Monday, April 2, 2018

Membership Sales Is About More Than Just Increasing Membership Numbers

We focus a lot on membership sales in my association. This year perhaps more than at any time in recent memory because we have identified increasing our membership numbers as our Wildly Important Goal for the year. In true 4DX fashion, we're trying to engage the whole organization in a concentrated effort on identifying membership leads and recruiting them in as members.

In one of our recent meetings and discussions on the topic, something important occurred to me. As important as increasing membership numbers is in my association, the efforts that we're putting into that objective are, ultimately, about something more than just increasing membership numbers. They are also very much about defining and shaping the value proposition that our association offers its members.

Too often, it seems, our recruitment efforts are framed around our own perceptions of value. How we talk about networking is a good example. We sometimes talk as if networking was a commodity that we were selling. Why should you join our association and come to our conference? Because of the networking! The networking is just fantastic. Exactly what a busy professional like you is looking for.

But from the prospective member's point of view, they are probably less interested in the networking and more interested in what the networking can do for them. They want to learn from other professionals in the industry, or open up new business opportunities, or benchmark their companies against others in their competitive space. Descriptions of this nature are more likely to resonate with a prospect than any generic statement about the value of our networking. Join our association and come to our conference, where you can learn from other professionals in our industry, open up new business opportunities, and benchmark your company against your competition.

Here's the point. Statements of value like the example I provided above get written, revised, and become most effective when they are tested and developed in discussion with real members and membership prospects. Crafting all your marketing copy in the office and launching it untested on the world is one of the best ways to get it wrong.

A sales discussion is an opportunity to sell something, yes, but it is also an opportunity for market research and education. Maybe what we're saying isn't resonating with our prospects. But we shouldn't assume that means they don't want what we're selling. Perhaps what we're offering has no value, but perhaps we're just not describing the value in terms that are meaningful to the prospect.

Either way, a missed sale should always be viewed as a teaching moment for the organization. Whether the disconnect came from a true lack of value or from a perceived lack of value, there is work that the organization needs to do. In simple terms, it may need to change its programs or change their marketing copy.

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This post first appeared on Eric Lanke's blog, an association executive and author. You can follow him on Twitter @ericlanke or contact him at

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  1. Eric, excellent article, and I am in complete agreement with you. See my own article about membership development on a similar theme, and let me know what you think:

  2. I like your perspective, Deborah. Ask (and understand) before selling.