Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Member Retention and Acquisition for Associations Webinar

Transcript of the webinar

Why are Innkeepers are not joining local and state associations?
Associations across the board are having issues with member acquisition and member retention. Chambers of Commerce, other business trade associations as well as lodging associations (not just Bed and Breakfast associations) are seeing issues with this.

There are a myriad of reasons behind this, the changing economy, the younger generation going into business with different wanted and needs in order to be interested in joining an association and a changing industry with innkeepers being asked to spend money every which way. “Should I pay $225 plus a one time fee of $50 to my local B&B association or $700 to Tripadvisor. And which will get me heads in beds quicker?”

They didn’t know there was a local or state association
If B&Bs are not aware of your associations’ existence, that is a sure sign that your associations is not reaching out to the local lodging community as well as it could.

Many new B&B owners may not be aware there are associations to join in the first place. Many new innkeepers are transplants and innkeeping is their second or third profession. They may come from industries where belonging to a trade association was not something that they either interacted with (depending on what positions they came from) or in some cases there many not have been trade associations that gave value to them in the past so they make not consider investigating ones in a different industry.

No one invited them to join
Even if a Bed & Breakfast is aware of a local or state association, it may not be on their radar the benefits of why to join, or it may be on one of their numerous to-do lists to investigate and join but not at the top or buried under more (to them) important lists like call the plumber, get the fire inspector in for a reinspection, etc.

The key is to invite them!  They may know of your existence, but people like to be invited.  Make it a personal invite, not a stock or form letter.  Call them or if you have a board member or current loyal member close to someone that’s not a member, have them do some more personal in-person outreach and explain what great benefits belong to your association offers. Make sure that person has a script and some key pointers about benefits of the organization so they can answer questions and present the organization in a knowledgeable and helpful way.

As an incentive for getting current members to do some in-person outreach, give them incentives to do so, for every member you recruit you get a break in your dues for example or extra marketing recognition on our website or publications.

No one responded to their e-mails/phone calls for membership information.
If you personally contacted your chapter to find out about membership, would someone return your phone call or e-mail? Do you know that for a fact? And more importantly, even if a phone call or email is returned, how long does it take? A few days? A week, more?  

No one likes to be ignored, think of it from the perspective of the potential member, I have the money, I have the interest, if no or a delayed response, “well they don’t want me or my money, so perhaps I will go elsewhere”. Time Lag is the number one killer of member acquisition and retention.

Even if someone contacts someone that is not the person they need to find out about members, i.e a board member or another member, that initial point of contact still needs to be followed up on to make sure it did happen, if it did terrific, that innkeeper is going to be very happy that their original enquiry was revisited and feel even better about joining, if it didn’t get followed up, you have a problem and need to identify where the point of contact got broken down and fix it.

Make sure all of your board members are aware of the importance of returning calls and e-mails from potential and renewing members and it’s best practices when following up on a potential new member that’s contacted the board, to BCC other board members on the response so they are in the loop and send them a pre-email letting them know they are BCCed so they don’t hit reply all.

They feel the association would not meet their needs
What are your benefits really and have you analyzed them to see what value they are really providing members?  A listing on an associations website may have little value to an innkeeper if they have Googled, Bed and Breakfasts in “your state” and your association’s website comes up extremely low in Google rankings for example. Innkeepers may be viewing part of your fees as a directory value.

Have you polled your current members to find out what they have found for value for being association members?

That data is key to advertising your membership to potential members as well as asking potential members directly, “what do you want to get out of an association?” Advocacy? A directory listing? Support for questions and issues? Networking with other innkeepers and industry experts?

Every Innkeeper is going to have different perceived wants and needs but unless you ask them what they are looking for and what space an association can fill for them you won’t know. Be persistent and ask!

Instead of “We do this to help innkeepers”, phrase it as “what can we do to help you?” Try to avoid phrases like “You should” as in “You should be a member of our association because” instead substitute phrases like, “Many of our state/local inns have gotten value from our organization because”

Communication is key, especially in that initial point of contact and letting them know ALL the benefits an association offers including some that may not be listed on your benefits sheet or website, i.e. an example being of a innkeeper that was having trouble with her listing and wasn’t having good luck getting it resolved, went to your yearly conference and got to talk to them in person and quickly resolved the issue.

