Monday, July 30, 2018

Recruiting Members Face-to-Face

I was on the road again this past week. As has become my habit, whenever I find myself going somewhere, I check our database to see if there are any members in the area and, if so, I try to reserve some time to go visit them. That worked for one of our most engaged members this week, but on this particular trip there was another kind of opportunity that presented itself.

A non-member, a company similar to many that are already in the membership, was in the same general neighborhood and was willing to meet with me to discuss the possibility of becoming a member.

I jumped at the opportunity. In examining the company and its position in the marketplace, I frankly thought the company was conspicuous by its absence from our membership. And when I found myself across a conference room table from its president, listening to him describe his company, its products and services, the markets it served, and the workforce development challenges it faced, I felt even more confident in that assessment.

All of the company's suppliers, partners, and competitors were already in the membership, and they were all using the association and its services to heighten their competitive advantages in the same spaces in which the prospect company operated. In fact, many of the people who served in our association's leadership ranks were close partners or associates with the prospect company president. Why, I wondered had he not yet decided to become a member? What was holding him back?

When the answer to that question emerged in the course of our conversation, it practically floored me. He had attended one of our conferences as a non-member two years ago, and one of the members of the association had given him the impression that he was not welcome there. This association is not for you, the member reportedly told him. That is, the kind of company you run, it is not welcome in our association.

At first, I didn't know how to react to this anecdote. Frankly, my instinct was to reject it. The prospect company was exactly the kind of company that belonged in our membership. There must have been some kind of miscommunication. Why would a member push such an obviously qualified prospect out of consideration like that?

But there was no respectable way for me to refute the prospect's reported experience, so I didn't attempt to. Rather, I did everything I could to describe and demonstrate the opposite sentiment. Look at all the other companies like yours that are already in our membership, many of them represented in our leadership. Look at the programs we offer, many of the designed with companies like yours in mind. This association is your association, and you can gain a lot of opportunity and advantage by becoming a member and getting involved.

It worked. The prospect company now plans to join our association. But in reflecting upon the experience, I don't chalk that decision up to my masterful rhetorical devices. (Truth is, I don't have any of those; the association's value proposition either sells itself or it doesn't.) In other words, I don't think I talked the prospect into anything he didn't already want to do. What I did do was show up, show interest, and respond in-person to the questions and concerns that he had.

And sometimes, that is the only way to give a prospect what he is looking for. If someone had been unwelcoming in the past, I had to correct that impression by being as welcoming as possible.

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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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