Memberships Matter – Make the most of Your Membership Program.
Having a clear definition of your Ideal Member is one of the most important things you can do for your organization.
Your Ideal Member Profile – IMP – dictates (or should dictate) everything from the features and functionality of your product you build or what makes up your service offering, to the words you use and the emotion you invoke or tap into in your marketing. I’ve spent the better part of the last couple of months pouring over resources I’ve had in my personal collection of study, as well as new material and input I’ve recently discovered to curate this concept of The Ideal Member. I hope it resonates with you – it’s a critical early step in adopting Member Success as pat of your Prospect Development and Member Recruitment, Engagement and Success strategy.*
I think people forget that you actually get to choose your members.
You get to choose who you want to do business with. So creating an Ideal Member Profile isn’t limiting… it’s empowering! In fact, if you don’t choose who you want to do business with, your members will choose you… and they may very well be less-than-Ideal.
My mentor tried to teach me this when I first began in association management, but I was on a huge learning curve and there was so much to learn – I didn’t grasp it right away, but as my career evolved so did my understanding of this: Sometimes you discover there are members you don’t necessarily want to keep around. Sometimes they’re more of a ‘problem child’ that sucks too much valuable time out of you and your staff, and if they’re NOT big dues payers or revenue drivers, it just makes financial sense to cut your ties with them so you can focus your resources on members who truly need your resources and could potentially become some of your greatest evangelists. We’ll talk more about potential shortly.
There are obviously lots of ways to come up with your Ideal Member Profile, lots of methods and templates and canvases… but over time I’ve developed this framework that works well for me.
Over the recent and next several Blog posts, we’ll examine these Member Sucess concepts that will help set the stage.
Who’s your ideal member?
Churn is a Symptom, Not a Disease
The Only Two Reasons Members Churn
Sales Funnel: Stop Optimizing for the Wrong Members
Churn Rate Reduction Starts with Attracting the Right Members
Where is Your Ideal Member on the Awareness Ladder?
Not About Persona Development…Yet
This Ideal Member Framework is about the types of Members that you should target with your sales and marketing initiatives for a particular situation (again, keep reading for more on this later).
We’re not trying to define the characteristics of the economic buyer, technical buyer, or coach in this concept.
Think about it…. one type of member will have different motivations/interests/desires/budgets/influencers, etc. than that of a member with matching demographic and psychographic characteristics but at a slightly different type of business.
Universal Definition of an Ideal Member
Unfortunately, there is no universal definition of an Ideal Member; not for your organization, or any other.
Your Ideal Member Profile is a living, breathing “definition” that you’ll come back to – and modify – often.
Ultimately, you should think of your Ideal Member as the member type that – over a clearly-defined time frame – you will dedicate Sales and Marketing Resources to acquire.
In fact, your Ideal Member is really specific to the situation you’re solving for them, your goal for acquiring them, and your capabilities to be the go-to resource for their business needs (which ultimately is what you’re looking to become for them).
Before you can develop your Ideal Member Profile you must overcome FOMO – The Fear of Missing Out
A lot of people I share this framework with are afraid of narrowing things down to one Ideal Member – even if just for a single situation – and that’s due to FOMO (the Fear of Missing Out).
They think that if they focus on only one type of member, they’ll miss out on all the rest.
But the reality is when you don’t focus, and instead, try to be everything to everyone, you end up making a connection with no one. When that happens, I guarantee you’re missing out.
You’re missing out on every one of those people who are, in fact, your ideal member.
So to overcome FOMO…You have to develop a sense of Situational Awareness.
Situational Awareness is Critical
Determining your Ideal Member is NOT about determining the ONLY type of member you’ll ever do business with – ever, it’s about determining the Ideal Member for a particular situation.
That should ease the FOMO pain a bit.
The situation definition has three inputs:
- The Time Frame
Use whatever timeframe makes sense, but 3 or 6 months is generally a good amount of time for adequate testing. Less than that is likely not enough time and more than that is, you guessed it, probably too much time. But if you have a valid reason for the timeframe you’ve chosen – a mandate from investors, a gut-level feeling, etc. – then go for it.
