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The next time your association is looking for a new way to attract members, try taking a cue from the sales world.

Sure, associations don’t operate like corporations or advertising agencies — but that doesn’t mean the sales funnel can’t still be a helpful tool. 

Here are tips for using the four stages of the sales funnel (attention, interest, desire, and action) to inform your membership strategy.

These tips can help uncover the incredible audience growth opportunities just outside of membership’s boundaries.

Captivate the public’s attention

The top of the sales funnel contains the broadest possible audience and includes anyone who might possibly be interested in your association’s mission. 

Rather than focusing exclusively on paywalled content and members-only experiences, consider adapting some content for a public audience. There are plenty of options, including:

  • A public blog covering newsy topics in your industry
  • A podcast featuring interviews with thought leaders
  • Free events that allow members and non-members to mingle

Once you have a large audience’s attention, you can begin to refine your focus to direct potential members one step closer to committing. 

Pique your audience’s interest 

Your audience will include a core segment of people who want to engage more deeply. These readers find value in your content, resonate with your association’s core purpose, and are eager for more.

To nurture these relationships, offer a second level of content that transforms readers into qualified leads. At this stage, you should begin to gather contact information through tactics such as:

  • A weekly newsletter rounding up industry news
  • Downloadable content, such as ebooks or worksheets
  • Private Facebook groups or social media communities

This will set your association up for the next stage of the funnel, when you’ll begin to convert your most dedicated readers into members. 

Cultivate potential members’ desire for insights and community

The third stage of the sales process is the most challenging, but that’s what makes it the most rewarding part of the process. It’s when you’ll begin to persuade interested members of your audience to take the membership plunge.  

To transform interest into full-fledged desire for membership, you’ll need to understand what will motivate people to take the next step. Often, there are several compelling reasons that will vary depending on the individual’s needs. 

Some might long to join an active community where they can grow their professional networks. Others might crave opportunities to sharpen their professional skills and expand their knowledge. Still others might bring personal reasons all their own.

Your goal will be to determine what makes individuals within your audience need, then position your association as a solution to their problems. If you’ve managed to collect data about your audience, you’ll have enough information to target potential members with precision. 

Prompt potential members into action

Ultimately, the sales funnel concludes in one of two outcomes: People will buy, or they won’t. 

But for associations, the journey itself can still be profoundly worthwhile — even if not everyone becomes a member. Along the way, you’ll engage a large audience, communicate your association’s core purpose, and establish your association as a source of thought leadership. 

Engaging and nurturing a community goes far beyond your association’s membership — and might even help you attract members along the way.

Heather Nolan
Post by Heather Nolan
November 3, 2020
Heather a skilled communicator with expertise in social media and marketing strategy, brand management and journalism. She uses storytelling and audience growth skills to help companies showcase their brand and expand their reach.