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Chances are, your membership association has a director, a membership coordinator or some other individual who’s whole purpose is to increase the membership in your association. This is logical; if no one is focused on growth and retention, it won’t happen. At least, it’s not very likely.

However, for many associations, the line between membership coordinator and sales person becomes blurred. Again, this makes sense. To join your association, members must pay a fee of some sort. Therefore, the focus often shifts from encouraging new members to join to selling memberships. Someone focused on building relationships can easily become a cold-calling sales person. What does this mean? A few things, but none of them are good as far as your association’s growth outlook.

What’s the Difference?

You might be wondering “what’s the difference?” Why is the act of selling memberships any different from encouraging new members to join? The difference is slight, but, it’s definitely there. And, to understand how to overcome it, it’s critical that you understand it.

Selling Memberships

To an extent, to grow your membership, you need to sell. I’m not disputing that; it is what it is. When someone must pay to do something or to receive some sort of benefit, the transaction is going to look like a sale.

However, sales people aren’t always regarded in the highest possible manner. They’re questioned, they are hung up on and their emails go ignored. Why? Their motives are clear from the start. If someone feels pressure to take some sort of action because of the general nature of sales – especially relating to something like joining an association – they go into shutdown mode. They turn off their ability to hear what membership is all about and they go into “avoid the sale, avoid the salesperson” mode.

Encouraging New Members to Join

Think of encouraging new members to join like you would think of shining a bright light on an otherwise unknown, dark area. That light is going to bring knowledge of what exists in that area to life, it’s going to start conversations and it’s going to lead somewhere else.

This is what encouraging new members to join should look like. Your membership coordinator – or whatever the role is called in your association – should be looking for ways to shine light on the benefits of your association on a regular basis. When these benefits are clear, and when people see the great things that come along with joining your association, signing up will become something that they feel ownership in, like they came up with the idea on their own, instead of it being just another sales transaction.

How Do You Encourage Sign-Ups?

Now that you understand the difference, step back and examine your association’s model. Do you simply try to sell membership, or, do you make membership irresistible to your target market? Where, on that continuum, would your efforts fall?

If you’re ready to stop selling memberships and to turn the table – with the chance at even better results – the time to make a few changes is now. Here’s how to start.

1.       Do More Listening than Talking

Yes, networking with those that could potentially become members of your association but have yet to do so is important. Not selling doesn’t mean staying out of the networking world altogether. But, think about changing your conversation structures. Ask more questions than you answer, find out what drives potential members and demonstrate that you care about the responses you’re given. This applies both online – in membership focused association platforms like Social HubSite – and offline, at in-person networking events and opportunities.

2.       Provide Clear Cut, Easy to Understand Benefits

By joining your association, members will have access to specific benefits and deliverables. Some of them are tangible, some of them not. Think these through. Broadcast them whenever it’s possible to do so. Know them inside and out. Then, look for ways to bring them up during normal conversations. If someone indicates that they’re having trouble in a certain area and one of your membership benefits could provide a solution, be ready to share it.

Take it one step further by creating a “membership benefits” document available on your homepage and inside your Social HubSite. This should be available to both members – to share with non-members and to remind themselves of the benefits they’re entitled to – and to non-members, to access on their own.

When membership benefits are clear and easy to understand, they’re easier to share without sounding like you’re rattling off bullet points. Natural conversation pieces are always better for encouraging action.

3.       Build Relationships and Be Ready to Groom them for the Long Term

Just because someone has yet to join your association doesn’t mean that a relationship with that individual – or business – is any less valuable than a relationship with your current members. Look for ways to include them in events and conversations.

Consider creating a group inside your private network that’s just for nonmembers; it could limit access to certain pieces of information, but provide important opportunities for highlighting benefits. Start conversations, reach out regularly and ask how business is going. The options are limitless, but, it all comes down to optimizing that relationship until it moves forward, without putting pressure on the individual in question.

Are you ready to maximize your membership efforts? Then, the time to stop selling is now. Focus on the three points listed above and get started today.

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