The key is to be specific with the overall timeframe but to also identify milestones along the way where you can check-in to see if this IMP hypothesis is proving true or false. If a 90-day IMP hypothesis is proving false after 45 days, you can either adjust your tactics or make the call that this IMP is in fact not Ideal and pivot to a different IMP.
- The Goal
Just as you need to be specific with the timeframe for this situation, you need to be specific with the goal you wish to achieve in that timeframe.
x amount of additional revenue
x new members
x member advocates
You’ll notice that the goal isn’t only revenue or new members but could be member advocates (those members willing to help you land other members). The goal can really be anything you want, and it’s this goal that will really dictate how heavily we weight the different inputs into the Ideal Member Profile.
That said, it should be clear that once you define the time frame and the goal that the type of member you go after – your Ideal Member – becomes very, very important. Reaching that specific goal in the specified timeframe without being extremely deliberate in your member acquisition efforts is essentially a non-starter.
You’ll also need to be clear on where you are starting from (baseline) and what metrics you’ll use to measure progress for this situation (and ensure you’re keeping track of those)
- Your Current Capabilities
This final point is critical.
Regardless of what your goals are, you have to be realistic about what you can actually do for your members. This means that in order to grow and expand you sometimes need to take on “stretch” members that require you to extend your capabilities… but you have to be realistic about the amount of stretch you can handle. If you only have a small set of resources and newly on-boarded members require more than just a few generic tools and resources used broadly across an industry – what I mean to say is, they have a more specific technology need, market access need Social Media or other business marketing resource; something that would be considered valuable to other members as well – if you can’t or won’t stretch your current catalog of resource offerings, you have the potential to lose those new members quickly, and see longstanding members drop off one-by-one while their business model changes with the current marketplace, but their association fails to keep up, just coasting along doing the same thing year after year, until the organization becomes obsolete to the industry.
Ouch. Yeah, that hits right where it hurts, but here’s the point: Being the go-to resource for a particular tool, or product or much needed Continuing Education component or even E&O coverage makes it all the more difficult for a member to leave once they’ve joined the association that can resolve their issue and salve their pain point.
What needs to happen is your organization needs to rebuild the association’s monopoly – with the needs of the members and the changes in the marketplace in mind – this is key and I’ll say it again in just a bit – the association needs to build the resources that are most valuable to our members and narrow the focus to what we know they need most. Not what we think they need.
Some things to consider:
The maturity of your product (are your member resources due for an upgrade, new product development or a complete overhaul?)
Your ability to serve members (onboarding, training, customization, member support, etc.)
Technology or other dependencies (these will figure heavily into the Success Potential input)
All of this allows for something we don’t have when we just try a bunch of things with a broad audience…having a more laser-focused, targeted set of member resources which are for a specific niche or segment of niches within the industry will all but guarantee a better success rate with your membership goals.
The Scientific Method
The Ideal Member Profile Framework allows you to take a more scientific approach to your marketing and sales. It’s the only way I know of that allows you to test members vs. marketing tactics.
If you have 90 days to acquire $100k in new ARR (Annual Recurring Revenue), and if you haven’t reached $34k in new ARR by the end of 30 days, you can either change your tactics, keep going, or pivot to a new Ideal Member Profile if you feel the profile isn’t working out for you or it’s just wrong.
It’s so much better to know something isn’t working and be able to cut bait and move on to a new fishing hole, than to just keep fishing in the same place even though nothing’s biting… and this framework finally gives you a more scientific (and less subjective) method to achieve that.
A Note about IMP use in Member Success Management
When developing an IMP from scratch for a Sales or Marketing effort, you’ll start with the goal and the timeframe: 20 new members in 3-months, for example.
So, to reach that goal in that timeframe, you need to identify potential members that you can both get in front of and close within that timeframe.
While many of the same rules apply when developing an IMP from a Member Success Management-standpoint, if you decide to focus only on things that happen after they’re already a member, you don’t have to worry about the sales cycle for in your timeline.
Ideal Member Profile Framework
If you can find a member that is Ready, Willing, and Able, that’s a great start.
