Cynthia D’Amour wrote today about barbequing members, not literally. Take a moment to read it. Did you cringe too because it sounded familiar? Cynthia says “the rules were not explained.” That’s a fairly common occurrence on listservs. Sure, there were listserv guidelines that told members to refrain from commercial posts, but how many people really read them, especially if you’re a new member and are still procrastinating about reading the gigantic manila envelope of orientation material you received last month. Plus the rules are usually written in that “policies and procedures” language that causes us to skim quickly, not really digest anything, delete and move on.

Another barbequing happens when a new member goes to their first event or meeting. Armed with business cards, he approaches a small group, introduces himself and starts his elevator speech while pushing his card into everyone’s hands. What’s your usual reaction when this happens to you? Ugh, another pushy salesman. Not the best first impression, is it? If you see “that guy” again at a meeting, you quickly avert your eyes and head in a different direction.

But “that guy” doesn’t know any better. Most members don’t. They join the organization to make some contacts and get new business. He was nervous, he did his best. Then nothing happens — he’s not feeling the love at meetings, his calls aren’t returned, soon he stops going, and when it’s renewal time, he thinks, well, that didn’t pan out, don’t think I’ll be signing up again.

What can we do to help our members succeed? Their goal is to get new business — how can we help them with that? We should have a plan in place for each new member that includes educating them on how to market within our organization, and this doesn’t mean just mailing them a list of advertising and sponsorship opportunities.

(photo by ky_olsen/Flickr)

(photo by ky_olsen/Flickr)

First, survey all your new members when they join. You have their full attention when they’re completing the membership application so add some questions to it. Even better, interview new members. Some associations have member ambassadors make these calls or visits — a great way for the new member to make at least one new friend.

Learn about your members so you know how to help them meet their membership goals, and how they can help the organization.

  • What are their membership expectations? What does their boss expect?
  • What are they selling?
  • Who is their target market? What type of companies or people do they need to meet? What type of job position?
  • How do they normally market their product/service?
  • Will there be others from their company willing to get involved in the organization and attend meetings and events?
  • When can they attend meetings/events — breakfast, lunch, dinner, weekend?
  • Do they (or someone else in the company) have expertise they’re willing to share? Can they write content for your publications or web site, present a class or webinar, or provide podcasts or videos?
  • What other organizations do they belong to? How are they involved there?

These additional questions will give you insight on how to better serve and engage your members.

  • What methods of communication do they use and which do they prefer?
  • What types of social networking/media are they or their company involved in?
  • What are their most pressing business challenges? What keeps them up at night?
  • What kind of classes do they need for their professional development? What do they need to know to help their business prosper?
  • How do they spend their free time? What are some of their personal hobbies and skills?

Now that you have listened and learned about their membership goals, you can suggest a marketing strategy for them based on their probable involvement and other visibility enhancing opportunities — advertising, sponsorship, exhibiting, and content marketing (webinars/classes, podcasts, videos). You can also suggest other ways they can get involved based on what you’ve learned about them and their business.

But that’s just step one, step two is critical. To help them avoid the “that guy” scenario, you must teach them how to network and develop business at your organization the right way. And that’s the topic for my next blog post.

So what have I forgotten? Are there other questions that you ask your new members?