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  • Writer's pictureWM&R

Everyone Sells. And You Don’t Have to Sell Your Soul Doing It.

A few posts ago I mentioned my initial dislike of the saying “Membership is everybody’s job.”

My reasoning back then was basically “don’t we have staff who specialize in this?” thinking a division of labor with each staff person doing their own work then aggregates into a well-functioning organization that embodies excellence, delivers value. This ensures any prospect has a positive first contact, and active members “go home happy: too.

Of course, there are nuances. The membership “product” is a bundle of services. The paying customer base we serve is also our “membership.” Cross-training all of us a bit ensured that we had more of a collective customer-focus, helping ensure that our conference, research, standards, publications, committees, etc. were not siloed endeavors, but fit semi-seamlessly together with many other activities to create a great membership product for a great group of people who use and benefit from our work.

I’ve always been convinced that our aversion to sales is a parallel of my old bad attitude. I headed sales at my old NACDS-spawned dot-com and was surprisingly good at it. But when I started the role, I looked at parallel roles in other associations. So often selling exhibit space, advertising, and sponsorships was done by one person who behaves very differently than other staff. Or it’s done by an external agency.

As author Daniel Pink has said before at ASAE Conferences, “we’re all in sales.” I got the impression that his thesis, while provocative, didn’t get much traction with us. Sometimes it’s an “Inside the Beltway” mentality, or a renewed commitment to the division of labor to address a task we see as somewhat removed from mission, unlike membership which was hard to argue with.

But I’ve always been struck by how many low-hanging fruit accounts there are. How many accounts come back if they are simply asked. And how many accounts upgrade with a little upsell. When we do research with associate/supplier members, exhibitors and advertisers, we often hear them feeling like second-class citizens. Their response rates are low, they rate the association lower, and it’s often a surprise to staff.

The key sales contact is often warm and engaging, but the rest of the organization is not, which to me is a textbook example of what happens when something is not “everyone’s job.” We’ll talk soon about this issue spilling over into what I think is a more serious area of weakness soon—the long-term dynamics of associations who choose not to actively recruit members.

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