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Opinion

4 ways PenFed attracts new members

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COVID-19 has changed virtually everything about how America runs its businesses — and sales is no exception.

Companies across the country are hurriedly adapting their sales strategies so they can continue to reach people in a time of crisis.

In high-stress situations like this, it’s easy to assume that the big fish get the most worms. But the strategies I’ve learned from my career in mortgage sales at a large credit union like Pentagon Federal Credit Union are just as relevant for any credit union, no matter its size or region. Having great rates is just half of the equation; a solid lead generation strategy is the other half.

Lead generation takes two forms: organic leads and purchased leads. Organic leads are leads that result from your organization’s own initiatives, whether that’s a marketing campaign, your member base or word-of-mouth recommendation.

Purchased leads, as their name implies, are the names and information that you purchase from another company. These leads can often be trickier to qualify or convert into prospects because multiple financial institutions are purchasing the same information and then competing for that member.

No matter where these leads come from, however, I’ve found that there are several strategies that help me qualify leads.

Be human, be honest

Listen for the human story underneath the query. No one calls because they find mortgage products interesting or compelling. They call because they want help figuring out how to put their child through college or how to pay for unexpected medical bills — and those questions are all the more urgent at uncertain times like this. Adapt your marketing messaging to acknowledge the stressful environment your members are in.

Don’t let your quota drive the conversation; you run the risk of coming across as too “salesy” or pushy. Instead, ask questions and try to build a connection. COVID-19 has actually made that easier to do: Because we’re all impacted in some way, we’re all in this together and can extend sympathy to one another.

That said, sometimes you just don’t have the product or service a client is looking for. Be honest. When you’re honest, you might lose that member for this one encounter, but they might return to your organization for future services. If you try to push them into something not right for them, it can damage their trust in your entire brand.

Ask the right number of questions

Crafting an effective digital inquiry is a delicate balance. On the one hand, you don’t want to ask for too much information. If your inquiry form is too long or asks for too much detail, then the lead will give up halfway through filling it out — particularly at this time, when headlines are clamoring for everyone’s attention.

But if you don’t ask for enough information, you won’t be able to have a meaningful conversation with the lead, and they could wind up feeling as though you’re wasting their time.

Generally speaking, we keep our inquiry forms pretty simple. We look for three pieces of information: name and contact details; what type of loan they’re interested in; and when is the best time to reach out. Then, once we actually have them on the phone, we ask thoughtful questions to fill in the details.

Move fast

Here’s an alarming statistic: If you reach out to a lead in 30 minutes rather than 5 minutes, you are 100 times less likely to contact them. Here’s another alarming statistic: If you reach out to a lead in 30 minutes rather than 5 minutes, you are 21 times less likely to qualify a lead.

Sound crazy? That’s the nature of the digital world we live in: Speed and accessibility are the two most highly valued commodities. If you want to maximize the likelihood of qualifying a lead, you’ll need to develop a consistent lead management strategy. Determine how many times you’ll call, how often you’ll call and how often you’ll follow up via email.

At PenFed, we call a maximum of five times within a 48-hour period, leaving a four-hour space in between calls. After the first, third, and fifth attempts, we send an email. If these efforts don’t lead to anything, we move on, as research indicates diminishing returns for continual outreach after this point.

I also generally avoid calling people on their work phone, even if they give us that information. Most people don’t like being disturbed or sharing personal financial information at work, so it’s generally better to reach out through other avenues.

Streamline your internal processes

If you want to keep up with the fast pace of sales in the digital world, you’ll need your team to work as efficiently as possible. We’ve had the capabilities for our employees to work from home, even before COVID-19 required it. And it’s worked out remarkably well for us.

In April, we saw a 154% increase from a year ago for home equity applications and a 355% year-over-year growth for mortgage applications. Consider allowing your employees to work from home, even after the crisis passes. If that isn’t a possibility, develop a business continuity plan that will allow you to provide consistent service when future disruptive events occur.

If at all possible, it’s also worth outsourcing the initial outreach process. In my experience, about 50% of people who inquire about a loan or product either aren’t ready to follow through or just won’t answer the phone. If you can get another company to weed out these 50%, it enables your team to focus on the intensive, relationship-building work of transferring leads into prospects.

These strategies have served us well over the years at PenFed, but they’re strategies that any credit union can apply. It all comes back to the core credit union mentality of people helping people.

If you keep that goal in mind — indeed, it’s difficult to forget that mentality in moments like this — you’ll have a better chance at success.

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