Across the past two weeks it seems that the subject of business development for credit unions has crisscrossed my desk at least every other day.

Some of the conversations have focused on getting clear about the definition of business development as it relates to credit unions.  The core question being whether there is a difference between developing relationships with local businesses and developing the membership base for the credit union.

Other conversations have focused on the challenges involved in doing something that has never really been done effectively by most credit unions.  These conversations usually end up lamenting the lack of success of efforts, and often lead to some questioning of whether the talent pool or experience exists within the credit union industry to really achieve success in the area of business development.

These folks I’ve been speaking with are concerned and anxious to find a way to increase their effectiveness in growing their credit union membership.  Listening to their concerns and sharing ideas has led me to form a few general conclusions that may help you as you think through your next steps in this important area.

First, the days of gripping, grinning, and giving stuff away are over.  Making calls on current SEGs and local businesses to say hello and drop of some credit union branded stuff doesn’t lead to new members, deeper relationships with existing members, or any real impact.  This is especially true if that is the only thing that is being done under the auspices of business development.

Second, many credit union business development efforts struggle for two primary reasons.  The lack of a solid message and clear objectives for each interaction, and the lack of supporting materials that tell help to sell the value of the credit union after the visit.

Third, as with any direct selling process, the success of credit union business development efforts is limited by the lack of a clear and consistent follow-up plan that continues the contact and builds a long-term relationship.  Few people buy on the first, second, or even the third interaction, and it often takes 8-10 contacts before the sale is even considered.

Fourth, there seems to be a gap between activity and accomplishment with regard to credit union business development efforts.  Goals often focus on the number of contacts made and tracking is often limited to building a database.  Specific targets for the number of members or SEGs brought in are not often set, successes are not often celebrated, and ongoing follow-up is not undertaken.

Finally, there is a key missing component to most credit union business development efforts and it is the commitment to closing of the sale.  Yes, it is a sales process, nothing more, nothing less.  To succeed, you need to identify prospects, qualify them, extend your offer, and ask for a sale.

Let me stop there. My intent is not to berate those who are committed to building their credit unions, but rather to suggest that there are some lessons that can be learned by focusing the process on selling the credit union and learning from what successful sales organizations do to achieve the impacts they are seeking. That is what business development needs to be and should be for credit unions.

ACTION ADVICE: Evaluate your efforts in business development and define clear target outcomes. Develop effective materials that support a field sales process, since that is what your business and member development people are actually doing. Commit to repeated exposure of your offer to relevant prospects, and see the process through to the closing of the sale.

It’s Your Turn…What are your experiences in the area of business development? What works and what doesn’t? Please share your success stories and your less than successful ones so that others can learn from your efforts.