I just got off of a very troubling phone call.  It wasn’t the first time I’d heard this complaint, but it certainly shed light on a problem Chambers and Associations around the world struggle with constantly.  My Virtual Coaching client and I were talking about those two dirty words you KNOW I hate…Recruitment and Retention…when she said something really remarkable.  She told me that she felt like she was wasting a precious resource (her time) because she was so busy replacing the dropped members from the previous year, that she couldn’t ever seem to help the organization actually GROWThink about this for a minute with me: Take the number of members you DROPPED last year and DIVIDE that number by the AVERAGE NUMBER OF NEW MEMBERS you bring in each month.  What did you come up with?  Write that number down!  Now, immediately behind that number, I want you to write the word MONTHS.  That’s right…whatever number you just wrote down is the number of MONTHS your membership development team will work each year just to get back to even.  In the case of my coaching client, she was working TEN MONTHS just to get caught up and replace all the dropped members before she can grow the membership by even one.

Did your number scare you?  Are you (or is your team) on that proverbial hamster wheel for more than half the year just trying to keep up with the losses?  Well, you’re not alone!  Let me share with you a few tips I teach at Institute and with clients around the world on how to be more effective in selling LONG-TERM memberships that don’t need to be replaced every year.

  1. Know what you’re looking for: When someone asks you on the street if you’ve seen their dog, the first question you always ask is “What does he look like?”  It’s tough to find something if you don’t know what you’re looking for.   So, do you know what a LONG-TERM member looks like?  If you’re not sure, I want you to try one of these exercises to figure it out.  First, pull up a listing of your members and filter it for only those members who have been active 3 years or longer.  If it’s a large enough list, maybe you look at 5 year members.  Are there similarities between them?  Are they in a few particular industries or size ranges?  What stands out about them?  If that one doesn’t work for you, try looking at your membership through the 80/20 Rule filter.  Determine your overall budget and multiply times .8 or 80%.  Now order your membership best on total dollars spent with the Chamber and add those amounts up until you get to that 80% number.  Draw a line below the last member, and analyze everyone above it in the same way as we did before.  One of these exercises will help you better recognize who you should be targeting when you consider you have a limited amount of time (resources) with which to “prospect”.
  2. Apply additional filters: Once we figure out what our long-term members look like, we need to filter out a few other variables before we start knocking on doors.  I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again…I don’t think Chambers or Associations should be targeting ANY business that hasn’t been IN business for at least two years.  I’d tell you to filter those younger businesses out of your prospect list because we don’t know if they’ll even SURVIVE the first two years of membership as a business, much less whether they’ll renew for Year Three.  If they come to you and want to join, sign ‘em up!  But let’s not prospect from the lowest common denominator when there are PLENTY of businesses that both fit our 80/20 rule long-term member model AND have proven themselves sustainable long-term.  From there, I’d also filer out previous members.  Again, if they walk in the door, slap an app in front of them.  Otherwise, let them be and focus your time on folks who HAVEN’T already proven a propensity for dropping their membership.
  3. Forget the Show & Tell: When you walk in to a prospect meeting, leave all of your organization’s “membership materials” back at the office.  Walk in with a business card, a pen and a pad of paper.  You’re not there to sell; you’re there to learn about their business and to decide if they fit your ideal vision of a long-term member.  Ask them about their business, learn everything you can and take great notes.  Before you leave, ask them one last question…go ahead, say it with me…WHAT KEEPS YOU UP AT NIGHT?  Get them to tell you about the thorn in their paw.  Let them show it to you.  Let them tell you what would happen if someone were to pull it out and alleviate their pain; solve their problem.  Say to them “I don’t know if I can help you, but I’d like to bring this back to my team at the office.   If we CAN come up with an idea or two that would help you solve one or more of these issues, would it be OK if I came back to show you what we came up with?”  Of COURSE they’ll say yes!  Then go back to the office and create a one-sheet.  Put your logo and their logo at the top, detail the pain points they discussed with you, and then share your solutions to each of those pain points.  At the bottom, show a total “investment amount” that it will take to implement your solution (including membership in your organization and any additional services you added in to solve additional issues) and include a signature line and date for them AND for YOU!  Call them up a few days later and ask them if they’re in the office.  Tell them not to go ANYWHERE!  You’ve got something exciting to show them and you’re on your way to their office RIGHT NOW!  CLICK!

  4. Over deliver on your promises: You’ve gone out of your way to identify the PERFECT prospect, trying to disqualify them along the way.  You built a GREAT proposal that truly solves one or more problems for them.  They agreed that your solution would be worth the investment.  Now it’s time to deliver.  Add calendar updates to check back in with them on a regular basis.  Make sure they’re getting everything you proposed, and THEN some.  Make sure they see you, hear from you, know how to contact you, and make sure they recognize all the benefits you offered them.  If they don’t see it on Day 30, they won’t see it on Day 365 and YOU won’t see their renewal next year.


It’s not hard, it’s just DIFFERENT!  Some might say it’s a 180º difference!  But this much is for certain:  If you can find ways to work just a LITTLE bit smarter, you won’t be spending all those months at the beginning of each year just treading water.  Try these tips for 30 days and see if you aren’t more efficient.  If it doesn’t work, you go back to doing what you’ve always done.  If it DOES work though, you’re on the road to a larger, more sustainable, long-term membership base!