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Just how willing are you to be a "pain in the butt?"

Already some of you are thinking, "I'm not, but some of my co-workers, well, they seem more than willing." They may be the future, as one person believes that if your CU plans to grow, that's exactly what you're going to need to be.

It's advice that comes from someone who spent years inside credit unions before leaving for another industry and then returning (at least in part) in a new gig offering consulting. It was those years away from CUs in a different, often cutthroat, industry that John MacDonald said have given him a refreshed perspective on how CUs often fail when it comes to driving new business.

MacDonald, president of Massachusetts-based Big Decisions, LLC, exited CUs to spend seven years in real estate, including the commercial side. For sellers and buyers real estate may be all about location, location, location, but for agents/brokers it's all about closing, closing, closing. And that's where he sees the biggest shortcoming in CU "business development."

Still Need To Close The Deal
Before we rebranded it as Grow Show, the Journal's annual event was known as the "Business Development" conference, a term that would catch on, with the CUNA Marketing Council even adding the words to its official name. But developing new members is one thing; closing them is quite another.

MacDonald, who gave a strong presentation on sales at the Journal's Business Development meeting back when he was still in CUs, recently polled attendees at that CUNA Council meeting what they are doing to develop biz, and a show of hands found most doing the traditional stuff, recruiting SEGs, on-site visits, attending Chamber events, etc. When MacDonald asked "Is anyone doing anything totally unique?," no hands were raised (hands remained on laps when he asked about social media, as well).

"My philosophy in BD and sales is constantly create, constantly promote, constantly be positive, constantly listen and constantly close," he said. "The one thing I see in Credit Union Land is the inability to close the deal, leaving the fruit on the vine that is waiting to be plucked."

Drawing on his own experience MacDonald shared what he called a "painful story."

"When I left to start my own firm, within three days of my press release I got calls from four different banks asking for my business," he related. "I've been a member of four credit unions, three of which offer business lending and accounts. I've been a CU member my entire life. Do you know how many credit unions called me that first week? Zero. Do you know how many have called me to this day, seven and half months into my business? Zero. Yet I receive a phone call from a banker every week. He wants to know 'How's your business going? Have you hired employees? Do you take credit cards?' I don't hate it, because they're good at it and want to help me."

If your credit union is looking to grow this year (and I'm thinking that's a gimme), MacDonald urges listening carefully to members and potential members and "creating ideas from what they tell you. Be proactive. If you're looking for a strategy, it's pretty simple: Be there, be everywhere in the community."

Where you shouldn't be, he advised, is a state of sameness.

"Everybody is saying lower rates on loans, higher rates on sayings, direct deposit, etc.," he observed. "Everybody is doing that. Don't use 'We have great service, we have friendly staff.' If you don't have a friendly staff, you should close the doors. It's not a differentiator. It's about what you are able to deliver. Have people make a decision because of you. You are the credit union. Make it so they don't want to do business with the credit union, they want to do business with you."

If MacDonald's dose of humility isn't sufficient for you, he also served up some reality.

"You can't walk away thinking you're going to get the business. You have to ask for it. Ask what other credit unions have met with them. I've met with the VP of HR who didn't even know who their credit union was," he said. "I know it's un-credit union like and you don't want to step on other credit unions' toes. Phooey! Other banks are going in there and asking to be the only bank. ASK for it; it's not pushy. Ask to be a source for business lending and business accounts. Ask to meet with the CFO and ask to bring in your business lending people."

Smiles Aren't Enough
MacDonald stressed that it just isn't enough that CUs are "one of the greatest industries in the country," adding that "banks are taking your milk money and you're letting them. CU members are not loyal just because you smile and proclaim to offer better service."

MacDonald shared research showing that 48% of sales people never follow up with a sales prospect, that 25% follow up once, and only 10% make more than three contacts. All that despite the research showing that 80% of sales are made on the fifth to 12th contact.

"Don't ever worry about being a pain in the butt. Be tenacious, never give up, unless they tell you, 'Don't ever call me again,'" said MacDonald. "Be confident about what you're selling. You have the greatest product in the world."

Frank J. Diekmann can be reached at frank.diekmann@sourcemedia.com.

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