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?