Patience, persistence, and the right process turn prospects into members.
Increasing membership is a numbers game, and building the prospect pipeline is the key. To do so, association membership directors and staff need to master the long (or not-so-long) woo.
Sometimes you get a new member over lunch or at a meeting. Sometimes you spend a year bringing a prospect in. In either case, you'll have the greatest success if you follow the same five basic steps. This process works because it focuses on building the relationship; understanding the prospect's needs and perspective; knowing when and how to ask him or her to join and how to follow up; and, ultimately, transforming the prospect into a member.
1. Question, don't pitch. When you meet a prospect, you're making a mistake if you pitch membership right away. Instead, learn about the prospect's business, his concerns, his family, his hobbies. The prospect must know that you care about him. Ask open-ended questions that will identify pain points and, most important, build the relationship. Treat the prospect as if he were already a valued member. The conversation will naturally lead to an exploration of the services your association offers and the prospect's need for them.
2. Offer guidance. After developing a rapport and a good sense of what concerns the prospect, offer guidance. Clarify his goals and ask whether he has considered certain strategies. Once you have a good sense of his needs, suggest ways the association can support him. Be sure to articulate the problem and any related needs using the prospect's language.
3. Make your pitch. After the prospect has acknowledged that the association can help him address some or many of his concerns, ask him to join. Look the prospect in the eye and tell him you would be honored to serve him as a member. Be careful here: Don't push. If the prospect is headed toward membership, great. If not, ask if he needs more information about your association and its services and find out how to follow up appropriately.
4. Follow up. On the follow-up call, ask the prospect whether he has any questions about the membership. Do not be surprised if he has not read any of the materials you provided or made a decision. In that case, use the call as an opportunity to share additional thoughts. Since you both have had a chance to reflect since your last conversation, new issues or concerns may have surfaced. Follow the iterative, often circular nature of the five steps: If necessary, go back to step one.
5. Provide great service. This is the key to membership renewal and referrals. Once you have signed up a new member, continue to invest in and build the relationship. Take the time to understand your members' needs and concerns, and visit them as appropriate.
Wooing new members requires commitment, tenacity, and patience. These five steps provide an effective process to follow. If you stick with it, you'll master the woo and see your membership numbers grow.
Anne E. Collier, MPP, JD, is a professional certified coach with the executive coaching firm Arudia in the Washington, DC, area. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org