Our Thinking

Membership Sites: Sales and Marketing by Teaching

What is the biggest growth constraint for professional service firms? Most of them sell their services by the hour. This means there are two ways to grow the business: first, sell more billable hours and second, increase billing rates. However, both of these ways have their own constraints. The clients can only pay so much for a service and with the changing landscape of sales and marketing, it is getting harder and harder to sell more hours. The traditional “car salesmen” approach doesn’t work anymore. The prospects are more aware of their needs and the sales generally happen before the actual sale, or in some cases even before the first contact between the firm and the prospect. Professional service firms can address this challenge by taking control of the process and selflessly educating their prospects. We call this concept Sales and Marketing by Teaching. Building a membership site is a great way to educate your prospects. The built-in tracking and analytics allows the firms to control this education.

The concept of membership sites has been around for over a decade. However, with the new technologies around it is now relatively easier to set up a membership site and if required, to monetize it. From the firm’s perspective, this is a way to diversify into products and monetize their intellectual property (IP). Finally, it gives the firm an opportunity to target the market segment that cannot afford the firm’s services. Here are five different ways to use a membership site:

  1. Lead Capture and Qualification: Capturing the right leads is important for any business to get the best bang for their marketing dollars. Typically, a membership site automatically builds intelligence by tracking prospect behaviour within the site (e.g. how they click, read, listen, watch, etc.) and what type of content is being consumed by the prospects. This data can be automatically fed into the firm’s Client Relationship Management (CRM) system (e.g. SalesForce.com, Infusionsoft, etc.) and then be used to qualify them or send targeted communication.
  2. Nurturing Prospects: Once these leads have been captured and qualified, the next step is to nurture these prospects. The objective is to build trust and educate the prospects so they can make informed decisions. This is achieved by selectively sharing content with your prospects, monitoring their engagement using the CRM, and taking suitable follow-up actions.
  3. Client Services: A membership site can be used to drastically improve your services. For instance, client support documents such as: answers to frequently asked questions (FAQs), user manuals, how-to guides and tip sheets can be made available 24/7 within a member’s area. This strategy can keep the clients engaged even after the project is complete and continue to add value to their experience with you. Not to forget, this can differentiate the firm from its competitors.
  4. Up-Sell Clients: It is a well-known fact that it is more economical to get more business from existing clients than it is to acquire new ones. This is another area where the membership sites can be effective. Once the clients are hooked to the content in your membership site, there will be opportunities to up-sell your other products/services.
  5. Generating Annuity: This is the key benefit of a membership site. Successful monetization of the content can reduce the dependency on selling billable hours. I will cover the “how” another day, however, there are a number of proven models and best practices that exist.

Take a few minutes and think about how you or your organization build trust with prospects/clients. Why do they prefer you over your competitors? If you have a membership site, feel free to share your experiences.

Ashish Malik is Partner, Client Services at 108 ideaspace inc., a firm that works in Web/Social Media/Marketing Automation strategy and implementation. A Certified Consultant, Ashish has helped several clients automate their sales and marketing as well as grow their business by implementing CRM. For more on Ashish Malik or 108 ideaspace, visit ideas108.wpengine.com.

For more ideas on how to market your business, follow Ashish on Twitter @AshishMalik01.