Another example might be one innkeeper uses Molton Brown amenities, loves them and doesn’t want to switch but can not make the order minimums all the time, by networking with a couple of the other association members that also use Molton Brown amenities, she was able to continue using them by doing group ordering and all of them saved money as they split the shipping costs.

Dues are too expensive for what the association offers
It’s All About Value. When members are deciding to join or rejoin an association they do a mental calculation of the expected value of your association’s membership by comparing the benefits they expect to receive to what they have to pay (i.e.dues, time commitment, return on investment, etc).

To understand what drives a innkeeper’s perception of value, or more specifically perceived value.

How much value do they get from their association membership when compared to other alternatives that are available to them? i.e directories, Tripadvisor listings, OTA listings, Pay Per Click, Social Media.   

People join for one basic reason, to get their needs satisfied, some can satisfied from member benefits, continuing education, the association’s website, a members forum and other needs can be met being on committees and volunteering by having them work on the group goals as a whole.

An innkeeper in NY may see the big picture in that by helping to lobby for adjusted zoning in a town that is not her own, by helping other inns in the association in that town she is helping her industry as a whole in NY state.

By putting a pricetag on each benefit it helps people to understand what their dues are going for and towards.

A $225 a year membership goes toward website maintenance, a brochure or rack card design and printing, a part time Executive Director or administrator salary. A yearly advertising partnership with a state radio state and 2 ads per year on NPR.

Breaking down even more specifics, ie. The NPR ads cost $1200 a year each but the return is at least 5 bookings per year for each inn (proven) and the rack cards are getting distributed to 17 state tourism centers with the potential of 12 million people going through them.

Too many sales pitches by “vendors” at conferences
Some things you can’t control, but some you can. If your having multiple innkeepers Too many sales pitches by “vendors” at conferences then perhaps you need to look at both the vendors your inviting as well as setting some guidelines for vendor attendees and tell them upfront “why” you are providing them with guidelines and reports of abusive of them will not get them invited back in the future.

The Association is too large or too geographically diverse to get to know other members personally

While a state association may be too geographically diverse to get to know people, there is online where an association can start a Facebook, Linkedin or Google group for their members as well as perhaps offering a internal forum on which members can exchange information. I would recommend either Facebook or secondary Google as you can have private groups with moderators and no one can see the posts unless they are members. Not as many innkeepers participate on Linkedin so you may not see much use.

They feel they won’t have time to participate or get involved
In many organizations, you get out of it what you put into it, the feedback from someone, They feel they won’t have time to participate or get involved may not be applicable to a state or local organization because there may only be yearly event in person and if an innkeeper doesn’t want to participate or volunteer for something it won’t effect their marketing.

Too many choices of associations to join
Whether talking about state, regional or national associations to join, realistically the comeback to that there isn’t, at least not on the state or local level. On a bigger playing field is the American Hotel & Lodging Association which Inns can join for a very inexpensive fee. There is also PAII and AIHP, While PAII for example has been around for many many years, the Association of Independent Hospitality Professionals is a fairly new organization started earlier this year. Which is better? There is no perfect answer to that, both organizations want to help innkeepers, I personally think long term they will both fit different well needed niches in the small lodging industry and innkeepers will have to decide for themselves which niche fits their needs.

How do you sell advocacy as an association member benefit?
Advocacy can be one of your most valuable association benefits.  (Advocacy is also referred to as lobbying, governmental affairs, or public policy or simply by attendance at lawmaking functions that need the voice of the innkeeping industry contributing.

A great example of strong association advocacy can be found in the recent Chicago B&B tax classification Controversy

Innkeepers in Chicago, Ill. recently voiced their opposition to a new tax reclassification that affects the B&B industry. The Cook County assessor's office announced plans to reclassify all B&B establishments as commercial rather than residential properties beginning Jan. 1, 2016. Residential properties are taxed at 10 percent of their assessed value, as opposed to being taxed at 25 percent of their assessed value if deemed commercial.

