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For the average private club, every inbound sales lead has the potential to become not only a new member, but also a dependable stream of repeat revenue year after year. There are a few obstacles, however, that stand between clubs converting an inbound sales lead into a converted membership. 

First, it’s important to recognize that the role of the membership director has been turned upside down with the explosion of online marketing. We buy differently today as consumers, which means we need to adapt our strategies to match the buying process

The buying process for most prospects, even member referrals, now begins online. Yet, for most private clubs, membership directors aren’t equipped with the right tools and sales training to maximize success in this evolved role.

Sales and marketing tools are a big part of sales success, but so is sales training. Despite what was once a tabu industry term, “sales” is now the foundation of a healthy club looking for long term sustainable revenue growth. Yet, there is an absence of sales acumen for many who hold the title “membership director.” 

This is not a criticism. It’s only recently that you see membership director job postings like this one from Arcis Golf that reference the word "sales" in the job title. Why then, is it fair to assume that the responsibilities and skills of a "membership director" should be synonymous with those of a "membership sales director"? There's only a one-word variance in the description, but it can have a significant shift in expectation and performance in the role.

Arcis Golf: Membership "Sales Director"

The ideal candidate should have an established track record of success and be comfortable utilizing professional sales and marketing skills to perform sales calls, generate qualified leads, execute marketing campaigns, and actively develop and participate in outbound sales activities and networking events to create top-of-mind brand awareness within the community on behalf of the Club.

This is quite a contrast to the typical job description of the "Membership Director" of yesterday. 

Traditional Membership Director Job Description

Membership directors are responsible for acquiring and maintaining membership for clubs and other organizations. Among their most important responsibilities are maintaining membership levels by outreach to potential members through marketing techniques, the commission of advertisements, and using the Internet and social media. Additionally, the membership director is tasked with keeping records of existing members, collecting payment of membership dues, and addressing the concerns of members to facilitate solutions and their continued association with the organization.                – Payscale.com

Building the Right Foundation With the Right Tools

Setting the foundation for a great marketing strategy starts with having the right tools in place that are able to connect all of your marketing activities and customer information. You may or may not be familiar with the most essential tool in your marketing toolbox, your CRM (Customer Relationship Management Software)

The CRM of today does much more than track leads and prospects. For example, integrating your CRM with your email tool enables you to go beyond first name personalization. You can segment your contacts into different lists based on any CRM data point like location, page interactions, and more – making the most out of each interaction. 

Integrating email and your CRM also reduces the exhaustive process of importing and exporting lists which gives you the ability to create the most relevant experiences for your prospects and members and reduce marketing execution roadblocks. And it doesn’t stop there. The right CRM will give your membership director total visibility to their sales pipeline with each stage of the membership process mapped out. This means running a report for your upcoming membership committee meeting should only take a minute to easily project membership opportunities by category, stage, and projected close dates.  

Membership directors using sales tools like these stay true to their sales process, have much greater success with follow-up, and are able to provide management and committees with real-time statistics on the pipeline, its balance, movement, and forecast.

Pro Tip: Some of the most state-of-the-art and user-friendly CRM platforms are even free!

Building the Right Foundation With the Right Sales Process

If you have a membership director who has a limited digital marketing background and is not accustomed to managing leads that come from online channels rather than member referrals, they may need a sales "tune-up" to know best practices for adapting to the modern membership buying process. 

Not only does your club need sales tools to compete today, you need to have a deeper understanding of how the next generation member uses the internet for EVERYTHING, including how they approach big purchases like a country club membership. They have grown up their entire lives with a cell phone in their hand and expect to find information at their fingertips and at their convenience. 

There’s a good chance that some of the leads that have converted on your website are still viable opportunities but without proper training for following up on these leads, they may never turn into sales opportunities. Typically, online leads require more touch points, more ways to be educated and more engagement and don't close on their own. 

To develop an effective lead follow-up process, it is important to first understand what an inbound sales lead is. A sales lead is a prospect who may eventually become a member, and getting to know them is  the first step in the sales process . They most likely have questions like; What membership categories do you offer?  What do you offer families?  Will you offer what I am looking for?  What does it cost to join? And the first club with the answer usually wins.

What is the task of lead follow-up? On the surface, lead follow-up would appear to be quite straightforward, but this simple concept is fraught with difficulties for most clubs. Now I am not talking about email follow-up. Most membership directors I have met do a nice job of making that initial connection with a prospect using email. Most, however, feel that it’s inappropriate to call an inbound lead and most have no refined process for connecting with the prospect after the initial outreach. I often hear the comment "we don't want to seem too  pushy!"

Remember, there is a keen difference between a prospect that has been referred by a current member and a prospect that doesn't know much about you. Each type of lead requires a unique follow-up strategy. If you are a club that is just entertaining accepting a member that is a non-referral, then you need to know that picking up the phone when someone fills out a "contact us" form is expected (and the more responsive the better).

Here are the essential steps that every private club membership director should take to be the first with the answers and maximize their conversion of inbound sales leads into members.

1. Follow Up With 100% of Inbound Sales Leads

Most clubs have very few places a prospect can submit an email address. A typical club conversion takes place on a “contact us” form. The visitors that have taken the time to fill out this form are interested in hearing from you... now. What this means is that every sales lead needs to be followed-up. Make sure that all inbound sales leads are entered into your CRM software as soon as they are received and that each one is assigned to a lead owner (event manager vs. membership e.g.) for immediate follow-up. Use your CRM system on a daily basis to check and make sure that 100% of your sales leads are being followed-up. If you aren't checking, it isn't happening.

2. Be Speedy

How much time should it take to follow-up with a lead? Less than you think. According to the Harvard Business Review, organizations that try to contact leads within an hour of receiving queries are nearly 7 times as likely to have meaningful conversations with them as those that try to contact prospects even an hour later. This is a big departure in the club scene. You are "different,” I have heard you say many times. “We are a private club.” 

You are different. The private club experience revolves around “high touch and differentiated” interactions which means you absolutely should make contact with a prospect right away. This interaction is your first impression! Every minute that passes by while you wait to follow up with a lead is time that this expensive impulse purchase may take a backseat to other priorities or distractions... the time to strike is while the fire is hot!

3. Measure, Improve, and Measure Again

You must continually work to improve your sales lead follow-up process. As the old saying goes, "you can't improve what you don't measure." So keep it simple to start with, and measure the following:

  • How many leads do you receive each week?
  • How long does it take to respond to each lead? 
  • What percentage of your inbound leads are converted into qualified prospects? 
  • What percentage of your inbound leads are converted into new members?

Set goals for these metrics, and then check each month to see if you are achieving them. If you are, set more aggressive goals and fine-tune each element of your lead follow-up process to achieve those new goals. If you aren't meeting your goals, examine each element of your process in detail, and implement steps you can take to improve those elements. Then check your performance again in a month.

Keeping up with digital best practices is one more thing that’s been added to the membership director’s already long list of responsibilities. It's important to remember that while the rapid advancement of the internet has created unmistakable significant changes to our everyday lives, navigating this new frontier requires a new set of skills and strategies. By arming your team with the right set of tools, process, and training for leveraging your online assets (website, social media, email, etc.) and managing your leads, you are positioning your club's strong financial future.  

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