This is a guest post from membership program expert Joy Duling, the presenter of our free webinar on the 8 Step Formula for Keeping Members Forever, which you can watch anytime you like.
Tell me if any of the following statements resonate with you?
- “People say they’re impressed with what we’re doing, but they don’t join!”
- “I’ve personally spoken with three perfect prospects this week, but they all say that they’re still thinking about it. How do I get them to join faster?”
- “We plan webinars around the exact topics people say they want, but just a few actually show up.”
- “We thought members were happy, so why don’t they renew?”
These statements are typical of what I hear from organizations who are struggling to grow their membership numbers. If you've ever said or thought anything like this, you likely recognize that something is ‘broken,’ but you may not know exactly where the problem lies. In fact, the only thing that may feel completely certain is that the status quo is not sustainable.
In times like these, it can be tempting to throw money into marketing, but attracting new members when something is wrong inside the program is like putting a Band-Aid on a gaping wound. It just doesn’t work.
So, where do you focus? Do you pour more money into program development? Do you create incentive packages for renewals? Do you invest in new technology? Do you retool your membership levels?
Any of these, and more, could be the solution, but before you leap into a fix, consider that a member’s experience is always linear and progressive. Fill one gap, and suddenly two others will spring into view. The key to growth is nurturing individual members from the beginning of their relationship with you, through the eventual renewal, creating an experience that they wouldn’t dream of abandoning.
The 8 Stages of Member Experience
When designing an ideal member experience – one that naturally shifts people through joining, engagement and renewal – you’ll work through eight specific stages. Any of the eight can be problematic if you don’t intentionally plan for what the members is going to be thinking, feeling and expecting in that specific stage.
In this initial stage, people are not yet aware of your membership program, but they are seeking solutions to problems. Perhaps they want to change their career trajectory, be a better parent, connect with fellow artists, sell more of their books, learn what’s new in the industry, etc. At some point, your membership program will rise into their awareness.
As soon as awareness occurs, the prospect moves into contemplation. In this stage, a prospective member weighs whether the membership will make a difference. Will their business be different, their career be different, their family dynamic be different? A prospect can move quickly through this stage, or they can get stuck here and never move forward with you.
Activation begins the instant someone has decided that they’d like to join and encompasses everything that happens as part of the buying transaction. Ideally, this stage is brief and uncomplicated.
Your prospect is now officially a member. They’ve paid your membership fee and, in this stage, they seek immediate validation of their join decision. Their interest is at the highest level when they receive the initial welcome message.
5) 1st 30 Days
While many organizations think of the first 30 days as being synonymous with onboarding, the two stages are important enough to warrant being planned separately. In the early weeks, powerful first impressions are made. This can work in your favor or be highly detrimental.
6) Beyond 30 Days
The stage beyond the first 30 days is all about value reinforcement. Your member joined with anticipation of value. You must now deliver on those promises, providing opportunity for transformation and evidence that desired change is happening.
The frequency of your renewal period is going to determine how often your members hit this specific stage. If you have sufficiently embedded value reinforcement in their experience leading up to this stage, your member will happily renew.
Ahhhh, renewal. The invoice has been paid and a credit card charged. Now, you have an opportunity to refresh the relationship. Unfortunately, it is expired members who receive more attention than those who renew, but this stage provides a unique opportunity to reinforce and reward loyalty.
Applying These Concepts
The core principles of member experience are consistent across all memberships.
It doesn’t matter if your program is brand new, or has been operational for more than fifty years. It doesn’t matter if your target member is Fortune 500 corporations, gardeners in the Midwest or brand new moms. It also doesn’t matter if you’re charging $20 per month or $20,000 per year.
If you want to attract, engage and retain enough members to have a thriving membership, you’ll want to understand and intentionally address each of the eight stages.
To discover specific strategy ideas and examples of success, please see my free webinar with Wild Apricot - “The 8 Step Formula to Keeping Members Forever”. You can watch it for free here anytime you like.
Since 2005, Joy Duling and her team have been supporting associations and other member-based organizations as they launch, run and grow their programs. In addition to her consulting role, Joy has served as Executive Director for a community-based nonprofit, growing the organization from scratch to annual revenues of $1.3 million exclusively from membership contributions in just 3 years. Joy’s clients describe her as a vital resource and a secret weapon, helping them map an ideal path to achieve their growth goals. Recently, Joy launched MemberMagnetism.com, an online resource devoted to professional development for those who want to create thriving membership programs.