When it comes to best practices, value trumps products every time.
“I think the scope of business development in the credit union industry is growing more and credit unions are getting keenly involved in developing viable business strategies that are becoming more of an important part of their organization’s overall strategic plan,” said Sean McDonald, chief marketing officer/director of business development at Liberty Savings Federal Credit Union. “There is a need to communicate credit union membership as a benefit as opposed to a list of products and their features.”
McDonald, who is also chairman of the CUNA Marketing & Business Development Council, added that the worst thing to say to a potential client has to be simply stating that the credit union has checking accounts.
“What they want to know is how is your checking going to improve their life,” said McDonald. “What makes your credit union different than where they currently have their account? You can’t spend most of your time talking products. You have to talk benefits how can it make life better or easier.”
According to McDonald, the foundation upon which all business development success has been built starts with the relationship.
“They won’t listen to what you’re saying if you haven’t earned that trust,” said McDonald. “The way you do that is get keenly interested in them. It can’t be about what you can do for them or telling them what they need until you know who you’re talking to. Concentrate on really building a relationship before you even think about cross selling.”
He added that walking the “we provide great service talk” has more meaning and value in building lasting relationships than stating it in a flyer.
“You can talk until you are blue in the face about how great your credit union is, but if the service doesn’t reflect it, then business development goes nowhere,” said McDonald.
He said that has been particularly relevant to the traditional quantity versus quality argument in business development departments.
“The fact is both matter. You can’t ignore the fact that numbers are needed to bolster business development efforts to reflect what you put in,” said McDonald. “The balance is to provide the best possible service you can to as many organizations or people you can realistically serve. Don’t expect a staff of 10 to effectively serve 200 employee groups. Look at the staff skill and who can be served in an outstanding manner, and be involved in the strategic planning before any arbitrary goals are set. If not that then your department should at least have some input.”
He has found at the more successful credit unions, that type of argument has become less of a debate the more involved business development has been in the strategic planning process.
With relationships at the heart of effective business development, McDonald said how they’re built has as much to do with geographic region as the vibe of local communities served.
“For example, bringing in donuts doesn’t work for me,” said McDonald. “If I drop it off as just a gift, people here in urban New Jersey are naturally skeptical and will ask ‘what’s in the box, why are you giving this to me, etc. That may not be the case somewhere else so your approach has to be true to who you serve.”
He added that his preference has always been more toward networking and being present at community events than donuts, cold calls or even onsite visits.
“I think my time is best spent doing things like a chamber business card exchange, that will help me build a relationship with someone,” said McDonald. “With onsite visits rather than set up a table with balloons I do workshops or a lunch and learn. When people see you sitting at that table their defenses immediately go up because they wonder ‘what are they trying to sell.’ I just feel that you have to put in the time to earn the right to ask for their business.”
He said there has to be a shift from the traditional business development mentality to identifying what actually resonates with the credit union’s audience.
“It’s different for everyone, so if donuts help you get in the door great. If it’s not resonating with your target audience stop doing it,” said McDonald. “Another fundamental change in business development departments and the credit union industry as a whole has to be its aversion to the word sales. No matter how you put it business development is about selling. To be effective at selling it all starts with the relationship. I guess the bottom line is make sure that you’re doing something meaningful.”