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The ultimate guide to attracting and retaining members through digital transformation

Photograph of Owen Matthews

Owen Matthews

Director

Introduction

Digital transformation can be an exciting challenge. It can (and should) affect every aspect of your organisation, and done right, will set the stage for you to grow and deliver better experiences for your members. This guide aims to show you how you can use digital transform to attract people to your membership organisation, and retain them.

You’ll learn how to assess three key platforms for customer relationship management, content management and marketing management. We’ll explain why integration is important and detail some goals you could work towards, like more efficient staff and affording your members more control of their own information. Content strategy is a big part of attracting people. We’ll discuss how to nurture your anonymous visitors and convert them into paying members, and how to keep them renewing their membership year after year.

Finally, we’ll discuss the best ways to track your efforts and ensure your hard work is worth the effort.

Let’s get started.

Step 1 — Setting the stage for success

In any digital transformation, getting the fundamentals right is essential. Part of that is knowing how to evaluate the platforms you’ll need. This section will explain how to assess three core systems you’ll need to attract and retain your members: customer relationship management; content management; and marketing management. Ask the right questions up front and you’ll be a lot closer to finding the right solution for your business.

Two people plan a digital strategy on the back of a paper placemat on paper over lunch
Knowing how to assess the core systems you’ll need will set the stage for success

Customer Relationship Management (CRM)

A CRM platform is essential for managing your membership database and should create efficiencies for your team and a great customer-experience for your members. The better you utilize a CRM, the more likely you are to attract and maintain members, but with so many available, which should you chose? Use these points to evaluate the CRMs you’re considering.

How user friendly is it?

For any CRM to be useful, it has to be usable. Your team and your members will have to interact with the system, so make sure you get a good demonstration before you settle on any platform. See if you can speak directly with other organisations on the platform and ask for their candid opinion of the whole system, form their team’s perspective, and their members’.

Can it scale?

When your membership and your team grows, you want to be sure your CRM can grow too. Your platform shouldn’t be limited by your IT system or current headcount.

Will it meet your needs in the future?

You might start small, but could quickly need more features and integrations. See if the platforms you are considering could accommodate more of your operations, like finance and payment processing, events and so on. Be bold about what you could do in the future and ask “can this platform take us there?”. Equally, be honest about your aspirations and don’t opt for a system if you’ll only use 5% of its functionality.

Be bold about what you could do in the future and ask — can this platform take us there?

Will it integrate with other platforms you use?

This is crucial. A good CRM will have a well documented open API to facilitate integration with other platforms your organisation uses, both internally (like email and finance) and externally (websites and other member-facing platforms). If the API is lacking, your different departments could find it hard to working together.

Is it always available, no matter where you are?

To provide the best service to your members you should be able to respond quickly. Being able to access your system from any location, on any device is a must, and will allow your team to work efficiently and collaboratively, even when they’re not in the office.

Is data security and legal processing hard-wired into the system?

Data protection by design and default is required by law, so a system that embraces all the requirements of GDPR will give you and your members peace of mind. Your CRM should allow you to easily record the legal basis for processing, and it’s a good idea to find out how easy it is to remove member data, or to provide reports on the data you hold. Will you have to manually remove data from multiple systems, or can one-click access all arms of your CRM to eliminate human error.

Do they get you?

You’re not just investing in a CRM platform, you’re also investing in the people that will support your organisation when using it. Make sure they ‘get you’ — a real understand of your needs and aspirations, as well as knowing how you operate and what your members expect can make a big difference in the service you receive and the success of the platform for your organisation.

Content Management

A great content management system will enable you to connect with your audience regularly, with confidence and flair. Chose the wrong system, though, and you could find the simplest update painful, and your organisation will suffer. It can be difficult to weigh different benefits at the outset of a project, and moving your team to a new platform can be daunting. If you have an existing system you’re familiar with and holds years of content, you may wonder if it’s worth changing at all. These points should help you define what you need from a CMS so you can choose with confidence.

Should you use a bespoke CMS, built from the ground up, just for you?

No matter how appealing, the answer to this question is almost always no. Whatever your requirements, the short term benefits of a bespoke CMS will fade as your reliance on developer support increases over time. You will likely find yourself choosing to endure a degrading system, or to accept expensive support fees, or as is often the case, both. Please, don’t do it.

Is the CMS developer-friendly?

Developer fees are often one of the biggest outlays when changing from one platform to another. The more flexible the system, the lower the fees. That said, you should make sure whoever is developing the system can demonstrate plenty of experience, and that they have implemented if for several different clients with varying requirements. 50 installations of a CMS does not amount to much if each one has near identical specifications.

