When we talk about our growth goals we typically leap to how do we broaden our audience. Why? We talk about reengaging the unengaged. We lament about the lapsed. We wonder if there are broader audiences who we should start serving that we don’t currently serve. Any untapped or fallow audience looks full of possibility.
It is ironic that the moment we start thinking about diversifying is also the same moment we should step back and refocus on our core members.
More is the path to destruction
My clients that excel are the ones that are narrowly focused. They serve a tight audience. This takes a certain type of determination. When someone comes along and says you don’t quite serve my needs, and they are outside of the core membership, the answer has to be, “you are right. We don’t. And that is okay.” The urge, though, is to figure out how to serve this new constituency. We’re driven to please. It is very hard to say to the staff, the board and that person, “we are not going to serve you”. BUT the next part of that thought is “we don’t serve you so that we can excel at serving our best members.”
More is the path to destruction. Diversification sounds great on paper but if you have 20 things you have to do you can never get great at doing one of them. If you answer to 5 or 10 or 15 member audiences you can never get great at serving one of them let alone all of them. When we personally wear too many hats we too become ineffective. I recently drew a cartoon to illustrate this issue.
Common wisdom says more is the path to growth. Doing more with less time and less money is the mantra in most corporations today (the Fortune 500 may be raising their short-term stock price but they are doing it at the expense of their employees, future profits and future stock price). But more is actually bad and here’s why. More means:
- We have to multi-task and our brains are incapable of multi-tasking says brain research.
- We are too busy. Busy is a badge of honor for most of us but busy also means we may not be doing anything well. Not to mention, too busy is pretty stressful.
- We can’t focus. Caught up in just getting through the day? Trying to cross 10 items off of a 100 item long to do list? Under these conditions it is terribly hard to do any strategic thinking.
So if we want to toss this conventional wisdom out the window and do something effective what do we do?
More of the people who love us the most
We have a group of core members. These are the members that love us the most (who in return we love them the most). They feel the most affinity for the association. They are the most engaged. They belong. They contribute. They mentor. They volunteer. They attend. They purchase.
These members are like gold because not only do they support the organization financially but they also believe, which also contributes value to the organization, perhaps more value than money can. They believe:
- Others should join the organization and get the same benefits they have and they evangelize the association at every opportunity.
- They should give back. When the time and opportunity sync just right they know they will derive meaning and value from giving back to other members.
- They should share their knowledge. This segment of members, like no other segment you have, will tell you the truth. If members are leaving, they know why. If new trends are facing the profession, they will share those. If the association has a barrier to purchase, they will patiently explain what it is and why.
The people who love us the most are like gold. The question becomes not how do we grow? but how do we attract more of the people who love us the most?
Better is the path to growth
Let’s revisit an earlier comment: the moment we start thinking about diversifying is also the same moment we should step back and refocus on our core members. Being narrowly focused doesn’t mean to keep doing what we already do. It means being narrowly focused on our core members, a group with similar needs, mindset, problems and goals. By being narrowly focused we can put our energy into getting to know them better, understanding their needs and finding the solutions they need.
Even among our core members times are changing, technology is changing and their tastes are changing. Their needs are changing. While associations that excel are rigidly focused on their core they are not rigidly focused on what they do. In other words as members needs change they seek to solve these new needs in new ways. Excellent associations constantly strive to get better.
Excellent association are always looking for ways to get better:
- Better service
- Better products
- Better marketing
- Better innovation
- Better strategy
Better problem solving. They serve their core members better and better all the time. Our big misconception about growth is that growth comes from doing more. Growth actually comes from being better.
The next time someone says “have we thought about inviting [a new audience] to be members?” Think, it’s time to refocus on our core members and serve them even better. It is easier to say “let’s be better” than it is to do. Where do we start? The first step is becoming experts in our members’ problems, goals, opinions and feelings. Find more articles like this one by Amanda Kaiser at her blog SmoothThePath.net or on Twitter at @SmoothThePath.