aspect to that. A question that I’ve always asked my clients is, “Is this your first buying experience or not? If it isn’t, tell me about the experience that you had with the last loan you got?” Rather than, “Was the experience good?” You don’t want closing questions. You want open-ended, “Tell me about the experience you have with the last lender.” It’s amazing because that opens up the doors. It aligns with what you’re saying too with the expectations. They say, “All they did was text me.” “Now I know, don’t just text.”

They might not receive text messages.

“They didn’t show up at closing.” Note to self, “If I can’t make it, someone needs to go to the closing table.” That brought up that thing that also opens up the doors. I love those two questions. Those are fantastic. I imagine that has helped you with your conversion ratio in all aspects. Conversion ratio and having clients work with you, but also the conversion ratio in having real estate agents and other referral partners work for you as well. Is that correct?

As loan officers, when we were in the business, the one thing that we don’t want is we don’t want to upset clients. A valuable takeaway is to understand that if you’re going to do any amount of business, you’re going to have clients that are going to get upset. It’s understanding how to handle those situations with clients and understanding that anytime clients get upset. It doesn’t mean that you’re not doing a great job. It means they’re misinterpreting something that’s happening. It gives you an opportunity to connect with them and ask a good set of questions, “Tell me what happened. What else happened?” You understand from their point of view what’s happening because all they want is someone to listen to them. Usually, your relationship is going to be better as a result of having that conversation about something that’s happening and when they’re pissed off. I look for opportunities with my other loan officers and people on my team. I said, “If there’s ever someone that’s not happy, let me talk to them.” Have someone else listen to the conversation and usually, that relationship is going to be much better.

Customer service is not the word. It’s customer experience. Customer service is gone, nobody cares about it. It’s about the experience that the client has with you. To your example, whenever you run into someone who is not happy during the process, it’s a perfect opportunity to do course correction. What a lot of loan officers do is try to avoid it, “They’re mad. I’ll try to stay away and I’ll hide behind keyboard confidence.” “I’ll email or text them. I won’t talk to them.” In the end say, “Can you write me a review?” You’ll get better reviews and better results if you can do a course correction and do exactly what you’re saying to do.

If I even sense that they’re upset, I don’t text. I don’t email. I pick up the phone and I say, “It feels like you might be upset.” Not, “You’re upset.” If I say to you, Jen, “You’re upset.”

“I understand you’re upset.” “Yes, I am.”

“It feels like you might be upset.” When you tell someone they are a certain way, if you tell your spouse, “It seems like you’re upset.” They’re like, “I’m not upset.” It’s the first thing they say. “It feels like I might have said something that offended you. Can we talk about that?” I love what my wife says, she says, “I have a request.” That means I’ve done something wrong. She knows better and she will say, “Let me tell you what you’ve done wrong.” None of us want to know what we’re doing wrong, but if you say, “I have a request,” or you say, “I see something is going on. Do you mind if I share it with you? I want to give you some feedback if you’re open to it.” It’s asking for permission to give them some feedback.

This reminds me of another tactic. There are 71 different tasks that get done during a purchase transaction in my PLP. Aside from, “Click on this button and download a document and upload.” I don’t care about that. I’m talking about tactical things that are done that are marketing-related as well as getting the loan through smoothly. When you have a perfect loan process, truly, when it’s ironclad, the disconnect will happen with your clients. Because it’s good, there’s no need to talk to your clients.

MLM 245 | Business Relationships
Business Relationships: Being in this business is all about relationships. The best way that you can increase or deepen those relationships is by asking really good questions.

We got to the point where I went to a closing and sat in the waiting area with my client, not realizing it was my client. Not until the wife came in and I was like, “Hey.” I remembered her but I didn’t remember him. I used to meet everybody face-to-face. I felt like an idiot. I thought, “That will never happen again.” We left the closing. They were fine. I made a joke out of it. We left the closing and I called my team and I go, “At this point, add in my PLP, call the borrower and say hello.” That became a course correction for us.

I didn’t care if things were going good or not. They were getting that phone call and that phone call goes like this, “Heath, its Jen. The reason I’m calling is I want to find out how you’re feeling. What’s keeping you up at night? What’s going right? Is my team treating you fairly? Are you getting responses?” I ask all these questions even if everything was smooth because I wanted to know what they were holding back. A lot of people in client experience, even if they’re happy, they won’t tell it to people.

If they’re sad and not happy, sometimes they don’t say anything. I wanted to bring that out. It was the best thing I’ve ever done in my business. The reason I’m not seeing this is, “We can’t find a mover.” “Done.” Whatever their issues are. I love that we’re providing a couple of different solutions for people and that we’ve taken down this road of curiosity and questioning. It’s incredible. I know that that’s what makes you successful. Anybody who works on your team is going through that wonderful experience as well and learning from your tutelage.

