'Free' Always A Powerful Message, But CEFCU Has Improved Upon It

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In a world where "free" and "all you can eat" are the two most powerful marketing pitches, sometimes the key to SEG and business development is as simple as popcorn.

CEFCU Business Development Manager Gary Nester has the free giveaway down to a science, but it took some learning. When his Peoria, Ill.-based credit union put together a special basket with a coffee cup, a packet of instant coffee and a video about CEFCU, the idea was to encourage the decision maker at a prospective SEG to take just seven minutes out of his day to learn about the credit union, while enjoying the complimentary cup of coffee.

"What we realized is that the video is probably sitting on someone's desk and has never been watched," Nester told the audience at The Credit Union Journal's SEG & Business Development conference. "We want to make sure our solicitation goes to the right person. A lot of times you send it out the owner, and it never actually gets seen by the right person because it just sits on the owner's desk forever."

And then the light bulb went on for Nester-literally. The next basket was a much simpler affair but with a clever touch: a lightbulb filled with popcorn and the message, "At CEFCU Bright Ideas Are Popping Up Everywhere!"

"It's an attention-getter. It gets our name out there and they don't have to take time out to watch a video or make coffee," Nester explained.

CEFCU uses Dun & Bradstreet reports, newspapers, television, radio and referrals to help generate new leads for potential SEGs and also turns to a variety of clubs and organizations, such as Rotary, Kiwanis and the Chamber of Commerce. These things all come into play when it comes time to actually reach the decision maker, because often the first step is getting through the gatekeeper, noted Nester.

Of course, giveaways work at this stage, too. "We are not above bribery," Nester said, suggesting business development officers come armed with donuts, candy or cookies to help charm the gatekeeper. "Make the gatekeeper happy to then you can eventually get in to see the decision-maker."

But when no amount of bribery seems to be working, that's when getting involved in various community organizations can really pay off. "Go to networking events where you have a chance to meet the decision-maker without having to go through the gatekeeper," Nester suggested. "Find out what issues or events are near and dear to their hearts and then sponsor an event that they're interested in. It generates goodwill and gives you an 'in' with the decision-maker."

Once a CU has its foot in the door, Nester said it's just like going on that first date: the key is to remember it's not all about you.

"When you meet with the decision-maker, you have to remember it's not just about the credit union, it's what the credit union can do for them," he advised. "You have to know their business and show your interest in them. That means you've got to do your homework, first. Ask questions about their concerns and needs. Then offer a value proposition, something that is value added for the business owner. If you have something different than the competition, play that up."

One potential value proposition is member business loans and services, something CEFCU has been offering for about five years.

Basic etiquette applies: always remember to send a thank you (yes, another giveaway is in order) for the meeting, even if it doesn't end with the CU acquiring another SEG. After all, it likely will take more than one meeting to secure the new business.

One of Nester's favorite giveaways is the "gift that keeps on giving": a candy jar that gives business development officers an excuse to stop by to refill the candy jar and just "check in" with the business.

"As soon as the ink has dried [on a new SEG], it's time to start developing that SEG by going to employee meetings, holding credit union days and participating in benefit fairs," Nester commented. All of that activity, which should also include e-mail blasts, new products and special car sales needs to be followed up with revisits to continue to build rapport and give the CU a chance to solve problems for the SEG.

Continued penetration at a SEG often is driven by the relationship the CU has with it's ambassador (usually the HR person at the SEG). Lunches, birthday cards, Christmas gifts, the refillable candy jar, all are ways to build that relationship.

"Remember personal details, such as weddings and graduations. Take notes and go over those notes right before your next visit so you'll remember to ask questions about those personal details you learned at the last meeting," he advised.

Even when a BD officer is doing the job right, there are other obstacles: the business could close or come under new ownership, or the ambassador could leave. Any of these things can suddenly close off a CU from its SEG. "You have to ask whether you can keep servicing this SEG," Nester related. "If you are no longer able to conduct CU days and be on-site for meetings, find out why not and figure out if you can still service them or not, and if not, it's time to move on."

One way CEFCU keeps track of its SEGs is by going through a semiannual report process with the SEGs.

Finally, the successful business development department tracks all of the CU's SEGs, not only to ensure up-to-date information about that group but also to keep track of who is contacting whom. "It's embarrassing to make a call and have them say, 'gee, so and so was just here'" Nester advised. "You want to be consistent and contact them often, but you want it to be a coordinated effort."

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