I often find myself pondering the many ways in which Rotarians seem to ignore the most basic and fundamental rules followed by virtually all successful businesses. I can’t tell you why this occurs on such a routine basis, I only know that it does. Today’s rant is about one of most persistent failures of sales and marketing common sense that I see over and over again in my Rotary travels. It has to do with following up a membership event.
Rotarians are pretty good at planning events, and membership events are no exception. I’m often asked to speak at these events, which take the form of “new member meetings,” “open happy hours,” or a “new member social.” You know what I mean. Members bring guests to a “safe” environment where they will be introduced to Rotary on very positive terms. They will hear from Rotary speakers about our unique value proposition, they will enjoy some fellowship and good cheer, and they will learn about a club’s commitment to community service. We do a pretty good job at these events, at least in my opinion. There are a lot of positive vibes by the end of the evening. Whey then, do Rotarians often feel so betrayed when so few attendees actually join their club after the event?
Don’t believe me? Here is a quick video of Shelley Yore, a recent attendee at a Rotary Club of Columbia Patuxent membership event. Could anyone sound more positive about Rotary than Shelley? Do you think she will actually join the club?
The answer almost always lies in the details of what happens, or more accurately, doesn’t happen, after the event. Because when asked about the follow-up to a membership event, too often the answer is very casual. Let’s just say, we could do a lot better. Lets walk through the basics of what to do, and what not to do, after your next membership event so that you can improve the number of attendees that eventually join your club. Remember, the goal isn’t to have a wonderful event. The goal is to increase membership!
1. Get the contact information for every attendee. It is not hard to get this information from people who are typically eating and drinking on your nickel. A simple spreadsheet of names and email addresses is the very basic minimum. Just put a sign-up sheet by the door when they enter the event venue AND have someone there to make sure they sign in. (NOTE: Have the person asking guests to sign in give out the free drink tickets.) If you don’t have the contact information of your guests by the end of your membership event, then you’ve simply wasted your time. I repeat. If you don’t have the contact information for every guest who attends then you will only close the lowest hanging fruit of prospects who attend.
2. Enter the guest information into a simple database. Nowadays virtually everyone has access to simple and inexpensive contact management software. If you are serious about SYSTEMATICALLY adding members to your club, at a minimum add the prospect’s classification information and the potential sponsoring member’s information to the data base. Lacking a database, at least add a few columns to your spreadsheet and add the information there.
3. Figure out what you are offering your prospective new member(s) as a follow up to your event. Are you asking them to join you at the next club social – which is preplanned and has a date already reserved? Do you want them to visit your website? OK. Do you want them to visit the club this week? Next week? When? How about joining you at your next service event? Again – the event should already be planned with a date already set. This offer constitutes your first “close” with the prospect. Make it clear to everyone in the club that this (whatever “it” is) is the action step you are going to to use to quantify the success of your event. NOTE: Closing for membership is OK at your membership event, but some would worry you were being a little pushy. Just keep this in mind, at SOME POINT you are going to close your prospect to join the club. I wouldn’t recommend more than two action steps before closing. If you don’t ask, then don’t expect them to join.
4. Follow up with your guests IMMEDIATELY after your event with a thank you message. IMMEDIATELY after the event. Not two weeks, four weeks, two months, or six months. IMMEDIATELY. A simple email thanking them for coming to your event and expressing how much you enjoyed meeting them and introducing them to your club is fine. Pitch your next step, whatever it is. Consider hand writing the note on Rotary stationary. Aren’t you impressed when someone takes the time to do that in a note to you?
5. Keep track of every prospect. Make certain that the Rotarians who invited guests are held personally accountable for the follow up and get the results into your spreadsheet or database. If you have ten guests come to a membership event, and only one or two take the next step in your closing process, then your membership committee (you have one…right?) must IMMEDIATELY discuss what it is about your Rotary product that isn’t selling. When guests seem to have a great time at an introductory event, but then fail to close as a solid prospective new member, something might be wrong. I would guess a solid closing ratio is something like 50% of guests moving to the next step of your process.
6. Make sure you keep track of those guests at an event that CAN’T come to your follow up event. People have all kinds of valid excuses for not being able to pursue Rotary at this time. Put them on a separate mailing list and continue to send them the club’s newsletter, interesting RI blogs, or interesting community news. You can steal fantastic articles of interest from the Rotarian magazine. Make sure this group is invited to EVERY membership event you hold thereafter, until they tell you to take them off of your mailing list. Every once in awhile have their prospective sponsor give them a call just to check in. If nothing else, invite them to your fundraiser, to buy raffle tickets, or whatever else you are pitching to raise money for your projects.
7. Figure out the path from initial membership event, to next step closing event (whatever it is) to asking the prospective member to join the club. Who will do the ask? When will they do it? Should it be just one person or should the membership chair join the sponsoring member? Should the ask be done over breakfast or lunch? After the meeting?
Believe me. There isn’t one successful sales professional on this planet who doesn’t regard every single qualified prospect as a very valuable asset. Sales pros live and breathe to close these prospects. Nothing is more important to them. Getting prospects to show up at an event is a MARKETING issue. But closing prospects after an event is a SALES issue.
When you can say – before you hold your membership event – who is going to attend, how you are going to track who they are, what you are going to ask them to do, when you are going to ask them to do it, how you are going to ask them, what percentage you expect to say yes, and who is responsible for the asking, THEN you are ready to pull the trigger on your membership event. Follow these rules and your close ratio is going to skyrocket!
OH..and if you follow all of the rules and prospective members are taking a close look at your Rotary club but still aren’t joining, then it’s time for you to take a hard look at your Rotary club. Maybe you have a little work to do to make your club’s value proposition more interesting to prospective new members.