I open up most meetings with some type of unusual question and have everyone share it.

Give us an example of a question that you tell your team.

“Tell me about an unusual habit that you have. What’s something that you would like people to ask you that they never asked you? Tell me about something unusual about yourself that you don’t think people know.” Things like that. Do you want to have a great dinner party? We have the greatest dinner parties. I don’t have any kids but my wife loves cooking. I’m the wine guy. We have a box of questions and it’s called table topics. We get done with dinner. We take the box and the questions. We trade the box and everyone asks everyone a question. They’re the best dinner parties. Those are the dinner parties that people say, “That was great.”

You need to make a game out of it. There is a game like that where you can do those questions. As you’re talking about these questions, you can use them with your personal relationships, with the relationships with your team or your company. Also, as you’re networking, don’t forget to use those types of questions with the realtors that you’re working with as well. I want to share another thing too. A colleague of mine In Utah has a company called Connect52. He has been a guest at some of my workshops with my clients and things. He realized that he didn’t have a real strong relationship with his family. He started sending emails to them every week asking a question.

For 52 weeks out of the year, Connect52, he asks questions to his entire family, “What is the proudest moment in your life?” to his dad, to his sister, things that he thinks we’re proud of. “What was your favorite job? What was your favorite toy?” The one-story I remember is that his brother said that his favorite toy was him, was Craig. He said, “My favorite toy was Craig.” He thought, “That’s weird.” His brother explained and he realized that everything he remembers about being a child and having and carrying a toy with him was his brother being with him. Craig was young that he didn’t quite remember it. It’s powerful. What he ended up doing was making a book out of it that he created and gifted to his family about everything in their family’s lives.

Think about this in this context. In 2020, and everybody is talking about the 2020 vision. I’ve been talking about the soaring twenties that the following years are going to be incredible. Taking 52 questions across the whole year to ask your realtor, colleagues, and friends, what if you FaceTime it or put in a Facebook Live? Our question for everybody is, “What do I want to know about everybody to keep those connections going?” I love what you’re talking about. I love this curiosity, the depth of it. You know it’s a big challenge for lenders because I hear it all the time, “I want deeper relationships.” Everybody reading, this is your gift. This is your gift of deeper relationships that Heath is bringing to the forefront for us here.

The one thing that loan officers don't want to do is upset the clients.  Click To Tweet

Even doing those Connect52 with your agent or referral partners as well.

That’s what I’m talking about. Wouldn’t that be awesome to learn about?


I don’t have 52 questions. I’m going to give you all a challenge. I didn’t think I did either. I started writing them down and I ended up having eight pages of questions. I’m one of 37 first cousins. There are five brothers and five sisters. My mom is one of the sisters. I am interviewing them. Now that we’re hunkered down, guess what I’ve been doing? I’m using this time to reach out to them and make sure they’re happy. We played Heads Up! online with all the cousins. It’s a cute game. We did it all online via Zoom. We connected. I’m connecting with my 92-year-old eldest uncle all the way down to the youngest one, who is 71. Yes, a ton of them in a twenty-year span. It’s ridiculous.

I’m asking them all these questions so that when they pass away, we have a gift that we can give to one another and creating a book that answers all those questions. For those that passed away, like my mom, “What do you remember most about my mom?” “What do you wish you could say to mom if she were here?” Those types of questions so we can bring them in as well. This is a time of connecting with everybody. These tools are fantastic. Heath, I’ve taken nuggets from this. I can’t wait to incorporate these additional questions into the questioning that I do with people. I want to say thank you so much for sharing this wonderful gift that you’ve given us.

Whenever people are going through a difficult time, they forget those questions, not only connect you with people but they connect you with yourself. They also get you out of a difficult time. Usually, when we’re going through a difficult time, we’re asking ourselves the wrong set of questions, like, “Why is this happening to me? What else could I do?” We shouldn’t be asking ourselves a different set of questions. Whenever something bad happens, I always say to myself, “What’s great about this?” My company said, “We are suspending Jumbo Loans.” 50% of my business is Jumbo Loans. I immediately said to myself, “What’s great about this?” I started writing down the answer. “I don’t have any more problem deals.”

That’s right. You don’t have to look up guidelines all over the place.

