Marketing vs Operations

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Oil and water. The Union and the Confederacy. Marketing and operations.

The latter has long divided credit unions of all sizes, but those that intend to grow to a larger size say the turf battle can-and must-be addressed.

During CUES' Marketing, Operations and Technology Conference here, representatives of all three disciplines met for a session to discuss how they have attempted to overcome intra-credit union rivalries that often have roots in fundamental personality differences of executives filling those job titles

Two people, one each from marketing and operations, led the discussion, with Bob Hoel, executive director of the Filene Research Institute. Lynn Gregory, VP-marketing with Johns Hopkins Credit Union in Baltimore, said that the "old world" view of marketing's limitations must change. Florence Brown, VP-operations with FORUM Credit Union, Indianapolis, said she agreed, pointing to the "evolution in the nature of all three positions."

Hoel said credit unions that intend to prosper have no choice but to find ways to mesh marketing and operations.

"In my travels around the country, it's been an interesting, interesting 12 months. We've been in a recession with a bit of recovery. And some of our credit unions have been struggling with loans. But we've found some credit unions that are absolutely booming in loan demand, and not just mortgage demand," he noted. "Why are they doing so well? We find that marketing, operations and technology are all working together."

Hoel said research shows the opportunity available to credit unions that are losing business to other lenders. Of credit union members who have auto loans, only 42% have it with the credit union; 38% of members with personal loans have those loans at the credit union. For members with other loans the numbers are equally low: 15% of student loans, 30% of Visa/MasterCard; 25% of second mortgages, and 20% of HELOCs.

"In our organization we're fairly lean-staffed, and it's interesting to me how many things that are tied to marketing end up being technology- or operations-oriented," said Gregory. "When we did VISA check cards, it had a picture on the front of it, so it became marketing. But when the mag stripes didn't work, they called me and I don't know anything about mag stripes. I also learned a lot in implementing the home banking system. In marketing, I'm very attuned to the end-users' perception, and I don't care about how it is put together on the backend. I don't care about the technology."

Both Gregory and Brown said their credit unions have made changes in the types of people they hire.

"I do think that previously we looked for people with great technical skills and knowledge, and today we look for people with great interpersonal skills and who are great communicators," said Brown. "We want people who are committed to our organization and who can see our vision. It's hard to teach that. When we look for those 'A' players, we're looking for a whole different animal than we did before.

Hoel agreed, observing, "It's hard to train people to be good salespeople who don't have an open mind about doing it. They don't change. They find everything wrong with it. They just don't want to sell."

While Brown is responsible for operations, when asked to identify the most successful thing FORUM Credit Union has done in the past year she pointed to an image advertising campaign that has significantly boosted awareness. The campaign uses the theme, "Your FORUM. Your voice."

One credit union representative at the session who oversees both marketing and IT said her shop has struggled most with "not looking at the little things and focusing on the big picture on what our members want. We want the same look and feel electronically as we have in the office. I think in the past we had an e-Branch and made it look pretty, and then internally our staff is working on a system that isn't as sophisticated as the e-Branch."

Battle Over Image

Gregory said Johns Hopkins Credit Union has had to fight the same battle. "We've tried to create a consistent image. We use two of the (Johns) Hopkins buildings in our materials. One thing I'd like to do is to stop and reevaluate all of our touch-points-everywhere the member sees the credit union. Even now we're getting ready to build a new branch, and we're concerned with a consistent image."

Added Brown, "We have used our VP of marketing as the champion for that particular initiative. The person who handles the technology and myself work closely with marketing to have similar goals and objectives and have a lot of interaction to ensure we're all on the same page."

How To Handle Communications

One audience member pressed others for information on how to handle communication between departments.

"We use our Intranet to make sure we have a centralized source to compose all of our mailings and then we coordinate that," said Brown.

Gregory said that credit unions can't forget to also market to their staff. "Sometimes you almost have to market to your staff to get them to take the time to read what it is you're doing. They will put it aside and not read it. We have a 'current marketing promotions' area that they can see on our Intranet. With some of our staff we limit their Intranet access. We also find that some of our people don't read their e-mail for a week, in part because we put limits on it."

Another credit union representative said his CU's supervisors, in their department meetings every month, go over department-wide information, and then go over information not related to that department. "We have made it clear to employees it's their job to read the Intranet every day. We use the brand, 'We are the people who know,' because people get frustrated going to financial institutions and other businesses in not being able to get answers," the audience member said.

"I believe the CEO has an enormous responsibility, and that is to ensure the entire organization is on the same page," said Brown. "They need to make sure everyone understands the visions, the goals, the values of the organization. And the CEO can do that in different ways. We meet every single Monday at 7:30 a.m. I feel confident I know what we're trying to accomplish this year and even five years from now. One really fun thing we did was to take the Myers/Briggs test and discover our personality types. We found everyone's personality strengths and weaknesses, so we could communicate with each other. I know the CFO just wants facts from me. But it all has to start with the head of the organization."

Where Responsibility Lies

One chief operating officer said his credit union has ensured that "responsibility is where it's supposed to be. If we're buying a loan system, in the past we might have given that to IT. But now we give it to the loan department. We have a project steering committee that meets every two weeks if not more frequently, and identify the appropriate person as the lead person on every project."

Another credit union rep offered as an example, "We have begun to hire people at every level who have some level of process-improvement background. We find those people encourage and embrace change, and that it tends to infuse the whole organization."

Among the biggest debates within credit unions is who should "own" the website, and marketers and operations execs were divided on that responsibility.

One marketer said he has been "wrestling with the management team for about a year now, and it's not because I'm a power-monger, but because I think to build maximum potential for members, marketing is the best place for it to be housed."

Gregory said that at Johns Hopkins CU, the website falls under marketing, which is a "mixed blessing. I think it depends on your set-up and whether it's hosted by an outside organization. It's a delivery channel. For your member who's just coming on their to conduct a transaction, then you want them to have a good experience. On the other hand, I know that one of the first places I go looking for information is a website. So from that standpoint, that's where marketing wants to make it very easy for them to find the information. But you have to work in conjunction as a team with the IT department."

One audience member suggested a different strategy. "We created a business development group. Marketing is responsible for driving the traffic to the site, for the content and the interactivity. IS is responsible to make sure it's up and running, that it's secure and that browsers work with it. And then we have an electronic service delivery group, and that's the Contact Center. Their job is to deal with any e-mails that come in, the applications that come in and the transactions. We developed a communications plan and an operations plan, with everyone's roles described in there."

But one VP-operations said he believes the website is clearly the domain of operations. "We're responsible for what goes on behind the scenes. We're like the fire department, you don't hear about us unless something breaks. I would contend that everything that goes on with the web is an operations function."

Another senior manager in operations said his credit union has multiple areas of responsibility. "The overall look and feel of our website is in our marketing area. But there are many pieces that fall into other areas. Our IT guys can't change anything, even wording since they seem to have some problems with grammar, without approval from marketing."

What is it about marketers that irritates operations execs, and vice versa? Operations execs said those right-brained, creative marketing types need to provide more "quantifiable facts and figures to support the ideas they have.

One marketer, however, noted that at her credit union there are 11 people in operations, and just one full-timer in marketing. "Trying to get all those facts and figures is very difficult. We are overwhelmed."

Responded another operations exec, "Marketing folks are unique; they can dream up a lot of stuff, and often operations is more concerned about can it be done. We are very data-conscious, but we try to help out."

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