Tools Won’t do all the Thinking for You

It feels like training and consulting go through different phases, and so does the journey of every marketing department or person at various companies and credit unions. A few years ago, it felt like most requests from credit unions were for help in finding general numbers, meaning we simply had to direct them to specific tools. As time has gone on, credit unions are now asking for something more detailed: strategy and analysis.

We’ve promoted this throughout the years in phases, first by starting with here are tools and the numbers they can show, and the analysis they’re capable of providing you. Then, we switched from primarily focusing on the tools themselves to instead exploring specific ideas using tools. We look at ways to study indirect memberships, reviewing loan delinquency, exploring fee income, etc. Thinking strategically comes from adjusting our way of thinking. Instead of saying “How many fees are we charging?” the new questions that emerge are “what fees are we waiving on a regular basis? Should we change our procedures? Do some employees need further coaching on when to waive fees? How can we help more members avoid these fees?”

There are plenty of ways to adjust our thinking when studying different data points, one of those listed above, but there are plenty of tools to assist you in adjusting this mindset. Instead of looking at one single number and focusing on that, focus on the other numbers that surround and influence it as well. In the example above, we’re no longer simply looking at the amount a credit union made from fee income in the previous month. We start looking at fees that were waived, why those were waived, etc. We could also look at a trendline of how much we’ve made or waived in previous months, and see if there’s an established pattern or if there are certain times of the year

The same basic principle can continue when we look at other data sets and ideas as well. Instead of “How many memberships are opening vs closing each month?” we should adjust this to include other questions as well: “Why did we experience such a high number of new memberships/closed memberships last month? What did the members who closed their membership do in the months leading up to their membership closing? How are we ensuring that our new members get and stay engaged?” By asking these other secondary questions, and even some leading questions, we now have shifted from “give me the numbers” to “how do we find the narrative behind the numbers, and change this for the better by taking relevant actions?”

It’s when we start asking those secondary questions that we get the chance to dive deeper into analysis, and take action, which is where the marketing team comes in. While it’s always best to have a separate department or expert for data analysis, that’s not always possible at every organization. Most of the time, marketing staff at credit unions get tasked with monitoring and tracking the important numbers and asking the important questions because taking action is still the most important part of data analysis, and we use data to prepare for and prove our marketing efforts.

The tools won’t think for you – they’ll guide you to asking the right questions, they’ll point you in the direction of taking action, and most of the CU*BASE dashboards we work with are built with that ASAP (Ask, See, Act, Profit) mentality in mind. You will still have to work through that strategic thinking on your own, or with the help of one of our analysts, to ensure that you’re taking the necessary next steps.

I often get asked where each team should start, and here’s my advice that you can take or leave:

  1. Choose up to 3 initiatives that you’re focusing on right now. It can just be one thing if you find that to be easier for you, but I would limit yourself to only 3 and no more. There will be plenty of analysis and action to take with three initiatives to keep you and your team busy for months, if not longer.
    1. Doing it this way instead of going in blindly is wise – we don’t want to get overwhelmed, which is easy to do!
  2. Start with analyzing the data and asking questions. This can go back and forth for a while. The more you analyze, the more questions you ask, leading to more analysis, which can lead to more questions, etc.
  3. Take action – once you’ve done that initial analysis, it’s important to act on what you find. If you’re at a loss for what do, brainstorm with related departments. Is it related to loans? Talk to your lending team. Related to new members? Talk to your tellers and member service teams. The pressure doesn’t always have to completely be on you alone – that’s part of the reason there are multiple people working in organizations.
  4. After taking action, it’s time for more analysis and more questions. How did our marketing efforts pan out? What do we consider successful? Is this consistent with past results? What did/didn’t work? Is there a specific group in our target audience this performed better with?
  5. Then it’s time for more action, and before you know it you’ve got this entire process on a train schedule for each topic, and each topic has a place in your weekly, monthly, quarterly, or annual calendar.

I might make it seem almost too simple, but everyone starts somewhere. This is where a lot of us started, and it’s actually how I got into data analysis, but more on that in another post. Ask questions, review the answers that are revealed, and take action based off of what you see. You’ll be using strategic thinking with the tools available in no time.

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