Chicago Bed and Breakfast Association President Kapra Fleming urged the assessor's office to delay the reclassification for an additional year. Fleming, who owns the House of Two Urns in Chicago's Wicker Park neighborhood, also requested that the office classify all existing bed-and-breakfasts as mixed-use commercial/residential properties to prevent owners from losing their homeowner and senior exemptions.

Fleming and others attending the meeting also took issue with the fact that county's licensed vacation rentals and those renting rooms on websites like would remain unaffected by the tax reclassification.

A prospective member may come back with, “I don’t need to join, you will still Lobby on my behalf and I’ll still get the benefit of it.”

While this may be true, it’s best to have some good comebacks ready to this such as:

 “We would be even more effective if we could prove that we represented a larger percentage of innkeepers from the industry”. Or “We need members to join because if everyone had that philosophy we would not exist to lobby for you at all. Every Voice matters.”

Best practices for responding to new membership information requests?
How should you respond to requests for your association’s membership information?

There are several ways to approach this, all are dependent on how your association is set up, is it all volunteer based, do you have full time or part time staff? Snail mail is always an option but printing costs and postage may be an issue depending on the association’s size and operating fund.

A phone call followed up by an immediate email is recommended. To save time, have several copies of the information needed to send out to a potential member saved in your drafts folder for quick access.

Sending a PDF with key benefits as well as history of the association, relevant association contact information including board members and employees (if applicable) or an email with links pertaining to all the information that hopefully is available on your website for reference. I would actually suggest a combination of both. In two separate emails, the one with the links referencing the PDF (also located on your website). The PDF may be filtered out as an attachment by some people’s spam filters.

Make sure any request for membership information is followed up within 48 hours to find out if there are any questions and to engage a potential member preferably on the phone.

Member Retention
One of the bigger issues Associations are having is member attrition, so I saved it for last. It’s key to get regular Feedback from Members on how things are going, be it surveys, emails or phone calls

Give innkeepers the opportunity to get involved (if they want to) and let them know about the opportunities membership and marketing committees, they can be “brand” ambassadors at local events, industry conferences or other venues where getting the word out about your association and the innkeeping industry as whole is an opportunity.

What happens often in an association once a member has joined they feel forgotten about. I know associations are aware they should be doing this but many don’t keep track of touch points with members and it falls by the wayside.

Having a simple excel sheet with members and just keeping dates and notes in it per touch point can be a easy way to look at your membership as a whole and identify inns that may need a phone call.

Creating a shareable Google spreadsheet and being able to share it with your board will help keep eyes on keys areas that need to be addressed.

After they have been members for three months, have a committee member or board member call them to ask them if they have questions or concerns and how can the association serve them better.

Have a minimum of 3-4 additional contacts with first year members. Introduce new members to the board.

Exploring new opportunities or ideas, like instituting a mentoring program for new innkeepers and keeping your membership informed about them is integral to rentention.

The final key to long term member retention is benchmarking. Where is your association at currently, how many members, where are they located geographically.

How many rooms, what’s their average room rate, while you won’t be necessarily using this information to answer questions for potential guests, as an association it’s good information to have and review and be able to revisit and analyze changes in membership. In 2014, we had 52 members, 14 had under 4 bedrooms, in 2015 we raised our rates and lost half of those under 4 bedroom properties.

And also to benchmark where your association is marketing wise, Where is it coming up in Google, Bing and other search engines, this should be looked at least every 6 months if not every 3 months. Are you utilizing social media, if not, why not, if yes, is it working, yes or no and if no, why not.

What other venues are you using to advertise your association? What has worked in the past, what has not, what haven’t you tried.

You need to look at all of this periodically and what your membership demographics are in order to project and set goals for where you want your association to be in 5 years, and where you want it to be next year.

Having this data is useful because it can also be information that can used in member acquisition and retention.  And as I mentioned early, get members involved, give them some incentive for recruiting or an incentive for renewing early, this will especially appeal to the millennial generation as they move into the innkeeping field.

And one final bit, if you have members that have stepped up above and beyond just paying their membership dues, say thank you and give recognition where you can, whether it be in a newsletter, on a website, and on social media. Acknowledging peoples work and volunteerism is integral and two fold to getting them to stay members and keep stepping up. One of the biggest causes of members not renewing or not volunteering is non-acknowledgement. A simple thank you can go a very very long way

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