Few things feel better than getting an email or phone call from one of your favorite members with the contact information for a colleague or friend who is ready to just sign on the dotted line. That's why membership referral programs are so attractive. But let's be honest, they don't come without their challenges.
Maintaining a consistent and steady stream of interested prospects that come directly from your members can be inconsistent and hard to control. Fortunately, there are ways to make the process easier and more enjoyable for you, your team, and your members.
Challenge: Referral Incentives Don't Really Work
On the best of days, members are your club's greatest assets and advocates. They love sharing personal stories of their latest club championship win or the unbelievable birdie on hole No. 17 during their Saturday round.
But, when it comes to asking members for help finding new members, clubs often turn to incentives — a new driver, no dues, shop credit — as a way to entice people to have conversations with their friends about why they should join your club.
Here's the deal: extroverted members who are fans of the club are already recruiting their friends — they don't need an incentive. But for many members, recruiting their friends is awkward and feels disingenuous and forced. A new driver won't change that.
Incentives don't work because they don't change behavior. They simply reward people for doing what they would normally do.
Solution: Make Talking About the Club Easy & Natural
What’s a better way to equip and motivate your members to refer their friends? Cultivate natural, real opportunities for them to share their own experiences and other amazing stories at your club. Consider creating video testimonials with memories from longtime members, or stories that capture the experience of being part of an event or happening at your club.
These stories don't have to be about major championships, they just have to be real, honest, authentic and interesting. Think beyond the course too, what other great stories do your members have to share?
Create sharable posts on your social media channels that include member quotes, tips from your golf professional, or photos of the latest championship-winning team and encourage your members to share! Sharing the stories of your club gives the world a peek into the community, camaraderie, culture, and connection that comes from being a member.
A story featuring a member’s family will get posted to their social media and sent to everyone in their email contacts. Sharability beats a free driver every time.
Challenge: Referral Fatigue = Unpredictable Pipeline
The second problem with relying on member referrals is that it's hard to maintain consistency. Referrals are unpredictable. They may ebb and flow with member happiness or seasonality. At a certain point, even the most extroverted of members runs out of friends to recruit.
In addition, your members pay a great deal of money to belong to your club. They look to the club as an oasis away from the pressures of normal life and don’t want to be burdened with finding the club’s next members.
This dynamic can leave membership directors feeling like they are hounding members instead of building healthy relationships focused on member satisfaction. Relying on referrals from members also leaves membership directors with very little control in meeting their new member and revenue goals for the year.
Solution: Take Control of Finding New Members
Not sure if your website is set up to help you with these tasks? Here are a few questions to help you:
- Are people reaching your website that didn't already know your club by name?
- Does your club appear in Google searches that don't include any branded names?
- Do visitors understand who your ideal member is and what life will look like for them at your club?
- Do you have content on your site that is interesting and available to non-members?
- Are there ways for leads to engage with you before they are ready to start the application or membership process?
- Is there a way for leads to take the next step without having to engage with a person at your club?
- Do you have ways to collect leads besides a "contact us" form?
- Are your collected leads stored in a CRM system?
By launching a website and creating a sales and marketing system that supports increased brand awareness and lead conversion, you can help create a membership pipeline that is in your control and, ultimately, much more predictable for your member referrals.
Challenge: Current Members Aren't Connected to Your Target Member
When you rely on the pool of current members, many of the referrals are going to look very similar to your existing members. Think about it, when talking up your favorite product or service, who do you tell? Generally, the people who have a similar life situation.
Many clubs are looking to get younger members and attract young families with new facilities and increased activities. But if your current, older members aren’t availing themselves of these new programs, they may not be the best advocates. They may not even be aware they exist!
Solution: Market to Millennials and Beyond
When you are looking to shift the demographics of your club, it's important to create a marketing strategy that matches that audience.
Younger buyers highly prefer shopping online. They are used to getting answers to their questions quickly. That's why millennials who are looking for club membership heavily rely on online reviews, social media and website information to make informed decisions.
Look for ways to create content, website pages, and social posts that share things that would be interesting and useful to your target audience.
A Few Other Things to Consider
Remember, that not every person who is interested in your club is going to be connected with an existing member. It's important to help usher website visitors through your club's specific process. Any insight that you can share about the process, timeline, and application process will help lessen the friction and barriers for people who are interested in membership.
Even people who are referred to your club still have questions, concerns, etc. If nothing else, make sure there is a specific page on your website where members' referrals can get some of their questions answered and understand what's needed to start the application process. And while you are at it, why not include your membership director's contact information or form for them to fill out!
Membership referral programs are an excellent source for bonus leads and prospects, but if that's your primary source for incoming leads, it might be time to make some changes. Look for ways that you can streamline your existing process both online and in person. Remember, stories are one of the greatest ways that you can authentically share the culture of your club!