“I can reshape my team.” I have a series of questions that I ask myself when I’m going through a difficult situation, “What’s great about this? What can I learn from it? What’s not perfect yet? What does that presuppose? It will be perfect. What am I willing to do to make it the way I want it? What am I not willing to do?” I’m not willing to work 24 hours a day. “How can I enjoy this process?” Sometimes we don’t like prospecting or we don’t like to do something that we’re doing. All we have to do is change it. How can you make it fun? You could turn on your music and jump up and down or do what you like. Those sets of questions helped me get out of some of the most difficult times. They helped me get out when I was like, “I’m not dealing with Jumbo. What’s great about it?”

You can choose to be bitter about it or you can go out and be better. In this industry, we have to expect that every single day that we’re working with that. I love that and it’s good. I had the wonderful opportunity of interviewing Jeff Hoffman, who is Cofounder of Priceline and created and invented all kiosks that you know, including the ones that are in the airports and stuff. He invented it when he was 26 years old. He’s 62, 63. Imagine how long these kiosks have been out there, ATMs. He said, “I live by the token of forwards.” He said, “There is no they.” When things go bad you say, “I wish they would fix the pricing. I wish they would do this. I wish they would fix that pothole. I wish they would stop doing that.” Instead, turn that around and say, “What do I need to do to enact change?”

MLM 245 | Business Relationships
Business Relationships: Questions not only connect you with people, but they also connect you with yourself.

It’s a great method.

It is.

You have control in that. You’re such a victim when it’s they. There’s nothing you can do about it. We can do something about everything.

That’s how the kiosks started. He was in line and he was going, “This takes too long. What is their problem? They should do this. They should do that.” He realized, “All they do is look at your ID and print a piece of paper.” He said, “What can I do?” There is they. They’re not going to do anything about it, but I can. I love that you’re saying that too. That’s a huge message for people in all aspects of life and this business. It’s been an absolute pleasure. I want to leave by asking you a couple of questions. What is a quote that you use as a mantra for yourself if you have one?

I have a quote that is by Theodore Roosevelt called, Daring Greatly. It says, “It’s not the critic who counts, not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood, who strives valiantly, who errs, who comes up short again and again. There is no effort without error and shortcoming, but who does strive to do the deeds, who knows great enthusiasm, the great devotions, who spends himself into a worthy cause. Who at the best knows, in the end, the triumph of high achievement and who at the worst if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly.”

I love that. The encapsulation of that is, get in the game. You’re going to fail but you’re going to win on the other side. It’s the law of polarity. If you fail, you’re winning. I promise. What books are you reading? What’s inspiring you?

I am reading The Obstacle Is The Way by Ryan Holiday, which is a constant reminder. I am in the middle of hiring a new assistant. Michael Wyatt wrote a book called Your World-Class Assistant, which has a lot of great ideas. A book that I’m giving to real estate agents is Never Split the Difference by Chris Voss.

I love that. It’s about win-win.

It gives you a lot of great techniques. I’ll leave you with one other one that I’m rereading called Crucial Conversations. We’re in a conversation all the time and it helps you understand how to have difficult conversations. I get a lot of compliments on this book. Whenever my coaching students read this, they’re always thankful. It helps you understand how to approach a difficult conversation with someone. Most of us avoid them and that makes the relationship worse.

I call those adult conversations. “It’s time to have an adult conversation.” Heath, I want to express my gratitude in you sharing and being able to give us a little taste of your secret sauce and what’s made you extremely successful. It’s obvious that you do things differently. It’s not all about doing the actual loan but moving people forward and making them feel better about themselves and making them feel comfortable working with you and that they mean something. I want to say thank you and congratulations for the success that you’ve had in your business.

Thank you, Jen. Thank you for allowing me to be a part of your show. I hope that everyone got at least one nugget they can take away.

I guarantee you, I told you it would happen. Everybody, I want to say thank you again for reading. Please go to Facebook and join our Facebook group, Mortgage Lending Mastery because we have some behind the scenes and conversations. We want to continue this particular conversation with Heath over time. Thank you again for joining us and go out and make it a great day. We will catch you next time.

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About Heath D. Barnes

MLM 245 | Business Relationships

Husband, loan officer, branch manager, student of life, coach, mentor, triathlete, skier, fly fisherman, sommelier, pilot, 6x ironman, hero’s brother, uncle, son, traveler, hiker, mountain climber, and pianist.

At Cardinal Financial, he spearhead’s a staff of sixteen dedicated fun, loving and driven professionals with 50 years of combined industry experience. Prior to joining Peoples Home Equity/Cardinal Financial, the Barnesteam generated over $70 million in closings annually each year over a five-year period.

I view the lending process from my client’s perspective, providing a professional, personal level of service that is rare in the industry. Heath focuses his time with clients laying out the process of turning the liability of a mortgage into an asset. He has worked with clients ranging from high-net-worth borrowers to first-time homebuyers and offer a range of loan options that are tailored to their individual circumstances and needs.

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