But if the member is more likely to be successful with their membership through what you have to offer them, you can acquire and support that member profitably (watch for a future article on Cost of Acquisition, and why it’s a key metric you’ll always want to keep your finger on), there is expansion potential there and they’ll be an advocate for you… then, that definitely is an Ideal Member.
Okay, so here’s the breakdown of the Framework, starting with the baseline characteristics.
They have a problem they need to have solved
They recognize that they have the problem to be solved
The problem is acute … this means they feel the sense of urgency to resolve their problem, and you can help them salve that pain point
They’re ready to take action to solve that problem…this is even better if they’re exploring options to solve that problem, evident by reaching out to you about membership, or at minimum, a resource they know you have that may work for them (more on this in a bit, below).
There’s a strong Catalyst driving change: M&A, Investments, Bankruptcy, hiring/firing, RFP, Client need that they want to fulfill, etc.
They understand you have the means (or at least the potential) to solve the problem
They have made the decision to allow you to help them solve their problem
Ready, Willing, and Able are the baseline characteristics of an Ideal Member.
But you can do even better by applying the value-added inputs of Success Potential, Efficient Acquisition, Expansion, and Advocacy Potential.
- Success Potential
Success Potential is such an important part of developing your Ideal Member Profile, you’ll want to read and re-read this next section until you grasp the concept.
Success Potential has six different “Fit” inputs (Technical, Functional, Resource, Competence, Experience, Cultural)… you should definitely read the post dedicated to this super-important part of IMP.
The opposite of Success Potential is a member that is a Bad Fit.
Remember, it is just Success Potential… not Success Guaranteed. You still have to operationalize around the member’s Desired Outcome to ensure they unlock their full potential.
The 6 Success Potential Inputs
There are six areas of Success Potential and you need to be incredibly honest in your evaluation about what it would take for a member to be successful – to achieve their Desired Outcome – in their relationship with your organization.
You’ll note that four of the following Success Potential inputs are tied to the Required Outcome part of Desired Outcome (what the member needs to achieve) and the other two are tied to the Appropriate Experience part of Desired Outcome (how the member needs to achieve it).
Success Potential includes, but may not be limited to:
Technical Fit (Required Outcome)
What technology or technical proficiency must they be using – or must they acquire – in order to get value from our product? DO we Provide that? Do we provide the onboarding and Training to use that?
Example: The product is built on top of Salesforce.com (a CRM system); they need to be – or become – a Salesforce.com member
Functional Fit (Required Outcome)
What features and functionality are absolutely required for this member to be successful? We mentioned this earlier – Behind every member’s decision to stop using your resource – and possibly “churn out” of their membership – there are forces at work that can be controlled and those that cannot.
- The resource doesn’t have the right features for their need
- The member wants features that were never intended to be a part of your resource
- The member doesn’t understand how to get the full use of out the product
- The member has a false impression of what the product does (they might sign up after just reading the headline of the website)
- The member doesn’t use the product frequently enough
- The member isn’t onboarded and trained on the resource quickly enough
- The member doesn’t understand the value
- Example: Agencies need a roll-up view of all members; not having that is a show-stopper
Resource Fit (Required Outcome)
If they do not have the resources to invest (money, time, energy, etc.) into everything required to be successful, they are a bad fit. This needs to be fully discussed and identified before the member makes a commitment of their resources.
Example: If they can’t afford the required advanced integrations –that will create a situation that can lead to disenfranchisement with their membership.
Competence Fit (Required Outcome)
What level of expertise internally must they have – or be willing to acquire – in order to be successful?
Example: They could functionally use our product for client estimating, but without someone on their team that knows how to prepare the data for estimation, they will not be successful. We offer training – are they willing to acquire it?
Experience Fit (Appropriate Experience)
We cannot give them an experience that is appropriate for them, from how they buy to how they get value across their lifecycle, and including reactive support and proactive Member Success Management, we cannot give them the overall experience necessary to ensure their Desired Outcome is met.
