From: Inc. Magazine, June 2004 | By: Nadine Heintz

Last year, alongside names and addresses, Theresa Bryan began jotting down more details about her clients' lives. She stored the tidbits, such as favorite vacation spots and children's ages, in a black three-ring binder that she pored over every other week. When she called clients, she would sprinkle talk of low interest rates with questions about recent kitchen renovations. She spent two weeks in December handwriting holiday cards to all her customers. She also got into the habit of sending thank-you notes when someone sent a referral her way.

Bryan, who has sold mortgages since 1992, credits this newfound attention to detail as one of the main reasons why she vaulted to the top of the sales force at Fisher Mortgage, a home loan company based in Vernon Hills, Ill.

Granted, her impressive sales are helped by record-low mortgage rates. But Bryan points out that even with low rates making the market for mortgage lending more crowded, 80% of her sales have come from repeats and referrals. The personal touch appears to be key.

Bryan knows that the approach only works in moderation; that it's important for her contacts with customers to feel sincere. "If it doesn't make sense," she says, "I won't bother them."

She appears to have struck the balance well. In 2003, Bryan booked $32.6 million in loan sales and generated a gross profit of $327,000, of which she received a 30% commission. She also earned seven $1,500 bonuses, one for each month that she brought in at least $30,000 in revenue. For being the top earner, Bryan's employer rewarded her and her husband with a three-day, all-inclusive trip to a resort in Canc?n. This time, however, she left her binder at home.