Monday, July 16, 2012


“The better you understand your member, the better the relationship.”

That’s a quote from the Words of Wisdom section at the end of Marketing General Inc.’s recently released Membership Marketing Benchmarking Report. After writing about MGI’s report last week, that thought was still swirling around in my brain when I read a post by Jamie Notter about listening to members.

Jamie wrote, “We’re getting data, but I’m not sure it’s necessarily the RIGHT data. Are we really getting truth? Do we really understand our members?”
Later I read on ASAE’s Acronym blog about the advice Chris Brogan gave during his MMC Conference keynote. “Listen to members and find out what they care about.” But first, he says, decide “who will be listening to members, how, and how what gets learned gets shared.”

When we rely only on surveys, they don’t always elicit the stories we need to hear. It’s too easy to be overly influenced by what leadership talks about. Are their stories truly representative of all membership segments? By being more intentional about how we listen and share, we’ll get the right data and a better understanding of our various types of members.

Let’s take a look at Brogan’s listening prescription – who listens, how they listen, and how they share what they learn.

Who listens?

And who cares? The answer better be: leadership. Before you do anything, make sure your leadership supports and values the efforts to listen in non-traditional ways and to act upon what’s learned. Otherwise, your efforts will be wasted.

Besides the traditional listening methods – in person, phone, and email – we also have social media listening. Anyone on staff who uses one of these methods to talk to members and prospects should have the training, permission, and tools to listen, ask questions, and capture and share information. Listening and asking questions has to become a habit. Model the behavior you want to see.

Those who have the responsibility for social media listening must understand your industry and policies so they can determine what’s critical to share or act upon. They must have the authority, ability and personality to engage in online conversation. Make sure you have a social media crisis plan in place and your social media team has the authority to act upon it.

How will we listen?

Social media is a listening and customer/member service channel that’s great for breaking the ice and building relationships. But, good old-fashioned phone calls work best for listening to stories and gaining an understanding of your members.

We all think member phone calls are a great idea, but we never seem to have time to make them, speaking from personal experience. Start by scheduling time to make one call a week, that’s doable. If you don’t schedule it, it won’t happen. When the time comes, remind yourself how valuable these calls are.

Pick a member at random, or if there’s a specific niche that troubles you, pick from there. Tell the member up front that you’re not calling to ask for money or a renewal. You want to understand their needs and views better. Create a standard set of questions to help in data capture and analysis, but warn staff to never sound scripted, or the call will seem like a survey, not a conversation.

Before making the call, review the member’s history and demographic data – specialty, position, career stage, age, location, and size of business, if relevant. If you don’t have that info, ask the member if you can collect it later via email, it will help with data analysis.

Besides calls, take advantage of in-person opportunities. Arrange to meet with an attendee for 15 minutes. Host a breakfast, lunch, or happy hour for a small group of members.

How will we share what we learn?

Get creative with technology to create a system for capturing and sharing information. Train staff to capture information in the AMS. Use reporting or collaboration tools to share the results monthly. Make these reports more valuable by categorizing and summarizing the collected information.

Don’t let your findings disappear into the ether. Too often associations are guided solely by the needs of those who have voices – volunteer leaders and survey respondents. You listen and have conversations for a purpose – to collect additional data that will help guide the association in its decisions about direction, strategy, services, and content.

Deirdre Reid, CAE is a freelance writer with one regret about her association career – I didn’t schedule time to make random calls to members.

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