Imagine your prospect as someone you’ve met for the first time at a networking event. You wouldn’t dream of asking them for their date of birth, their highest degree earned, or how they heard about you in that first conversation, would you?

Think of how this would make them feel. You are someone they would value knowing, yet you’re asking personal and seemingly unnecessary questions at this get-acquainted stage. You’ll likely sense them leaning away, looking across the room for someone less pushy or looking at their phone, willing it to ring!

You wouldn’t do it in person, so why are you doing it to your prospective new members digitally?

Just because you CAN ask a lot of questions at enrollment doesn’t mean you SHOULD

Digital membership enrollment is a blessing and a curse. While the ease of new members filling in their information themselves has merit (quicker entry into the database, less customer service labor for you), it presents a risk of putting up barriers to entry by asking too many questions, too early.

“But we need that information to create a member record in our database.”

Do you? Wouldn’t you be better off in the long run with MORE members, even if you have to create an onboarding experience that slowly, logically and more accurately builds the information you know about a new member?

Before online enrollment, we had a natural boundary for our tendency to collect as much as we could, as early as we could: paper size. There’s only so much space, and each question had to earn its way onto the form.

Then came online enrollment with seemingly unlimited space to ask all those questions.

Ask yourself: What are you (really) going to do with the information?

If you’re leading a membership community, consider taking it slower. You have time and opportunity to build a relationship with your members and ask those questions that will allow you to deliver more tailored content, valued benefits and a more meaningful member experience.

If you need to ask specific questions, make the case for WHY you need to ask (illustrate the value the member will get by giving that information). What you collect may actually be more accurate and the member will feel engaged in the budding relationship. For example, asking for details on what types of tools or equipment they use related to the activity will allow you to help them maximize the time they spend using those tools or equipment. If they give, they will get!

It’s important to acknowledge that every “ask” puts the final “submit” in jeopardy.

So challenge your team to give you a reason for EVERY field on the enrollment form. What will that data allow you to do FOR THE MEMBER. If the answer is “the database requires it” you’ve just answered our next question:

Are you operationally driven, or are you member-centric?

If you are member-centric, the information required to step across the threshold into membership will be minimal and logical.

Test your sign up process by doing a usability study. Watch prospects complete your enrollment form and take note of any places in the process where they hesitate. Do they have to leave the screen to track something down? Do they pause as if to consider if they “trust” you sufficiently to enter the information? Does anything seem out of order, out of place, or out of the realm of reasonable for this very first make-or-break opportunity to engage?

Remember: they are quite likely joining your organization because they WANT to, not because they HAVE to. They are under an initial impression that you will improve their experiences in some way. Don’t risk destabilizing that opinion by rushing the relationship into territory that doesn’t feel natural.

First impressions matter.

Let’s talk for a minute about what you call that enrollment experience. Does the word “application” appear anywhere?

That’s the first item to challenge in the process. “Application,” at worst, conjures up the fear of rejection. We “apply” for college, for a loan, for life insurance. When was the last time you told a prospect “No, you don’t qualify.” For many organizations the answer is “never.” So why start the relationship off with this fear-of-rejection atmosphere?

Much better alternatives exist, like “Enrollment” or “Acceptance.” This starts the relationship off inclusively, without a negative connotation.

Another area of opportunity is to pre-populate things you already know about the prospect. For example, first and last name, address, and email address (they will correct if you got it wrong). But be cautious and DO NOT pre-populate something that could be considered PII (personally identifiable information). Yikes. Seems obvious, but in those Ancient Greek words (loosely translated), “if it ever happened, it must be possible.”

Make it easy to do business with you.

This is your first chance to prove that your prospect’s decision to share some of their time/talents/treasure with you is an excellent idea. Make it easy, non-threatening, and rewarding. Design your form for transition from one piece of information to the next. Whether in print or online, design for user ease, not design awards.

If the first experience with you is a good one, they will be much more receptive to the next. And the next, and the ones after that. Continually ask for trust and engagement in exchange for relevance and authenticity.

Membership in your organization should be a long-term continuity relationship. If you start it out right at the time of enrollment, you will have years to build, update and use the information your member gives you over time.

A good enrollment form is like a satisfying multi-faceted puzzle. What you ask in one place can logically lead to customized communications and content. And that all important satisfying relationship that started small and became more robust over time.

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