Eight Tenets of Successful Business Development

Challenging times demand creative strategies.

March 28, 2011

Who’s responsible for business development?

Everyone at the credit union, says Celeste Cook, CEO/founder of CUStrategies LLC, Montgomery, Ala., and a former credit union business development executive. She addressed the 18th Annual CUNA Marketing & Business Development Council Conference in Las Vegas.

Cook offers eight tenets for successful credit union business development:

1. Measure results, not activity. Cook spent so much time wooing a former select employee group (SEG) that her credit union CEO once asked her, “Why aren’t you on the golf course?” when she returned to the office.

Cook’s putting paid off: The company, AT&T, rejoined as a SEG, giving the credit union access to thousands of potential members.

“It doesn’t matter if you’re in the office; it’s about results,” she says. “If you show results, your CEO won’t complain about your expenses.”

2. Know what competitors offer. This helps credit unions differentiate themselves from others, particularly banks that employ predatory practices.

Other points of differentiation: Credit unions have access to a network of 68,000 surcharge-free ATMs; they’re consumer advocates; they’re not-for-profit, member-owned cooperatives; they have lower loan rates, higher dividends, and fewer fees; and they emphasize member education.

3. Develop relationships. Don’t call companies SEGs, call them “preferred partners.”

“And you’re not the SEG’s credit union; you’re its partner,” Cook says. “If we can talk and connect with people, we can build relationships.”

4. Keep in frequent contact. Cook suggests contacting each SEG at least eight times a year. “Contacting SEGs once a year isn’t a relationship,” Cook says.

5. Pick the right business development goals. Measure member growth, loan growth, and use of checking accounts with bill pay and e-statements. Also, the number of potential members a SEG provides is a better success measure than the number of new SEGs a business development rep signs up.

6. Never ask a question that gives you a 50% chance of hearing “no.” This answer is too hard to overcome.

Don’t ask a potential SEG, “Would you like to hear about our products and our low rates and fees?” Instead, ask the SEG about its business and whether it would be interested in helping its employees save money and improve their financial savvy.

7. No never means no. When Cook scored a meeting with Hyundai, the human resources person told her, “Before we get started, I should tell you that we’re not going to do business with you.” The company already had a relationship with Wachovia Bank.

Cook replied, “I respect your loyalty” and explained in detail her credit union could save the company’s employees money. Hyundai consented to installing three credit union ATMs on-site. Eventually, 80% of its employees converted from Wachovia to the credit union.

8. Create a tagline that sends a clear message. One credit union’s tagline: We’re going to save our members $1 million this year—catchy, simple, and effective.