Selling the CU Experience

Award-winning marketers share their secrets to success.

October 29, 2013
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“Justify your existence” would be a fitting mantra for these marketing and business development rock stars, who sing the praises of strong analytics as way to prove their endeavors are worth the money budget crunchers sometimes begrudgingly allot to them.

The CUNA Marketing & Business Development Council named these Diamond Award-winning professionals as their top marketers for 2013:

Lesley Carrell, senior vice president of marketing for $750 million asset Fibre Federal Credit Union in Longview, Wash. (Hall of Fame);

Andy Reed, manager of business development for $5.5 billion asset American Airlines Federal Credit Union in Fort Worth, Texas, and secretary/treasurer for the CUNA Marketing & Business Development Council (Business Development Professional of the Year); and

Lisa Nicholas, vice president of marketing for $627 million asset Amplify Federal Credit Union in Austin, Texas (Marketing Professional of the Year).

These pros discuss their philosophy to marketing/business development, keys to success in this arena—and which rock stars they’d be if given the chance.

CU Mag: What’s your guiding marketing/business development philosophy?

Reed: “Leadership equals sales.” I heard this expression from a credit union CEO whose career began as a marketer [Teresa Freeborn, CEO of Xceed Financial Federal Credit Union, El Segundo, Calif.], and it quickly became my philosophy as well.

Credit unions can’t take the marketplace by storm if they don’t understand the contribution they make to people’s financial well-being. And the best way to make that happen is to become a member and experience the difference.

We have to sell people on the credit union experience. Hopefully, we do that consultatively, through our commitment to improve people’s financial well-being and not to drive numbers or metrics.

But here’s the real deal: Number crunchers can’t crunch numbers without numbers to crunch. If credit unions don’t embrace a sales culture, give our profession a seat at the strategic table, and get serious about growth, our industry is at high risk of extinction.

Business development is about ensuring survival. Training is the backbone of the organization, and business development is the future.

Nicholas: Marketing should be built on a strong foundation that results in a positive outcome for the member and is fiscally responsible for the organization. We’ve had a lot of success getting team members on board and genuinely believing in what credit unions do: helping people achieve financial success.

So we do a lot of internal training for staff, and also for members. I think that’s why they come back and refer us to their friends.

Also, marketers have to know where they’ve been so they know where to go. So I base a lot of our decisions on analytics.

Carrell: My philosophy has always been that marketing is as important as finance, operations, information technology, or any other discipline in helping credit unions succeed.

To be successful, a good marketer has to be proactive in leading efforts to update, launch, and improve products, procedures, systems—and we must always think strategically.

NEXT: Keys to marketing success

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Great article! Unfortunately, most employees don’t feel valued or appreciated by their supervisors or employers. In fact, research has shown that the predominant reason team members quit their jobs is because they don’t feel valued. This is in spite of the fact that employee recognition programs have proliferated in the workplace – over 90% of all organizations in the U.S. has some form of employee recognition activities in place. But most employee recognition programs are viewed with skepticism and cynicism – because they aren’t viewed as being genuine in their communication of appreciation. Getting the “employee of the month” award, receiving a certificate of recognition, or a “Way to go, team!” email just don’t get the job done. How do you communicate authentic appreciation? We have found people have different ways that they want to be shown appreciation, and if you don’t communicate in the language of appreciation important to them, you essentially “miss the mark”. Additionally, employees need to receive recognition more than once a year at their performance review. Otherwise, they view the praise as “going through the motions”. A third component of authentic appreciation is that the communication has to be about them personally – not the department, not their group, but something they did. Finally, they have to believe that you mean what you say. How you treat them has to match the words you use. If you are not sure how your team members want to be shown appreciation, the Motivating By Appreciation Inventory ( will identify the language of appreciation and specific actions preferred by each employee. You then can create a group profile for your team, so everyone knows how to encourage one another. Remember, employees want to know that they are valued for what they contribute to the success of the organization. And communicating authentic appreciation in the ways they desire it can make the difference between keeping your quality team members or having a negative work environment that everyone wants to leave. Paul White, Ph.D., is the co-author of The 5 Languages of Appreciation in the Workplace with Dr. Gary Chapman.

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