Seven Steps to Better Business Development

Hire self-starters and don’t chain them to their desks.

January 15, 2013

Let’s face facts: Business development is one of the fastest growing trends in the credit union movement. Credit unions are redefining the art of business development.

Some are doing a wonderful job, while others are woefully behind. But my guess is a lot of credit unions are realizing how important business development is but aren’t sure how to approach it.

Consider these seven steps all credit unions can take now to improve their business development function:

  1. Understand what credit union business development is and what it isn’t. Credit union business development is an intense focus on building relationships with centers of influence within a credit union service footprint.

    It isn’t simply showing up at a charity event to “get your name out there.” Credit union business development is made up of a skill set that includes sales and service, networking, public speaking, and outreach. But it isn’t pressure-selling.

    Credit union business development is important for all credit unions—whether community chartered or select employee group (SEG)-based. It isn’t just for SEG penetration anymore.
  2. Perform an audit of your current membership. Many credit unions have marketing customer information file (MCIF) platforms that allow them to segment membership, identify trends, categorize savers and borrowers, and determine members’ profitability status. But MCIF systems are expensive and not every credit union can afford one.

    Most core processing suppliers have report-writing programs so you can identify the makeup of your membership base. That’s one way you can start to develop more business among existing members.

    Once that’s in place you can dedicate more resources to acquiring new members and relationships.
  3. Set realistic goals and measure progress. Simple enough, right?

    Business development goals must be achievable and flexible. The marketplace is always changing, so having iron-clad, unchangeable business development goals is silly.

    Also, measure progress along the way and be willing and able to make adjustments to your plan. “If you don’t measure it, you can’t manage it.”
  4. Train employees. Business development requires a specific skill set. (See No. 1 again.)

    Too many credit unions simply tell employees their responsibilities now include business development. But they don’t define the role adequately, and they don’t provide any training or development programs to guide employees to success.

    It’s crucial to teach and train.
  5. Let your business development staff go out into the world and prosper! Don’t chain these professionals to their desks.

    They can’t do their jobs properly if they’re not allowed the freedom to be out of the office and meet with people. No one is suggesting you shouldn’t hold employees accountable, but you shouldn’t micromanage them or tie them to a time clock.

    Remember, you want self-starters when hiring for business development. They’re already aware of the concepts of responsibility and accountability.
  6. Don’t be afraid to “sell.” Business development involves selling. Credit unions sell their products and services all day, every day to existing members and potential members.

    To deny this is foolish. Enough said.
  7. Get in the game. The business development function should be an integral part of your credit union’s strategic plan.

    Business development must be part of high-level discussions and planning. It touches all aspects of the organization from marketing to community outreach to product development to communications.

    It’s not going away. In fact, it’s only getting stronger as more credit unions are embracing its significance to their overall success.

SEAN McDONALD is director of business development at Mid-State Federal Credit Union, Carteret, N.J., and chair of the CUNA Marketing & Business Development Council. Contact him at 732-541-4151. For more information about CUNA Councils, visit