RECRUITING TO RETAIN
The first takeaway, and perhaps the most challenging for chamber sales professionals to stomach, is the concept of recruiting to retain.
As sales goals become increasingly competitive for all of us in a membership development role, pursuing any new lead that lands on your desk would seem like a smart thing to do. Having more members is better all around, right? There’s no denying that the amount of members your chamber has is more appealing from a sales perspective than the number of members your chamber retains. I’ve never seen a chamber marketing piece that reads “please join our network of 92 percent retained members.” While recruiting every business that knocks on our door may have an immediate benefit, there’s also a too often ignored risk: the impact on retention. Although your chamber might be welcoming masses of new members, you could experience an increased number of drops, inability to meet the expectations of new members, and lack of true membership and revenue growth.
I loved hearing from chamber peers at this conference about their work to revamp recruitment and retention strategies to better prioritize their time. Specifically, from my conversations, it seems the chambers experiencing revenue growth have learned to say “no” to “low hanging fruit” and are focusing instead on identifying their best members and prospects – the businesses that truly understand and support their organization’s mission.
Sustainable growth comes from solid partnerships formed with businesses that have the capacity, ability, and willingness to be actively engaged. They have the ability to contribute time and money, the capacity to support employees who wish to serve on committees and attend events, and the willingness to play an active role in shaping their community’s future. These prospects make great chamber members and are ideal for long-standing relationships.
I now use smart recruitment strategies when pursuing new members. My goal is to recruit new businesses with long-term retention in mind, rather than immediate gain.
WHAT’S IN IT FOR [THE MEMBER]?
In our professions, we become quite skilled at speaking our own language. We use words and phrases that we understand, and expect that (or hope) our customers will understand, too.
Before joining the chamber world, I was in a sales position in a much different industry. During a meeting with a client, I explained all the scientific benefits of the particular product I was selling. Words like “biomolecular” and “glycogens” were rolling off my tongue, and in my mind, I was pretty much nailing the presentation. That was until the client hastily interrupted my pitch to tell me I was giving too many details and it wasn’t making much sense. At the time I wasn’t too thrilled, but in hindsight I can appreciate the customer’s feedback. I was using my industry lingo and not effectively communicating how the product would benefit that customer’s business.
Like the customer mentioned, prospective chamber members are no different. We use words like “advocacy” and “economic development” (and a long list of other buzzwords) with the assumption that the person on the receiving end understands what we’re saying. But to the business community at large, sometimes it sounds as though we are speaking a foreign language and not effectively conveying how chamber membership will benefit their organization.
Unfortunately, sometimes our message gets lost in translation.
Talking to peers at the conference has given me a new perspective on communication. Limiting chamber jargon can be helpful when explaining to prospects the value of membership. Instead of telling potential new members about advocacy initiatives, I am now asking prospects about issues they’re currently facing that might have an impact on their success. The dialogue is great for building rapport and it gives me an opportunity to explain how the Tulsa Regional Chamber helps members tackle public policy issues.
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