CU Water Cooler

7 Steps to Better Business Development (These Will Actually Work!)

Sean McDonaldComment

Let’s face facts—business development is one of the fastest growing trends in the credit union industry. Credit unions are redefining the art of business development. Some credit unions are doing a wonderful job. Some credit unions are woefully behind. But my guess is that the majority is in that “nexus” of realizing how important business development is but is not sure how to approach it.

Here are 7 steps that all credit unions can take right now to improve the business development function:

  1. Understand what credit union business development is and what it isn’t. Credit union business development is an intense focus on building relationships with centers of influence within a CU's service footprint. CU business development isn’t simply showing up at a charity event to “get your name out there.” CU business development is comprised of a skill set that includes sales and service, networking, public speaking, and outreach. CU business development isn’t pressure-selling. CU business development is important for all credit unions – whether community chartered or SEG-based. CU business development isn’t just for SEG penetration anymore.
  2. Perform an audit of your current membership. Many credit unions have MCIF platforms which allow credit unions to segment membership, identify trends, categorize savers and borrowers, and ascertain which members are either already profitable or on the cusp of profitability. But MCIF systems are expensive and not every credit union has the means to afford one. That’s OK! Most core processing suppliers have report writing programs that will allow credit unions to determine the makeup of their membership base. Credit unions should start developing more business among the existing members. Once that is underway, more resources can be dedicated to acquiring new memberships and relationships. It’s amazing that many credit unions do not use the data that is at their fingertips to develop business. The research and data exist. Use it!
  3. Set realistic goals and measure progress. Simple enough, right? Business development goals need to be achievable and they also need to be flexible. The marketplace is always changing so to have iron-clad, unchangeable business development goals is just silly. Also remember to measure progress along the way and be willing and able to make adjustments to your plan. “If you don’t measure it, you can’t manage it.”
  4. Train your people! Business development requires a specific skill set on the part of the employees charged with its tasks. (See #1 above.) Too many credit unions simply tell employees that their responsibilities now include business development. But they don’t define the role adequately and they don’t provide any training or development programs to help their employees achieve success. This has to stop. It is crucial to teach and train. 
  5. Let your BD staff go out to the world and prosper! BD professionals should not be chained to a desk in an office. They can’t do their job properly if they are not allowed the freedom to be out of the office to meet with people. Sure, they should come in from time to time to “check-in.” No one is suggesting that these staffers not be held accountable for their work. But the best BD people shouldn’t be micro-managed or tied to a time clock. Remember you should be looking for self-starters when hiring for business development. They are already aware of the concepts of responsibility and accountability. Finally (and this is very important…) Please make sure that staff members who are found to be gossiping or grumbling that the “BD people don’t work” (because they are not in the office all the time) are put in their places right away. Not everyone understands BD at its core. But I have seen too many morale issues at credit unions that do not address gossip and grumbling on the part of staff members who don’t know what they are talking about. Not every employee needs to work at a desk in an office. That way of thinking is old and dangerous.
  6. Don’t be afraid to “sell.” Business development involves selling. There’s no way around it. Credit unions sell their services all day, every day to their existing members and potential members. To deny this is foolish. Enough said.
  7. Get in the game! The business development function should be an integral part of your credit union’s strategic plan. BD needs to be involved in high-level discussions and planning. BD touches all aspects of the organization from marketing to community outreach to product development to communications. BD is not going away—it is getting stronger and more credit unions are embracing its significance to the overall success of the industry. 


Sean McDonald is the President of Your Full Potential, LLC and the founder of the Credit Union Business Development Academy. He is a frequent speaker at national conferences for the credit union industry and has also worked with individual credit unions and state leagues/associations throughout the country. He is a member of the National Speaker’s Association and the American Society for Training & Development. He is the Chair of the Credit Union National Association’s Marketing & Business Development Council. In 2008, he was the recipient of the Council’s Business Development Professional of the Year Award. Sean can be reached at or by phone at (201) 920-9328.