23
Jan
12

The secret to recruiting and retaining members? Relationships.

Next week I’ll be speaking with association and supplier leaders in Louisiana about the power of relationships. My goal is to illuminate the significant shifts in business today from that of previous decades. We’ll spend considerable time identifying the power of relationships in both building business clientele and in maintaining satisfied customers.

Out with the transactional business model.

Business, in many cases, used to be about quantity over quality. Specifically, the “transactional business model” is nothing more than the act of obtaining and paying for an item or service. It shows little or no regard for the people participating in the transaction and certainly doesn’t consider future outcomes such as referrals, friendship or repeat business.

Think: furniture store salesman the minute you walk through the front door (I know, I shudder too). By and large, this person has little concern for you as an individual and is much more interested in how much he or she can get you to spend before you walk out the door. And, rightfully so. With little time to actually develop a relationship with you, the pressure of a commission-based salary and limited next best alternatives for you and your family, it’s a learned approach (a matter of circumstance, if you will).

In with the relational business model.

But, with more choice—and you have to agree that associations today are a dime a dozen—comes a need to stand out from the crowd. Enter: relational business model. This model emphasizes more the mutual connections or feelings that exist between two parties as a basis or prerequisite for conducting business. In other words, the relationships we build with our members, vendors and clients (regardless of whether or not an actual transaction takes place on any given day) all support future business transactions.

Research reveals that relational customers are interested in doing business with someone they are familiar with and have learned to trust; will try to establish a long-term relationship with an organization after a positive experience; are loyal to organizations with whom a relationship has been established; and base their membership decisions on past experiences, customer service and quality.

Take a simple scan of the environment today (as compared to even a few years ago), and it’s clear that our culture (and business, in general) is mobile-obsessed. We continue to become more technologically advanced and—if it’s possible—we move at an even faster pace. Unfortunately, this has resulted in people becoming more disconnected relationally.

The absence of these relational skills not only erodes customer loyalty, but negatively impacts employee morale and productivity, as well as the association’s bottom line. And yet the ominous threat of limited association resources—primarily, staff time—inhibits us from taking the necessary time to develop these important relationships with our constituents.

And not just from the C-suite. From every layer within the organization: receptionist to staff specialist, coordinator to manager, director to vice president. Everyone—regardless of title—should be permitted and encouraged to develop meaningful relationships with those people who they regularly engage with during their ordinary course of business and are most in a position to impact the organization.

Doing so creates an environment in which members, vendors and clients transform (literally before your eyes) from supporters to advocates. And advocates are a powerful resource; not only do they support your cause, but they speak or write in support of your cause, too. Additionally, they say good things about you, your staff and your organization, and they initiate connections on your behalf. Recruiting and retaining: check.

So, my question to you is this: How well does your organization embody the relational business model? What’s stopping you from allowing more employees the opportunity to connect in meaningful ways with your members, vendors and clients? In what other ways do you and your staff develop relationships with your key constituents?


2 Responses to “The secret to recruiting and retaining members? Relationships.”


  1. January 24, 2012 at 12:25 pm

    Good explanation, Aaron.

    Sales people often think they are building relationships but they are really rushing the process. They try to be your friend (and bore you with their life story) when you don’t even know them. They want to make the sale first (often because they are paid to do that) and worry about the relationship later, if at all. I’ve found business owners are more patient and better understand the benefits of relationship building.

    Associations, where possible, may realize better results by first welcoming people into the community and selling them stuff later, when they are likely to be more committed and once they have begun developing loyalty to the group.

  2. January 24, 2012 at 2:51 pm

    David:

    Thanks for your comment! I agree that association and supplier leaders are generally more patient and better understand the benefits of relationship building (than, say, furniture salespeople). I think your assessment that “associations may realize better results by first welcoming people into the community and selling them stuff later, when they are likely to be more committed and once they have begun developing loyalty to the group” is spot-on. The key during that courting period is to cultivate trust, deliver positive experiences, ensure quality customer service, demonstrate value and leverage curated content (a point I made last week). Ultimately, these good faith efforts to develop meaningful relationships will promote member, vendor and client loyalty (and, if we’re lucky, trigger a phenomenon whereby our supporters become our best advocates).


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meet aaron

Association learning strategist & meetings coach. Founder & president of Event Garde. Passionate about cooking, running, blogging, old homes, unclehood & pet parenting (thanks to Lillie the pup).

meet kristen

Writer, editor, public relations professional. Digital content manager. Proud mom of three. Total word geek. Spartan for life.

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