Sales Example: Selling Enterprise deals in Spain requires high-touch relationships, often with long, extended lunches and we don’t have the resources to provide that level of service.
Support Example: We do not have the ability to staff a 24/7 telephone support center
Cultural Fit (Appropriate Experience)
What beliefs, morals, attitudes, etc. do we feel like won’t be a fit with our culture?
Example: If they speak ill of their members, have an abrasive attitude, and demand rather than ask it’s a bad fit.
It’s Not Success Guaranteed!
Acquiring good-fit members – those with Success Potential – is foundational to Member Success. But members with Success Potential aren’t guaranteed to be successful! It’s just potential… and it’s up to you to unlock that potential!
If all it took was to acquire members with Success Potential, that’d be awesome. But it’s not guaranteed.
This means you need to know what is required for your members to be successful and ensure that’s possible. Note the wording here…ensure that’s possible.
You won’t always be able to do that for them, but we need to know what is required for them to be successful and facilitate the orchestration of the process for moving them toward that success.
That’s Member Success Management.
One aspect of managing the success of your members is knowing where to meet them, and for that, we have to look to the…
Spectrum of Readiness
A good fit member is one for whom you can check all of the Success Potential boxes. They meet all of the criteria that would indicate they have the potential to be successful as your member.
Within that realm of ‘good fit members’ exists a Spectrum of Readiness (SR), from those members that are not at all ready to those that are able to hit the ground running. It’s up to you to meet them where they are and take them where they need to go, but you can’t do that if you don’t know where they are on the SR.
If you fail to recognize that members exist across this spectrum and instead normalize an experience across all good-fit members, you will fail to unlock that Success Potential for at least some of those members. Additionally, it becomes more likely your member will find another avenue or resource through a competitor whose resource better fits the ‘niche’ of their need, and you could potentially lose that member.
And a good fit member that churns out (but is still in business themselves) is the worst kind of churn. It means you failed them.
REMEMBER – It is NOT a one-size-fits-all world anymore. Trying to be ALL things to ALL people is a sure way to fail.
Be the go-to resource for a particular tool, or product or much-needed component to it difficult for a member to leave once they’ve joined the association that can resolve their issue.
Is this All or Nothing?
At APM®, we recognize that some of these inputs into Success Potential are going to require you to spend some time working to uncover them in your members, and that’s perfectly okay.
So should you wait until you have all of the inputs fully developed/discovered or should you start with what you know and evolve the definition of Success Potential from there?
Start with Technical and Functional Fit (the two that are generally the most obvious) and share that with member marketing; don’t go after – or sign – members that don’t meet these criteria.
Other “Fits” like Resource or Experience may take more time to uncover, so don’t wait until then to start implementing the Success Potential checklist across your member experience.
As you add to the Success Potential definition or as it evolves, share the updated definition with everyone so you’re all working from a single version of the truth.
Don’t wait until it’s perfect… it never will be, so small, and then grow the process from there.
Communicating Success Potential Internally
Acquiring members that cannot achieve success in their relationship with you is the antithesis of Member Success.
You cannot say your organization is Member Success-centric and knowingly and actively acquire bad-fit members; those two things are at odds with each other.
Having made that statement, understand that most of the time it isn’t that an association is acquiring bad-fit members on purpose, it’s that they’ve never gone through the process of defining Success Potential… and they certainly haven’t communicated that internally.
For instance, when we see Member Coordinators closing a lot of bad-fit members, it’s not that most of them wake up on Monday morning and say “today I close as many new members as I can get to ramp up my numbers of ‘signed” members, and then we’ll let Member Success sort them out later”, it’s that no one ever showed them the characteristics of a bad-fit member and what the acute pain of signing a bad-fit member really is to your organization, so they just carry on.
But if you identify the six things that make up Success Potential and require a checkbox by each one for every new member that’s acquired, you’ll truly be on the path toward Member Success.
And now that you know about Success Potential, you can’t un-know it… if you choose to go forward without doing this work on Member Success and continue to acquire bad-fit members, you’re choosing to do things that will hurt your organization, members, and – honestly – your industry.
