How to Prepare Your Association For The Upcoming Sales Crisis



I’ve been in this association business for almost 30 years and I’ve heard a lot of conversations about membership sales.
And let me tell, you, I’ve heard it all!
“We’re just a nonprofit, we don’t really like selling that much.”
“You know, we really don’t need membership recruitment help. We’ve got 90% of the market!”
“Oh, we’ve got an 89% renewal rate! We just send out the invoices, no need for an intentional retention program.”
And my favorite, “You guys just take orders for sponsorships, ads, and exhibits. Doesn’t really take any selling. We just send out the prospectus and get the orders in so we don’t really need any sales help or strategy.”
Where are those people now? I guarantee you that they’re probably in the corner of the room in a fetal position because everything around them is falling apart or they’re sitting there wondering when things are going to “return to normal” and hoping that they do. Hope is not a strategy. We’re getting ready to see an association sales crisis like we’ve never seen before. For those associations that adapt and get into it will be the ones that survive.
So, I’ve got a plan with a number of steps to ramp up sales when it comes to membership recruitment, membership renewal, and sponsorships. And I’ve got some tips on leveraging communications that might be helpful to you.
Membership Renewal
You’re going to need a membership sales renewal process now more than ever during this billing cycle. Sending out emails and invoices in the ninth month of membership will require more outbound work. In addition to the activities related to the billing cycle you will likely need to add additional calls and direct engagement especially if you’re extending deferrals, payment plans, and any kind of adjustment to your regular membership. From our calculations we expect a 25% reduction in association membership renewal rates from your average in 2021, depending upon when your billing cycle lands in a calendar year. You’re going to need outbound folks calling your members to talk to them about the renewal process. It’s going to be very critical if you have any kind of expectations to return to the renewal rates of the past.
Membership Recruitment
Associations are doing unbelievable work in the area of membership recruitment and the role of communication has enhanced. We’re stretching our communications teams thin! There are more Monday briefings than ever before with newsletters and videos coming out from CEOs. Associations are increasing content output by sending information to the entire industry about what’s happening, how to reopen their businesses, and how to adapt to a new era within their industries. It’s very good stuff. However, here’s the trick, every single outbound communication should be tracked for opens, clicks, and turned over immediately to the sales team to start developing a membership recruitment dialogue. My sense is that you have more prospects looking at your stuff but the recruitment team doesn’t have all of the necessary information. Capture the contact information from webinars, Zoom calls, and any other kind of virtual programming and be intentional about converting the attendees.
I have another belief: the organizations that are taking in the information you’re providing them are the ones that are most likely to survive the disruption caused by the pandemic. We are recruiting members right now for associations due to the unprecedented government relations clout that they are demonstrating and the engagement and the communications being delivered by the association. These are member prospects that have never thought about joining the association before and we’re converting them with ease.
Now is the time to develop the 2021 prospectus by inventorying the entire organization for potential assets that could be sponsored. Look in your communications operation, there’s probably things that aren’t being sold right now. Look into government relations, there may be briefings from the government affairs team that can be shared. In terms of webinars, why are they not being sponsored? We have a client that recently launched a brand new webinar program and sold five sponsorships in a week!
Plan for it now. We got to walk and run at the same time.
You may have current offerings based on existing content that you can apply sponsorships to. You will rarely, if ever, get traditional sponsorship dollar amounts as you would get for a premium live event. There are some associations losing 40-50% of their revenue stream that traditionally came from live events. They’ve got to be able to supplement that with something else. Have this new prospectus include non-event and event related inventory in packages that are bundled together and have it ready for an August launch. The prospectus for 2021 should – and will – look different for the new and existing sponsors.
You may be developing a new list of companies to reach out to because some of the old players – the ones that have been with you for a long time – may have marketing restrictions for the foreseeable future. You remember that right of refusal thing that you used to have? It’s time to open that up because some of your existing sponsors – especially large companies – have restrictions or caps on their marketing spending, including spending money with your association. Now’s the time to bring in new viable prospects into your sponsorship program.
Now, here’s the kicker, you might not have the people that can do this kind of work or enough bandwidth. The amount of outbound contact that’s needed will be unprecedented in membership renewal, membership recruitment, and in sponsorships. The time is now to ramp up your efforts and I don’t care where you get the additional work force. Look inside other departments that have a reduced profile and cross-train them or hire outside of your organization to handle the outbound work because it’s going to take more than ever before to get at least what you had. It will require different skill sets and additional talent to achieve that.
We’ve been talking about this on our podcast for over 230 episodes and our blog for many many years. Now is the time for associations to hustle.
Do you need additional bandwidth for your membership and sponsorship outreach? Check out our Association Stimulus Package created specifically to address this issue or let us know in the form below how we can help:
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