In an earlier post we took a cursory look at five critical areas where credit unions need to focus attention and energy to improve their performance. This post is the second in a five-part series where we take a deeper look at each of these areas and provide some simple action steps to get the conversation and the action underway.

Business development is emerging as a critical function for credit unions today as they seek to attract new members, expand the number of SEGs they serve, and reach out to new audiences they have not previously served, including the small business community.

Candidly speaking, the business development function historically has not been handled well by credit unions. In many cases it has been viewed solely as ‘member development’ with the focus being on signing up more members, with limited attention to creating profitable relationships with those members. The same can generally be said of SEG-development efforts that have often focused on passing out logo-wear and information packets to those who already believe in and belong to the credit union.

In today’s marketplace for financial services, business development has taken on a new importance. Here are three things your credit union can do to improve your effectiveness:

1. Educate members. The current economic climate has created a rare ‘teachable moment’ as consumers have become much more aware of the importance of financial management and more interested in finding solutions that will work for them. It is a moment not unlike the time during and after the Great Depression, and it provides a tremendous opportunity for credit unions to reach out and strengthen their relationships with their current members, AND to attract new members by helping them find the solutions they are seeking during this challenging time.

For this reason, the foundation of every credit union’s business development program ought to be educating current and potential members. Whether you design, develop, and delivery your own custom programs branded for your credit union, or whether you opt to use pre-packaged materials, you can use the delivery of informative education that helps members deal with their personal financial issues to open the door and strengthen the relationship.

One important thing to remember: There are many ways to deliver effective education and the old model of ‘get them in a room and teach it to them’ may not be the best. People have been trained to have short attention spans and they seek to learn what they need to know at their convenience, not yours. So look to online tools and non-traditional approaches that help you be the convenient solution when they need and want to learn!

2. Target Prospects. Any effective business development effort needs to focus on a target group of people who fit some common profile in order to be successful. In sales we talk about turning suspects into prospects using a set of criteria to pre-qualify them before we invest a lot of time and energy in trying to sell them anything.

Credit unions need to become more skilled at this process…using their MCIF systems to identify their most profitable member profiles by relevant demographics and product usage and then targeting people who look like those people with their business development efforts. Taking it down to the product and service level so that marketing campaigns are focused on those most likely to take action will not only reduce costs, it will also strengthen your relationships with your members because it will become clear that you truly understand their needs.

3. Close the sale. The Achilles heel of most business development efforts in most businesses is that they focus too much on attracting warm bodies and capturing their contact information and too little on asking for the sale. This is especially true of credit unions who feel sales is not something they should be doing because they are about serving their members. But the fact is that you sell me a product that fulfills one of my financial services needs, you are serving me.

The real point here is that the focus of business development within the credit union industry needs to shift away from just informing people about the existence of credit unions, away from relying on the credit union brand as a differentiator, and away from tracking the number of events, mailings, and contacts. The focus instead needs to be on implementing a follow up process that reaches out to the qualified prospects attending the events and receiving the messages…asking them to take action and become a member or to move their loan or IRA or checking and savings accounts to the credit union.

Learning to ask for the order and close the sale is not easy, and it won’t always happen on the first try…it takes repeated exposure to the offer before people will act…but shifting your business development effort toward achieving measurable results in the form of sales is the pathway to success!

ACTION ADVICE: Get your team together and review your current business development efforts. Are you focused on connecting with the right prospects and are you asking for the sale? Have you implemented an effective member education program to improve the financial management skills of your current and prospective members, and in the process positioned your credit union as the real solution to their problems? If not, take action today to revamp your efforts and get them on track!