It’s the question we hear more than any other when we’re consulting with a Chamber of Commerce or facilitating a Membership Campaign: “Is there one common problem that you see everywhere you go?” At first, we really couldn’t come up with a good answer. Many Chambers struggle with one of a few very common issues like recruiting, engaging and retaining their members or time management concerns around too many events, but could we sum it all up into one common challenge we see time and time again?
It wasn’t until we got to Naperville, Illinois last month and worked with Mike Evans and his staff at the 100 year old, 5-Star Naperville Area Chamber of Commerce that we finally figured it out. Mike made an off-the-cuff comment about the Chamber having to be “all things to all people”. That was it! Chambers of Commerce across the world have made the mistake of trying to be all things to all their members. How will we ever be able to live up to that standard? Our members…YOUR members…don’t expect you to have every answer to every question. They’re not THAT unreasonable. So what’s the answer??? Well, there’s good news and bad news. The good news is you don’t HAVE to live up to that standard. The BAD NEWS is that the standard we DO have to live up to is pretty damned high, anyway!
WE DON’T HAVE TO BE ALL THINGS TO ALL PEOPLE, BUT WE MUST BE SOMETHING TO EVERYONE
Did you catch the subtlety? OK…if you’ve read this blog or met me in person, you know I’m about as subtle as a sledgehammer. Folks, your members don’t need you to solve all their problems…but they DO expect you to solve one of them. That’s where the difficulty sets in. There is no “one size fits all” formula for keeping your members engaged and happy. It’s an individual thing. So let’s talk about a few things we can do to try and simplify what is, by design, a very difficult thing to do.
3 Steps to Figuring Out What Each Individual Member Wants, Needs & Values…Then Delivering It!
- We can’t go out and have one-on-one conversations with every single member of our Chamber, can we? So the very first thing we need to do is to identify which members are “at risk” and which are “safe”. The members we see at every function…they’re not likely to go anywhere. They’re active, they’re engaged, they’re committed and they’re not dropping any time soon. But ENGAGEMENT does not equal PARTICIPATION. Just because they’re not attending our BAH’s or Ribbon Cuttings doesn’t mean they’re not already aware of the ROI of the organization. Do they volunteer on a committee or sit on a Board? Do they communicate with you regularly or do they open every newsletter you send and maybe even click a few links? If you don’t know the answers, FIND OUT! Make it a staff priority to KNOW who’s engaged and who isn’t.
- Once we’ve identified those members who we feel are “safe”…those who are active and/or engaged with the Chamber at some significant level…we can assume the rest are “at risk” of dropping their memberships until we know differently. The reality is that this can be as high as 80% of your membership. That should scare the HELL out of you!!! We have to get a firm handle on our data so that we can move more of these members to the “SAFE” zone. We recommend breaking those “at risk” members into categories. Most will be smaller companies that would be well-served by a staff member making a personal visit. Others might be larger and deserve a more senior-level visit, either from the CEO or maybe even (GASP!) a Board member. These visits should be impromptu and you should NEVER walk in with sales materials. Show up with a pad of paper, a pen and a handshake. Tell them you’re there to learn more about them, that it’s important to the organization that we understand what they do and what makes them special. At the end, ask them “What keeps you up at night?” and really listen to the answer. They’ll tell you how you and the organization can help them and how you can ensure that they’re no longer “at risk”. Use Chamber resources to fix the things that they tell you are painful and you’ll become more than just another bill due at the end of the year…you’ll be a valuable resource they won’t want to lose!
- Start all over again! Just as every individual will determine for themselves what is of value to them, so too will their needs change over time. We have to go back and reevaluate our membership on an on-going basis to make sure that we really know what’s going on. For that reason, we are HUGE advocates of creating a CULTURE OF ENGAGEMENT and a new staff position we like to call the ENGAGEMENT CONCIERGE. This is someone responsible NOT for “retention” (that’s one of those four-letter SALES words) but for ENGAGEMENT. Just as a concierge does at those fancy, expensive hotels Annette won’t let me patronize, your Engagement Concierge is responsible for making sure every member is getting customized service that makes them feel like royalty. That can’t be a one-time thing. Walt Disney didn’t build his theme parks on the idea of treating everyone special the first time they visited, but EVERY time.
We CAN provide the same level of service if we decide it’s important enough…and I think we’ll all agree it’s easier to be SOMETHING to EVERYONE than it is to be EVERYTHING to EVERYONE!