Is the system scalable?

Growth should always be planned for, and a good CMS will be able to support organisations of all sizes. An expanding team will have many needs, so make sure user and permission management is straightforward and can be managed in house. Asset organisation, optimisation and storage can all affect scalability, as can a CMS’s ability to connect with external systems. Ensuring your CMS can scale will give you the peace of mind to plan long-term goals and meet your immediate needs.

How good is the platform’s support?

Everyone hits a roadblock now and then and good developers can often work through problems independently, but they should never be be isolated. Does the company behind the CMS offer direct support to developers? Is the CMS championed by a large community of develops who can all reach out to each other when they need help? How well is the platform documented and what other resources are readily available? Find a CMS that can provide support when you need it most.

Does the user interface (UI) make sense?

You don’t want to have to open a user-guide every time you log in, so be sure to check that the control panel makes sense. An initial learning-curve is almost inevitable but it shouldn’t take more than hour or so to get up to speed. Make sure your developer can customise the options you see so you can update all sorts of sections, content-types, user-groups and more without idiosyncrasies tripping you up.

Can the CMS integrate with other apps and other external systems through APIs?

This is crucial. If you can’t get your platforms working together you’ll have a disconnect between content, workflow, functionality and the different departments of your organisation. A joined up experience for your members will benefit everyone, from finance to marketing. It should alleviate pain-points in your processes and remove unnecessary administration. A CMS will be built for integrations and allow easy connections to the third-party applications (like your CRM) that help your organisation run smoothly.

Marketing Management

A marketing management platform will help you deliver and track the success of your online marketing so you can learn over time what kind of content will attract new members to your organisation. As with customer relationships and content management, choosing the right marketing platform can be tricky, and difficult to change if it doesn’t meet your requirements, so care should be taken to make sure your short and longer term goals can be met.

Is the platform easy to use?

This criteria is a constant for any platform choice but it can’t be overstated how important usability is. Your team will thank you if they can complete tasks with ease and curse you if they can’t, so you should examine as much of the interface as you can ahead of time. Don’t sign up to anything before having a complete demo…

Can you get a full demo?

Only using the site directly will give you an idea of how easy it is to use. Exploring a few demos will allow you to compare differences across platforms and learn which you feel most comfortable with. Often the full value of any platform will only become apparent after several months of active use, so think about how you might feel using something long-term. It would be good to try it out on different devices, too, so you know you can update your marketing on the move if the need arises.

What are the analytics like and are they easy to interpret?

The real value of a marketing platform is in its ability to analyse and interpret data so you can see what content works, where it works, and ultimately, why it works so you can repeat past successes. You should be able to see overview stats as well as more granular data for campaigns and individual components of those campaigns.

Will it integrate with your other platforms?

Another constant criteria and one that will severely hamper your efforts if it doesn’t perform well. The platform be able to communicate with your chosen CRM and CMS, either ‘out of the box’ or through well supported APIs.

Can users collaborate on key tasks?

With teams and individuals with different skills working towards a common goal, collaboration is key to success. A platform that allows people to work together will lead to more coherent marketing and better implementation of content strategies. Multiple permissions levels will allow teams to work independently where required, and managers to have the right amount of oversight (without hindering the efforts of their teams).

What do other users say?

It can be difficult to evaluate the many testimonials and case studies that will invariably accompany any platform’s marketing. Not least because they will all be positive and furnished with upward trending graphs and big statistics. If you can, reach out to named people on testimonials and ask for a quick call. Try to engage with people in your industry or organisations of a similar size, so you can learn about the challenges they faced or the issues not included in the case studies online. You might learn more in a five minute call with a real customer than you could ever learn talking to the platform’s sales team.

Step 2 — Integrating your systems to create insights and save time

You will have evaluated each of your new systems for their connectability. Each should have its own well-documented API and be able to integrate with the others. This is a huge benefit and a major step towards attracting and retaining members, but what do you do next?

Integrating your content, marketing and CRM systems will create insights and save time
Integrating your content, marketing and CRM systems will create insights and save time

Whatever your organisation, if you improve the user experience and help your staff be more efficient you will reap the benefits.

  • Reduce administrative overhead by letting members manage their own information.
  • Streamline and speed up the joining process.
  • Increase visibility by letting members access their history.
  • Increase revenue by optimising processes for secondary-spend.
  • Run all processes through your own website to maintain trust and reduce confusion.

