Seven Steps to Better Business Development

Be proactive: ‘This isn’t Field of Dreams, people’

March 9, 2012

Credit unions are redefining the art of business development, realizing this practice requires building strong relationships, reaching out to companies’ key decision-makers, and moving beyond select employee groups (SEG).

That’s the word from Sean McDonald, director of business development for Mid-States Federal Credit Union in Carteret, N.J., and chair of the CUNA Marketing & Business Development Council.

“Business development isn’t just showing up at a charity event and it isn’t pressure-selling,” he said during a breakout session Thursday at the CUNA Marketing & Business Development Council Conference in New Orleans. “And it isn’t just for SEGs anymore. Business development is important for all credit unions.”

Step one is understanding what business development is and what it isn’t. McDonald offers six more steps credit unions can take to boost their business development:

• Perform a membership audit. This involves segmenting the membership, identifying trends, categorizing savers and borrowers, and determining which members are profitable or “on the cusp of profitability.”

Credit unions that can’t afford a marketing customer information file (MCIF) system can turn to their core processor for help mining data.

“Identify which members are a drag on your profitability and those who help develop it,” McDonald says. “Let’s try to transfer savers into borrowers.”

• Be flexible and measure progress. If you don’t measure your progress, you can’t manage it, McDonald says. But business development goals should be flexible and achievable to reflect changing economic and other conditions.

“The marketplace is always changing so to have iron-clad, unchangeable business development goals is just silly,” he says. “Be willing to reassess and reevaluate.”

• Train staff. Business development requires a specific skill set. Employees must have good communication skills, be personable, and have a passion for the job.

Training and development programs will allow staff to expand these and other skills, which will help them succeed.

McDonald has formed the Credit Union Business Development Academy to help business developers improve their skills.

• Go out and prosper. Business development staff can’t be successful staying in the office. They need to go out and meet with prospects.

“Hold them accountable, but give them the freedom to fly,” McDonald says. “Don’t chain them to their desks or hold them to a time clock. This isn’t ‘Field of Dreams,’ people.”

McDonald acknowledged that some credit union staff resent this freedom, creating “gossip and rumblings” that can destroy morale. “Some people think if you’re not in the credit union, you’re not working. Get executive management on your side, and have them explain that your role requires you to be out of the office more than you’re in it.”

• Don’t be afraid to sell. When doing so, emphasize value above all else.

“Put yourself in your members’ shoes: Tell the member what your Visa card will do for them,” McDonald advises.

Also, explain the importance of cross-selling to the front-line staff. “Treat the tellers to lunch once in a while.”

• Get in the game. “We need to be at the ‘big person’ table—part of the C-level discussion,” McDonald says, “Business development touches every aspect of the credit union. It needs to be part of the strategic planning process. We need to show our value to the people who make the decisions.”