Any marketer or copywriter will tell you that no matter what you sell the customer (or member in a membership sales situation) messaging should always come down to “What does this mean to the customer?”
It’s not easy boiling it down to what’s important to them because often they:
(a.) don’t know what that is until they see/hear it and
(b.) you can’t make them use their benefits so they experience the ultimate value of membership.
It can be frustrating as a chamber pro in charge of membership sales. You’re trying to lead that business to the best investment level for their goals and they just can’t seem to see how the chamber is a good fit.
While every business in your community isn’t your ideal chamber member–some of them will never realize the value of membership–there are a few techniques you can use to help many of them recognize the value.
3 Ways to Recognize It’s a Difficult Chamber Membership Sales Situation
Before we get into marketing techniques to help your members and potential members see the value in chamber membership, save yourself some time and rule out all the bad fits for your membership sales efforts and offers. There is no reason to expend time and energy on a business that will cause you more headaches and drain your time. Removing the proverbial wheat from the chaff is your first step to improving member value.
Concentrating on the potential members who are a good fit for the chamber model saves time in the membership sales process. It can also mean more substantial referrals and improved word-of-mouth marketing. If you try to be all things to all businesses, and there are some you are consistently not a good fit for, you run the risk of these businesses bad-mouthing your efforts. Instead, spend your time with the businesses that are the best fit for membership.
Read Your Data
The easiest way to understand what members are most likely to be successful is to analyze the data.
- What do your long-term members have in common?
- Are they on a certain side of town, in a specific industry, and/or similar sizes?
- What activities do they participate in?
- What events do they attend?
Create a list of what your most loyal and successful members have in common. Then look for more of those kinds of businesses in your community.
Ask Loyal Members for Referrals
Have you ever heard the saying, “Birds of a feather flock together?” This can be advantageous to you. After you compile the list of loyal and happy chamber members, ask them if they know anyone who would benefit from chamber membership. Leveraging the power of referrals from your most loyal, successful members can bring you more membership sales.
Know What Each New Member Wants
While it’s easy to assume all your members joined for more customers or sales, that may not be the case. It is impossible to offer your members value, if you don’t know what they find valuable. Think about your personal life and what you would want most from life if there were no limits. It might be love, happiness, riches, health, or any number of things. What you want may not be what your neighbor or your spouse wants. If you want health and you’re given unlimited wealth instead, you may still be disappointed even though you can buy everything you want. Conversely, if you want material possessions and someone keeps reminding you that you may not own anything or you may not be able to afford anything but you’re healthy, you may have a hard time feeling appreciative. Both of those are good things and they might make somebody happy. That person just isn’t you.
The same is true for chamber benefits. Networking is a great benefit. So is the member-to-member discount series. But if those things aren’t important to the member, they won’t see the value. Along those lines, if advocacy is an essential part of the member’s needs and the chamber is doing that for them, that may be the only benefit they care about.
Want to test your benefits value? Finish this sentence, “We offer members (insert benefit), so that they can … ” There should be a very clear result that they care about.
When it comes to membership sales, most people join and renew for one reason:
If you meet or exceed their expectations, they’ll join and renew. This is especially true if it’s something they can’t do for themselves.
Now that you know which potential members you are most likely to be successful with, you can find ways to communicate the value to them. The communication or marketing of the value part is as essential as the offerings themselves.
4 Methods for Communicating Value in Your Membership Sales Efforts
Communicating the value of what your chamber offers is as important as what you’re offering. It takes real finesse to be able to ensure your members hear what you’re saying. Several chamber pros gave us a few tricks of the trade you can use when speaking to members and potential members.
In any communication you have on the benefits of chamber membership, divide the benefits up by solutions such as Marketing Assistance (formal) or Get More Customers (informal). Then list the benefits that help with that goal. That way your members, or potential members, can focus on the area(s) that means the most to them and read the others at their leisure.
Drop the Marketing Speak and Go for Impact
Don’t use marketing buzzwords. People ignore them. “On trend” means nothing. It inspires people to zone out, not act.
Instead, list all your benefits and how each impacts your members and community. Don’t stop at a word like “networking events.” Tell them why those networking events matter to them and their business.
Move Away from Transactions and into Stories
Many members see the chamber in a transactional way. I pay this. I get this. That way of thinking will only continue your membership sales value problem. Instead, move past a “you get this, this, this” approach like you’re selling software and focus more on your story.
As John Zobrist from the Woodburn Area Chamber of Commerce shared, “Telling the Chamber Story or doing a better job of it is a high priority for us this year. If you approach membership from a transactional perspective there will always be a scale they can weigh the value on and you will be chasing them trying to throw enough carrots their way. We provide opportunities and resources in a variety of ways to the entire business community as well as civic activities that make our area a great place to live (and work). Much of that type of support to the community is intangible but is still quite real.
“At the end of the day, if we work to promote our area and improve livability, more people will want to be here. The more that want to be here provides more employees for all of the businesses. When businesses can find good people they can prosper. If more businesses are prosperous then more money is in the local economy. More employees buying goods and services with their paychecks helps all businesses. This type of conversation is what we are focusing on to get the message out about our value before they ask.”
Examine Your Chamber Benefits and Events
Finally, as Tasha Weiss from the Chippewa Falls Area Chamber of Commerce said, “If you can’t see value in some items, it’s hard to ‘sell’ them and maybe it’s time to relook at them.”
Benefits are not all evergreen. Some go out of style (imagine a business video lending library. Not much use for those these days.)
You need to reevaluate and make sure your membership sales offer is still in line with your strategic plan and what your members want and need. If not, it may be time to say goodbye. When you do, you’ll have room to include something that is even more valuable to the people in your community.
Read more of the chamber pros’ conversation about communicating value here.
When All Else Fails…
There’s a sales training technique that some salespeople use when nothing else is working, when their time is not being respected, and they feel they have nothing left to lose.
They tell the person, “Perhaps we’re just not the right fit for you.” Then they don’t turn back. Most people want what they can’t have and when they’re told “no” they immediately feel reinvigorated by the potential of membership.
Ariel Floyd from the Great Sumter Chamber of Commerce had a similar experience when she advised a member that it was not up to her to convince the member of the chamber’s worth. After placing that before the member, they reconsidered leaving and are still members today. Maybe Groucho Marx was onto something when he said, “I refuse to join any club that would have me as a member.”