Trade Association Challenges and Opportunities with Membership Recruitment

Membership recruitment for a trade association brings more challenges than selling individual membership. The process is complicated because asking a company to join may involve a significant financial commitment and require building a consensus among the firm's stakeholders. However, the potential long-term value of adding a company as a member can be substantial. 
Here are some of the players to consider in the process of recruiting a company or organization to join your trade group and the strategies for a successful program.

·       Gatekeeper – Many organizations have a system in place to screen sales efforts from reaching decision-makers. So the initial hurdle is to get beyond the gatekeeper to establish contact with someone who might be interested in membership.
·       Champion – Identifying the primary user of the membership is one of the most critical contact points. The user will become the champion advocating for the company to join.
·       Technical Buyers – In almost every major company decision, a technical buyer will be involved. These influencers may include legal or finance. Their questions and concerns need to be addressed in the sales process. 
·       Detractors – In some cases adding an association membership will create more work for some and reduce budgets or influence for others. Present how the value of membership outweighs these concerns.
·       Decision Maker – Ultimately, a leader in the company, will evaluate the benefits compared to the cost of membership. The champion needs to be armed with the data to make a case for joining.

To meet these recruitment challenges, many groups find success with a basic three-stage marketing and sales process.

·       Prospecting – The first step in recruitment is to identify prospective member companies, their leadership at a firm, and contact information. My recommended method for this is to purchase or lease a database of firms in the desired target market. This type of data is available and inexpensive to obtain. Add these records into a sales database to drive promotions and track activity.
·       Marketing – It is inefficient for sales to call cold leads. That is why marketing plays an essential role in supporting sales efforts. Marketing's job is to get past the gatekeeper and convert cold records in the database into warm leads using the full mix of channels, including direct mail, email, digital ads, and telemarketing. These communications build awareness, share relevant content, and set up sales appointments.
·       Closing – Presented with a qualified prospect, the sales team establishes a relationship by understanding the company's needs, presenting the membership solution to the champion, handling objections from technical buyers and detractors, securing the final approval from the decision-maker, and following up on the delivery of the membership.

Even though the sales process for trade associations to acquire new members is more involved and often more costly than what is experienced by individual membership groups, the outcome from these efforts is favorable. Typically, trade association members renew at much higher rates than individual members. Because of better renewals combined with the generally higher dues rates, trade associations can expect substantial lifetime value from a new member. This revenue stream helps to make the recruitment effort well worth the results.


Peter Reynolds said...

We use a four-step process:

Establish Trust - similar to your point of getting to the right person, establishing trust from the outset ensures we get to the right people and set the foundation for the right relationship moving forward. Membership is all about relationships.

Establish Need - by defining the problem(s) faced by the prospective member. We can solve many different problems in a multitude of ways, but only one way works for each member. We just need to identify it. Once the problem is clearly identified and agreed, we can pose the right solution via membership.

Establish Urgency - so often we forget to close a sale. We get put off with the "I'll think about it" or "I need to chat to a few people first". At this point, we re-visit the need and the logic of the solution. Testimonials from other happy members can help too. Maybe a free membership trial for a month?

After-sales support - It's easier to retain the members you've got that it is to go get new ones. We have a formalised follow-up system to both reinforce the membership relationship and also broaden the member's use of their membership to open up new benefits.

Tony Rossell said...

Hi Peter,

Great points. I think you are on target with your recruitment process. Thank you for sharing. Tony