You Have to Woo Them

During my weekly project call with a client earlier this week, we were talking about the fact that it’s time to move to “phase two” of our engagement. We’ve already done a lot of good work addressing things that were negatively affecting their ability to retain members, and we’re ready to move on to their recruitment efforts.

I broke out a metaphor I use a lot: you can’t ask prospects to marry you before you’ve even taken them on a date.

We were laughing about using that as an example as Valentine’s Day approaches, and she remarked: “I get it – you have to woo them.”

I loved that way of expressing it!

What I’m really talking about is the ladder of engagement. Fundraisers use this concept a lot (Beth Kanter, in particular, writes and speaks about this frequently), and I think it’s equally important for membership organizations.

We talk a lot about membership being a relationship, not a transaction. If that’s the case, we need to genuinely treat it that way. Just like you wouldn’t – I hope – ask someone to marry you the first time you meet him (or her) for coffee because it’s rude and weird and not likely to work, so the first time a prospect hears from you shouldn’t be a membership pitch. But all too often, that’s what happens: “You signed up for our free enewsletter and maybe even got your first issue? Wouldn’t you like to pay us big bucks to commit to us for a year?!?!”

Um, how should I know (yet)?

You have to give that prospect time to get to know you a little more, so she can assess whether or not she wants to commit, and whether a commitment is right for her and for you. The way you do that is to construct a ladder of engagement. It might look something like:

  • A new person signs up for your free enewsletter.
  • After she’s received a few issues, you send her an email inviting her to do something else with your association that’s also free – maybe download a whitepaper, or get a trial subscription to your magazine, or download a free article from your journal, or attend a free educational webinar, or go to a chapter event where newbies can attend for free.
  • Assuming she does that, you offer her one of those other free options.
  • Assuming she does that, you should be starting to get some sort of a sense of what she’s interested in, so you offer her something that will cost her some money, but not much, and that you’re reasonably sure she’ll like. If she’s downloaded a bunch of stuff to read, maybe offer her a book to purchase. If everything  she’s participate in has to do with the topic of leadership, offer her a webinar on leadership that costs to register.
  • Assuming she takes you up on that offer, you can work through offering her additional things that cost some money (but maybe not as much as membership) and take some time (but don’t require a year’s commitment), learning as you go what types of things she likes to do and what topics she’s interested in.
  • Then, once you’ve both had a chance to get to know each other better and put time and energy into developing and deepening your relationship, and only then, you can ask her to commit, to join. And when you make that membership pitch, rather than just being some generic, “Join us! We’re gr-r-r-r-eat!” bit of fluff, you can actually tailor your explanation of how membership would help her based on what you know about her.

Result? You make fewer membership pitches, but with a much higher success rate, and you see less early-membership churn, because you both were reasonably certain this match was right before you made it. In other words, you’ve built the foundation for a successful long-term relationship.

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