These are just a few of the goals you might have. Examination of your processes and talking to your team and members will highlight plenty of areas for improvement.

Testing early to ensure success

It’s important to (as much as you can) make sure your assumptions are correct ahead of time. The changes you make must work for the intended audience (your staff, your members, or both). If you engage members early and ask them to help you refine new interactions, their input can be crucial.

Step 3 — Attract new members

When your existing members benefit from improved user-experience, your team will be free from laborious administration. More time will be available to attract new people to your organisation. Your marketing platform will allow you create, test and measure the effectiveness of efforts so you can refine, repeat successes and grow.

Get your content in front of more people

People need a reason to visit your website. That reason is your content. If you provide good quality original content on the subjects your audience are searching for, they can find it and come to you. Keep producing the content, and people will keep coming.

The CMS you chose will be a great platform for creating content, through news updates, an informal blog, targeted landing pages, image galleries and more. Every time you post, you increase the likelihood of attracting more people to your site. Social media can be a great way of spreading your message. Link back to core content and make your social posts as shareable as possible.

But simply allowing more people to find you isn’t enough — you have to engage.

Convert more people into potential members

Every visit is an opportunity to capture data, so be sure to create easy to use forms that turn anonymous users into potential members you can contact directly. Email lists, trial membership, webinars and exclusive content can all encourage people engage. That engagement can be the first step towards long-term membership.

Once you have someone’s email it can be tempting to push membership at every opportunity, but a softer approach can often produce great results. Nurture your potential members. Create trust and offer value though your expertise and continued content production.

Grow your membership

If a potential member decides to join up, the process should be simple and, wherever possible, autonomous. Seamless integration between your CRM and website will allow you to control the process end-to-end. Ask for minimal information up front to ease the path to completion — you can automate a follow up for users to add more information to their account after they join.

Simply allowing more people to find you isn’t enough — you have to engage

Step 4 — retain

All membership organisations will have a certain level of churn — the number or people who let their membership lapse and fail to sign-up again. Reducing churn is a challenge, but some surprisingly simple techniques could help you retain more members and the revenue they bring.

Why do people leave?

A number of factors could lead to someone failing to renew a membership. Price and perceived value, customer service and user experience all affect how members feel about their organisations. If you ask why your users are leaving and they all point to the same reason, you can address it.

What can you do to reduce churn?

Focus efforts on your high-value members — this could be long-term members, members who have high secondary-spend (events, merchandise and so on) or evangelists (members actively sharing your content through their own social channels). Prioritise keeping these people on board over your lower-value members because they hold greater value in the long term.

  • Reach out — seek less active users, engage with them to show they are valued. A personal approach could be all it takes to offset a lapsing membership. Sometimes members might not be aware of a particular service or feature, the benefits of which could keep them onboard.
  • Refine your onboarding — by giving information in regular, digestible instalments you can reduce the likelihood of members changing their mind quickly. Don’t overwhelm people or be too eager for them to spend more money. By focusing on the value they may bring in the longer term you’ll be more likely to develop their trust early on.
  • Incentivise long term membership — new customers always get the best deals, right? Could you make longer-term customers feel as wanted as new ones with discounts and special offers? It may be worth offering a free period of membership from time to time, to be taken whenever the member wants; it would be a shame for someone to cancel a membership to solve a short term financial hiccup, never to return.
  • Encourage automatic payments that won’t expire — direct debit can be a great way to take your membership fees, and it might be worth offering discounts for people who do. Credit and debit cards expire and chasing people to enter new details can be a burden on your team an unwelcome interaction from your members.

Could you make longer-term customers feel as wanted as new ones?

Pay attention to results and ROI

Generating lots of good quality content on the subjects your potential members are searching is great, but how do you know if your efforts are paying off? You need to track return on investment.

A basic ROI equation
A basic ROI equation

A basic ROI equation is the revenue generated less the cost of marketing, divided by the cost of marketing.

So if you invested £2000 in content marketing, and generated revenue of £3000 from that content, your ROI would be (3000-2000)/2000, or 50%.

You should compare results over time with your other marketing efforts to establish where you are getting the biggest returns — Social? Paid search? Blogging?

Crucially you can’t track ROI from content marketing without a joined-up platform to track what effort generated what revenue. Your website and CRM should link with your marketing platform through the API to give you the data you need.

Conclusion

With the right systems in place and a desire to provide great content you’ll be well on your way to attracting new members to your organisation. Measure the effectiveness of your marketing to keep improving and don’t forget to make your long-term members feel special, too. Learn how to measure your ROI so you can make the most gains for the least effort.

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