Patience is a virtue, said Cato the Elder back in the third or fourth century, and a few more writers and philosophers since then. Apparently the ancients were driven by instant gratification just like the marketers of today.

“We need more members,” says leadership. That’s an appropriate wish if an organization is committed to growing and thriving.  And we can’t fault them for asking for “more.” 

Anything is possible, even growing an organization! It just takes money, a good product, and the most important thing: time.

Why does meaningful membership growth take so much time?

If there was such a thing as silver bullets or magic beans, it wouldn’t. But humans (and organizations) are driven by different motivations and respond differently to messages, offers, and even formats. And that’s assuming you have a targeted prospect pool to talk to.

What works for one group isn’t likely to “fit” in another. That doesn’t mean there are no tried-and-true tactics—best practices—that will help you get there more quickly.  But even with best practices, you just won’t know until you test, and testing takes time. (How much time? Follow the templates in this White Paper to build your own calendar:  10 Elements of a Successful Multi-Channel Marketing Playbook.)

Meaningful growth is a combination of acquisition (filling the bucket as fast as you can with fresh new members) and controlling retention (plugging the hole to the best of your ability). You have to have a long-range vision (we like to call it the Lighthouse), and eyes in the back of your head (retention is everyone’s job).

Why doesn’t everyone in your prospect audience sign up?

That’s a reasonable question. Let’s examine the possibilities:

  1. Free will (it is your job to persuade them to want to join). 
  2. Too many other options (your competition has done a better job of convincing them). 
  3. Fear of time commitment (you scared them away). 
  4. They didn’t understand what you were offering (you made it too complicated, with too many barriers to entry).

Out of a list of 10,000 prospects, there are probably 9,900 reasons (starting with: they just didn’t open the email, envelope, or swag bag). Success in acquisition marketing is a little like playing in the outfield of a baseball game. You have to always be ready. You don’t know if the batter will even hit the ball, let alone hit it to you, but if you aren’t in the right position you’ll never catch that member or subscriber when they come close. 

You have to be ready, even if your prospects aren’t

Acquisition marketing is a long game that starts from your very first exposure to the prospect. First impressions matter, and if their first impression of your organization isn’t favorable, you’ve got an uphill battle. 

What if you took a step back. Give your acquisition journey an even longer runway on purpose. “Leadership would never go for that. They want growth now.” But wait. There’s a reason.

Put yourself in your prospect’s shoes. They may never have heard of you, or they have and they aren’t sure your community is right for them. What if you gave them a taste—much like the food samples at Costco. One small taste might be enough for them to open the door to consideration. One popular article that is otherwise behind a paywall. A newsletter that has insights but not the full experience. You’ll be amazed at how people respond to content magnanimity instead of hoarding everything behind a paywall. You don’t have to (or want to) give it all away, but sharing a sample is very effective.

Whatever you do, make it easy to say, “yes,” and make it clear that actual membership includes much more. Don’t call it “free” membership (devalues your actual product). Call it a complimentary subscription. A trial experience. A Guest Pass. Put a limit on it, and use this precious time to cultivate a relationship with your prospect. 

Then throughout that cultivating period, tell the story of your organization over and over (from different angles) and make it easy for them to take the next step. We call that harvesting.

This Creates a Perfect Opportunity for a Nurturing Series

A lead development program is an ideal way to give your prospects enough time and information to say yes to more. 

Automation is a great tool. It’s a wonderful way to tell your story in small, consumable bites with a secondary “join for more insights” message. Present your community as an ideal solution to their needs (be sure this is based on your active listening to your existing constituents and not just what you and your staff think—they frequently are not the same thing).

Ask. Then ask again. And again. Just because a prospect didn’t say yes to your first invitation doesn’t mean they aren’t interested. It may simply mean they aren’t ready, aren’t in front of their computer, or don’t have their credit card handy. So keep nurturing, keep listening, keep asking.

If a lead development program will deliver more in the long run (and in our experience, it definitely will), patience is a small price to pay for the “more” your leadership wants.

When customers are ready to say yes to your offer, you still need patience.

You’ve convinced them. Your storytelling was persuasive. They are ready to choose you (“Are you the one?”). At this point it’s even more important to exercise a little patience. Make it easy to say “yes” by putting the fewest number of barriers in their way. Now is not the time to ask every single demographic question your researchers would like to know. Challenge every form field. If a piece of information is nice but not necessary, set it aside and look for ways to gather that nice-to-have data after they are in the door. 

Patience is the key to member continuity success.

If you recognize that you are in the continuity business, patience is your best resource. Success is built on achieving cumulative “yeses:” “yes, I’ll join,” “yes, I’ll renew,” “yes I’ll participate.” They don’t always come when you want them, but will when your prospect is ready. 

Need help building a case for patience? We’ve got planning and projection tools, and experience with cultivating-to-harvesting methodology. Let’s talk about  how you can use patience to your greatest advantage. Use the form below or set up a call on my calendar