Business development reimagined
Attracting and serving select employee groups requires new tactics during the pandemic.
When the four school districts she supports began organizing for fall classes, Katie Templet, member relations officer at $211 million asset Meritus Credit Union, Lafayette, La., surveyed principals on their most pressing needs.
Their top answer: Hand sanitizer.
Templet went to work. She secured a vendor and obtained bottles of hand sanitizer branded with the Meritus logo and distributed them to the school districts.
The schools also needed personal protection equipment (PPE). Again, Meritus stepped up by providing supplies.
Business development, which until recently relied almost exclusively on personal contact and face-to-face meetings, has had to reinvent itself during the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic through equal parts ingenuity and remote technology.
“The word ‘interesting’ doesn’t begin to cover it,” says Templet.
While Meritus has a community charter, it started as an education-based credit union, and Templet’s focus is serving local school employees. Area school districts were virtually shut down in mid-March, she says.
“Of course I touched base with them,” Templet says. “We sent out an email and wrote multiple blog posts informing school employees what to do with their savings during a crisis, how to support their local businesses and economy, and what the credit union can do for them, such as deferring payments.
“We usually set aside money for a grant, but we decided to use that money right away through a random drawing,” she continues. “We kept in touch but didn’t bother them too much because everything was overwhelming for schools at that point.”
When schools began organizing for fall classes, Templet surveyed school principals and discerned the need for hand sanitizer and PPE. The credit union also commissioned an animated video that talks about the credit union difference to play during virtual meetings.
Templet also secured 51 gallon bottles of hand sanitizer as well as alcohol wipes, all branded with the Meritus logo.
“We are also giving one low-income elementary school 300 branded water bottles because their rules will no longer allow students to use water fountains,” she says. “Many students’ families can’t afford this extra expense, so we hope this can relieve the school’s burden of constantly purchasing more water bottles.”
Templet has scheduled six in-person and five remote meetings with school employees this fall. That’s a far cry from the 30 meetings she would typically have on the docket at this time of the year.
Still, she remains upbeat.
“My focus now is providing as many resources for our members as I can,” she says. “I feel like we’re making our relationships stronger because members are experiencing our commitment to serve them firsthand. This is what credit unions were made for.”
NEXT: Shifting gears
In Appleton, Wis., Kari Stockinger, business development manager at $298 million asset Prospera Credit Union, focuses on businesses and organizations in the Fox Valley area.
“I was out virtually every night at events, and at lunch touching base with people,” Stockinger says. “But that dried up overnight with the pandemic.”
She shifted gears to create virtual happy hours and networking lunches via Zoom for people with common interests. “I might schedule one for area realtors and another for business owners,” she says. “We also had a women’s group.”
In the early days of the lockdown, “people were hungry for connection,” Stockinger says.
That early bump has plateaued, however. “People are looking for more human contact,” she says. “We have to step back and ask, ‘How can we adjust this?’”
Facebook has been a valuable to tool to gauge the pulse of the business community.
“You can glean information on what’s happening with businesses and what people are doing individually,” she says. “I learned about a member who had an accident and needed a new car. It’s also a way to reach members who own businesses.”
As quarantine restrictions begin to be lifted, some members are willing to meet face to face.
“People are glad to see you,” Stockinger says. “But with this second wave of the virus hitting, that reaction seems to change day to day. Right now there’s a lot of tension about kids going back to school.”
Consultant Lara Brecher, a former credit union business development manager, offers five tips for reaching out to clients during the pandemic:
1. Get organized. This is a great time to get in touch with clients who have fallen off the radar and to catch up on correspondence.
“If you have a customer relationship management system, go through it and determine if all your contacts are even still available,” she says. “Do your SEGs have furloughed employees? Do they need assistance? Be creative with helping them out.”
2. Find new business. While it’s important to connect with current community partners, it’s a prime time to reach out to new potential clients, Brecher says.
“Talk to local business organizations,” she says. “Find out if they received Paycheck Protection Program loans and how you can help them through that process or help their employees with financial assistance. Seek out webinars and online events where you can make additional contacts.”
3. Get out there. Brecher says Zoom and similar technologies have actually lowered barriers for setting up meetings with people and groups who were difficult to contact before COVID-19.
“One of my issues when I was in business development was just finding time to physically meet people,” she says. “Zoom takes a lot of those issues off the table. People don’t avoid meetings as much.”
4. Focus on financial well-being. If you don’t have a financial counseling program, start one. If you do offer this service, “ramp it up,” Brecher says. “Now is the time to expand your education and get certified.”
5. Embrace your community focus and use it to your advantage.
“Community is more important than ever right now,” Brecher says. “It a perfect time to get involved in your community and show what your credit union is all about, especially your commitment to members. Think about what members need from you right now.”