Selling Strategy for Association Executives (1339 Words)

How is the line, “Membership is Priceless” working for you these days in recruiting new members? “Not so well,” you say? The heyday of trade associations and professional societies recruiting members under the pretense of nebulous value propositions has gone the way of IBM Selectric typewriters.

Stakeholders in your industry really do want to join your membership organization—even though they don’t realize it. They must however, first understand what’s in it for them. They must see the possibility of a real and honest return on investment (ROI) for their time and treasure.

For association and society executives, the quickest way to selling dominance—actually recruiting the people you talk to about membership is through understanding basic North American buying motives. There are only six basic buying motives into which almost all situations fall. Yet, understanding the buying motives is not enough. You must also offer the translation in explaining how your organization delivers the value to satisfy their primary buying motive.

Feature Verses Benefit

Before we can get into a substantive discussion of buying motives, you must first be very clear on the difference between features and benefits. As an example, your organization is aggressive in advocacy and affecting legislation in your industry. First, that activity is an industry stakeholder benefit not a member-only benefit. Everyone gets the value regardless of holding membership in your organization.

You also send to your members a legislative update keeping them informed of your progress, results, and how recent legislation affects their business. If you only send this out to members and at the very most, you only offer simple headlines via email blasts and Web Site postings to non-members—you have an awesome member benefit in the legislative update. This is value that one only receives through their paid membership.

The legislative update is not a benefit but rather a feature of membership. The benefit of this feature is how the update makes the lives of your members better. Timely and accurate information about legislation and regulatory issues can save your members time, money, and heartache—if they heed your warnings and information as it applies to their businesses.

This member-only benefit would most likely satisfy the buying motive of profit and gain, as well as that of fear of loss, and possibleavoidance of pain.

Profit and Gain Buying Motive

In the above scenario, your member might discover through your legislative update, new regulation that allows them to: sell differently, save money through a new approved manufacturing/service process (more profit), or get a competitive advantage over a non-member who might not have this new knowledge.

Fear of Loss Buying Motive

Continuing with the legislative example, your member (depending on industry) might constantly be operating in fear of failure to follow (ever changing) regulatory policy and procedure. This fear of lost time, temporary shut-down or even permanent closure can weigh heavy on your members. Your legislative update can help members to have the piece of mind that their association is watching out for them on a daily basis.

Avoidance of Pain Buying Motive

Receiving crucial legislative and regulatory update information in a timely manner can very well save a business from potential fines and penalties from unexpected government agency visits. Any business owner or executive would gladly embrace methods for avoiding the pain of regulatory fines or temporary shut-downs.

When association executives speak with potential members, the default position frequently is to talk about providing legislative updates for members but to forget to translate the value of the updates for the potential member based on the person’s personal or organizational buying motives.

The remaining three buying motives are a bit softer in perceived value, nevertheless are important to understand as some industry stakeholders will also make their buying decision based on them.

Comfort and Pleasure Buying Motive

The famous WalMart founder, Sam Walton, for years worked at a plywood desk—a sheet of plywood resting on two sawhorses, in the upstairs stockroom of one of his early stores. What kind of a desk do you work at? What kind of an office do you have? My guess is that your work environment is a bit more luxurious than that of Walton’s. Do you really need it? Who knows—but what we do know is that you were motivated by the buying motive of comfort and pleasure to have the work environment that you currently enjoy.

What about your members? Does your membership organization offer its members the comfort and pleasure of knowing that they will be kept up to date on the industry’s best practices, rules/regulations, and industry news? This saves a member time, mental space, and need for constant industry scan—as your association regularly does this for its members.

Love and Affection Buying Motive

Believe it or not, even business leaders and owners need collegiality. This is one of the great benefits associations and societies offer to their members, the bringing together of the industry through meetings and other methods. People need recognition; I conducted an extensive study on this topic throughout the United States in the mid-1990s. Many industry leaders truly need the adulation of their industry colleagues and associations provide this through leadership opportunities, awards, and credential programs. They join their industry associations and societies to get what they perhaps do not get on the job.

Pride and Prestige Buying Motive

Some North American associations and societies have done a fabulous job of creating the perception within their industry that it is prestigious to belong to the organization. And with this prestige comes pride of membership and belonging. One example is the Los Angeles County Bar Association’s Dinosaur Program. This is a special added membership, only available to LACBA paid members. It is for the senior lawyers in their 60s and older—the association provides special programming just for them. They even get a  LACBA lapel pin that is a little different, with a dinosaur in the center. The Dinosaur members are very proud to wear their distinguished lapel pin.

The Six Buying Motives

  1. Profit or Gain
  2. Fear of Loss
  3. Avoidance of Pain
  4. Comfort and Pleasure
  5. Love and Affection
  6. Pride and Prestige

Sell to the Primary Buying Motive

Association executives would do well to take the time to ask more questions as to what a perspective member is looking to receive through membership in their organization. Focus on explaining the benefits they will receive from the features of membership. Do this through the window of the prospect’s primary, and perhaps secondary buying motive and your sales (membership) presentation should prove to be quite successful.

Extra Icing on the Cake

Understanding the above will also help you to improve the member-perceived value of each member-only benefit your organization offers. Go through the list of “member benefits” that you have listed on your web site. The first thing you will most likely notice is they are not benefits at all but rather the features of membership.

First translate each of the features into member benefits, keeping in mind the above buying motives. Next check to see which ones are actually member-only benefits as you will use only these in your sales (member recruitment) efforts. And to ratchet it up another notch, perhaps you might want to make some of the member only services and products available to non-members—for a price. If you are giving your members products and services at no charge, while that is awesome for the members, there is a challenge in members not appreciating the value. At your Web Site show these products and services at no charge to members and at a charge to non-members. That way your members will see a higher perceived value in what they already get at no charge.

Selling benefit is easy, while selling features is excruciatingly difficult. Why make your life any harder than necessary. Sell member-only benefits with the translation to the prospect’s unique situation, and do so keeping in mind their buying motive and you’ll be amazed with your results.

Edrigsbee

Edrigsbee

Ed Rigsbee is the consummate evangelist for member recruitment and strategic alliance success. He holds the Certified Association Executive (CAE) and Certified Speaking Professional (CSP) accreditation. Ed is the author of The ROI of Membership-Today’s Missing Link for Explosive Growth, PartnerShift, Developing Strategic Alliances, and The Art of Partnering. To his credit, he has over 2,500 articles in print and countless articles electronically published.

Ed is the Founder and CEO of the 501(c)(3) non-profit public charity, Cigar PEG Philanthropy through Fun, and president at Rigsbee Research which conducts qualitative member ROI research and consulting for associations and societies. He has been called “the dynamite that broke up our log jam” by association executives—rarely politically correct and almost always provocative—and from a dozen years as a United States Soccer Federation referee, Ed calls it the way he sees it. Exceptional resources at www.rigsbee.com.
Edrigsbee