Before you start to plan your recruitment activity there are four areas in which you need to have a clear understanding of a number of issues.
Firstly, what is the real value of membership? Have you analysed the usage and value of the products and services that you offer? Is it professional status, accreditation, the need to connect with others in the community, your affinity schemes, the information you provide, etc? Compared to other providers, in which of these areas is your association particularly strong? Knowing what you really have to offer will help you to determine who to target, the marketing approach to use and how to write more powerful messages in your promotional material. It may also uncover the need to develop new products and services.
Secondly, what triggers interest in joining your association amongst the group you are targeting? Find out from members what was happening in their personal or business life that made them interested in joining. If you map this out, you will find that people and business follow ‘pathways’ of behaviour. By understanding those pathways that lead to interest in joining, you can focus your attention on finding people or business in particular situations.
For example, triggers or catalysts for an individual could be that during their appraisal their manager suggests they study for a qualification and recommend joining a professional association and so you might decide to target managers. For a company it could be a change in the location, size, status or direction of the business means they now want to join the trade association and be seen as part of the industry. One trade association recently told me that their annual exhibition acted as a catalyst for joining, because the prospective member would receive a discount on the price of their stand. Other triggers could be new legislation or adversity. There are many different triggers and when you have identified those which stimulate interest, you can focus your attention on others about to go through the same situation.
Thirdly what is the best way to get their attention? Everyday we all receive hundreds of messages competing to attract our attention and we only pick up on one or two. We will notice any that help us solve a problem or need that we have already identified for ourselves. That is the reason why researching the two steps above is so important, because it will get us closer to people who are likely to be on the lookout for what we can offer them.
In general the strongest approach will always come when someone we know and trust recommends an association. We are more influenced by other people than a list of benefits. The phrase ‘your best salesman is a happy customer’ applies to membership associations and member-get-member schemes, when managed in the right way, they are very effective. However remember that some members will not want to get involved and you will need to manage members who are happy to help out. The Allegiance® member segmentation model would help you determine who would be interested in getting involved.
Finally, what does the recruitment process look like from the prospective members point of view? How long does it take and what questions do they have at each stage in the process?
From our point of view, we would prefer it to be as short as possible. We give them an information pack and hope they sign up. But unless you have a very low subscription level, this is not likely to happen.
Typically the buying process goes through the four stages of the AIDA model – attention, interest, desire and action. If we take the time to understand this from our prospective members point of view, we can work out the best way to naturally advance them along these stages and identify where the hold-ups or problems might occur.
For example, one barrier introduced later in the process could be a long application form. Why not make the initial sign up procedure as simple as possible and gather other information either during the recruitment process or after they have signed up?
To conclude, minor adjustments in the recruitment process can make a significant difference to the results, however if you decide to make any significant alterations, please make sure that you have tested them out first.
This article was published in Association Manager in September 2004