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3 min read

Why Private Club Membership Directors Need to Sell

The words Selling and Private Club Membership typically do not go hand-in-hand. In fact, most Membership Directors (and I mean almost all) at any club wouldn’t be caught dead saying they “sell private club memberships”. People sell timeshare properties and vacation packages, but not private club memberships. The idea that a club sells memberships is seen as tacky. However, the landscape for private clubs has changed dramatically. Today, private clubs are not simply competing against each other. They are competing against other experiences - from notable restaurants to luxurious vacation destinations to exotic international travel. Consequently, clubs are looking at their member acquisition process from a new perspective to remain competitive.

Private Club Membership Sales?

Hospitality sales consultant and speaker, Cindy Novotny, travels the world speaking to various groups, including private club associations, and she says if club leaders are of the mindset that you’re not selling - get over it.

“Private clubs that have that arrogance, that think, ‘oh well, we're just so good, everyone wants to join,’ until they start losing members.”
Novotny says the realization that sales processes are needed is not confined to the private club industry. For example, she says, the legal industry for years has believed that it shouldn’t need to “sell” and that the firm’s reputation should speak for itself. Not the case, with any industry anymore.

“Up until like ten, 15 years ago, law firms would say, we don't sell. Well, yeah you do. How do you build your book of business? How do you go from being a young associate to being a managing partner? You have to know how to sell.”

Implementing Sales Processes in Clubs

In many clubs, the Membership Director has a friendly demeanor with an easy smile and has often been promoted within the club. While a beautiful smile and a pleasant personality are important, a membership director in the 21st century is a critical player in the club’s sales and marketing process. In addition to maintaining ongoing relationships with existing members, the membership director must provide timely responses to new member inquiries and nurture those prospects over months, or even years. Novotny points out that there are other essential sales-related activities that can be tightened up.

“Because they've not been trained,” exclaims Novotny. “So we know that [the member prospects] go online, they fill things out. And it takes three, 4 or 5 days. No response. I call, they're out of the office. ‘I'm too busy.’ Busy with what? The idea is they've got to be able to have a process in place to be able to catch those leads and follow up with them.”

Through independent research at her company Master Connections Associates, Novotny finds that the average prospect who fills out a form online needs about 12 points of outreach before making a buying decision. This includes a combination of phone calls and email follow-ups. Most membership directors do not follow up on an initial inquiry unless the prospect reaches out to schedule an appointment.

New Member Acquisition through Member Referrals

New member acquisition goes beyond waiting for new prospects to fill out forms on the website. After all, many clubs do not offer that option online. As a result, it’s even more important that a membership director is attending member events and actively networking with existing members to find ways to enhance the member experience. If they do that consistently, members will be delighted and the membership director will benefit from more referrals.

“I do believe that if you're ‘working’ your existing members, there's a customer behind every guest, a customer behind every member, a customer at every wedding, but we aren't working our own members, and there's a finesse to that.”



More than Selling Private Club Memberships

To say that a membership director's only value is selling club memberships is to miss the point. They are the face of the club, especially for prospective members. They are the first friend a new member makes at a club and the membership director is the person who can ensure a smooth onboarding for the new member. This person is the keeper of culture and the one who will help a new member prospect understand what the club is really “all about”. This is a role that has changed dramatically over the years and needs support and training. The target demographic that private clubs target has changed, technology has made information accessible 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. Club leadership has a responsibility to structure the membership team in a way that enables success and trains its team members to adapt to the most current sales processes and techniques.

“So whether you're for-profit or nonprofit, it doesn't really matter. You need new business coming in,” explains Novotny. “I believe that marketing has to create the story and make sure the story resonates. Then the salespeople, the membership director, have to sell that story. So instead of storytelling, I call it story selling.”

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