- Acquisition Efficiency
This means that it’s cost-effective to get in front of them, and then close the membership sale.
It should mean that what it costs to acquire them costs less than the revenue they are going to generate at acquisition, certainly over the lifetime of the member (which is why using Success Potential is so important in ensuring their not a bad fit – you know, throwing away good money after bad, am I right?).
It is mathematically represented like this:
CMA(Cost of Member Acquisition) < (LTV/x) where x = the Lifetime Value of the member in months or years.
If they’re strategic, the actual monetary cost to acquire may not matter, but the ease of acquisition might.
It may also mean that you can reach them by leveraging existing distribution channel knowledge.
Don’t let existing channel knowledge or expertise bias you if the other IMP inputs tell you what you know best.
Include Onboarding & Support costs when considering the cost-effectiveness of the acquisition. It’s one thing to pay little to get the initial deal, but if the amount of work required to deliver first value is too high, for a situation where CMA matters, they may not actually be your Ideal Member.
Figure in Estimated Lifetime (ELT) as well; this is a metric you should have developed either without data or with data sourced from your Member Success Management system.
ELT will help you understand CMA efficiency and whether or not a targeted segment of members will be profitable, which would help determine if a cohort you’re evaluating fits your IMP or not.
Member Success begins by acquiring the right members, but in itself drives use/consumption/revenue and extends the member lifetime, therefore driving up LTV and improving CMA efficiency overall.
Generally speaking, this is how you improve the per-unit profitability of a member.
- Ascension Potential
This is Intra-Company Virality or Land-and-Expand.
Includes additional upsell of resources where there may be fees required to provide these resources.
The upsell can often be handled by Member Success Managers / Account Managers and resource expansion must be logically orchestrated around the member’s success. Expansion drives member Lifetime Value (LTV).
Member Success is absolutely required here… no success, no expansion. Period.
- Advocacy Potential
Advocacy, Word of Mouth, Virality.
Spreading the word with their peers and friends improves Member Acquisition Cost (CMA) efficiency. it’s pretty simple math, really, when you get down to it. Spend $1 CMA to bring in 2 members (1 refers another) and your CMA drops to $0.50.
There any ways to achieve Advocacy, your organization may have very defined Member Advocacy programs, there’s the more common use-based virality, where members become Raving Fans® of your resources to their non-member peers and help your recruitment efforts organically, and member testimonials always go a long way, especially through the network effect that equals built-in Social Proof – credibility for your organization through their social posts and recommendations on their Facebook, Twitter or LinkedIn pages or in their social peer groups.
Advocacy is generally horizontal; people will refer/advocate for you to their peers. Members will generally not bring in higher-value members than themselves; it may happen, but more likely than not, they will at least be similar-value members.
Member Success is required here, too… no success, no Advocacy.
Its an extremely intricate and detail-filled process, but it works. Its been proven over and over in multiple industries and their organizations, and the best sales experts will tell you – High Level or Concierge Onboarding and Member Engagement on a consistent and regular basis will facilitate the best level of growth for your organization. We hope this helps you take yours to the next level!
“Memberships are the most important asset in our industry today. Are you making the most of your membership program? Is it growing your organization? Are you putting enough resources into growing your member base? Do you have a targeted plan for Recruiting, Engaging, and Retaining your members? We can help.” – Andrew McElhannon, CEO – Association Project Management, LLC®.
*APM® helps member-based organizations & professional Trade Associations achieve Member Success, stabilize their member retention and guarantee membership growth through Prospect Development and Member Recruitment, as well as Member Engagement and Concierge Onboarding.
Organizations implement APM’s® programs to sustain their current revenue, reduce losses due to Churn (member non-renewal) and generate new revenue by creating Raving Fans® who evangelize new members that over time becomes automatic, organic growth. “Members begetting Members”.
Association Project Management, LLC® also provides a list of other project management and project completion services through a virtual staff member – a committed, trusted expert who helps to reduce costs, lower risks, improve efficiencies, meet deadlines, solve challenging problems, support strategic initiatives and produce better outcomes for your association staff. Visit them today at www.associationprojectmanagement.com