Successful association leaders will tell you that you can’t take your members’ interests for granted. What worked before to get members to enroll is changing. One major shift lies in the ways people decide to join – people want information and input from colleagues to solve problems; they don’t want to be sold. Your association is most likely evolving to become a dynamic source of solutions and valuable relationships. How do you get that across during membership development?
Here are three essential steps to help position your association as a source of ideas, creativity, and connections that professionals need.
1) Get prospects to buy, don’t sell them.
Inviting a prospect to join your association is essentially a sales campaign. You may wish to see your role as more as a leader, guide, coach, representative or advocate for your members. But when it comes to sales strategy, your prospect’s experience goes much like the classic AIDCA model:
- Awareness – How are you getting on their radar? Where can you cross paths?
- Interest– Once you make a prospect aware of you, how can you feed into their interest? What information can you share to make them want more? What questions and answers engage them?
- Desire –How can you make your prospect want what the association is offering? Establish need. Show how you understand what they are looking for, how to satisfy their requirements, and that you care about solving the problem they want to solve.
- Conviction –Hearing a respected, successful colleague in the industry tell their story of how you helped them is just about the best way to convince prospects to join. In our experiences, the authentic stories of success from members are the most convincing recruitment tools, yet the technique is used infrequently.
- Action – Keep the desired action in easy reach, and provide distinct paths to join until your prospect signs. Make it easy with highly relevant offers, simple signup forms, regular helpful emails, and personal contact. It sounds simple, but many organizations require too many hurdles to place the order. Make it smooth.
We don’t look at sales in the traditional way. We’re not trying to convince someone of something they don’t want. We are providing the prospect the resources and background they need to buy. Everyone loves to buy.
2) Focus on what you do well for a specific niche prospect; don’t aim for universal appeal across your industry.
Just because an organization is in your industry, doesn’t mean they want to join, or are even interested. The day of companies joining organizations to support an industry is gone. What different prospects want from your organization will vary. Therefore, your biggest challenge is to find the one service or benefit the prospect wants the most, and focus on that topic.
We find small businesses want tools and resources to grow. Medium-sized companies need cost-effective ways to stay updated on standards, regulations, and technical issues because they are not large enough to track this quickly on their own. A large company wants a way to influence policies, a seat at the organization’s decision-making table, and to be heard during the regulatory process.
The broad description of reasons to join just don’t work any longer. Your “10 reasons to join” position is just lost in today’s marketplace. Most likely prospects will join for one reason. When you beat them down with ten reasons, then nine are most likely not desired at the point of sale. This means your overall value is going right down the chute as nine less than attractive or non-important items take equal positioning to the most important.
3) Diversify your sales tactics. What worked before won’t get the prospects of today.
Most association events I attend look very homogenous. Often these well-meaning leaders will convince you the services, programs, and sales tactics which recruited their companies years ago still work. They don’t.
Every tactic used for years has not worked for the outlier, the independent type of company, the innovator who thinks your association is old, stale and no longer relevant.
We need different opinions and approaches to solve problems in our work. New ideas open up new opportunities. Diversity helps make our associations relevant to demographics that have already changed. Bringing different viewpoints together builds the energy and value of being part of your association.
Look at your current membership recruitment efforts. Who is on this team and what do they care about? Does it include people who want to see the organization stay the same because it has served them well? How open and deliberate are you about working to embrace new issues and involve members who will shake up your strategy?
Look into attracting members based on technical interests or hot topics. Lure them by offering free briefings, ask the expert or webinars. Resist the urge to load all your prospect emails and blast a meaningless, non-targeted discount. That’s lazy work. When is the last time senior leaders, including the CEO, actually dialed a prospect to tell them about an exciting new industry development? It’s time to re-evaluate the whole game. That is if you want the association to grow.
Your membership development strategy is a never-ending campaign to fit the needs of a prospect to your association. The prospect comes first. Research the company, look for the fit. Attract them with the latest news and information on a hot issue they may not have on the radar screen. Pull them to you through this topic. Then, your prospect is buying, and you’re not selling. Now your dialogue is about value, relevance, and need. That, folks, is what you need to close the deal time after time.
For more content on membership, check out Why Associations Don’t Drop Lapsed Members.