What are the best ideas to recruit new association members using a cold prospect list?

Recruiting new association members can be challenging when they are very familiar with your association. Recruiting “cold prospects,” or those who have limited or no knowledge of your association, can be even more difficult. So what are the best ideas to recruit new association members using a cold prospect list?

First, let’s start with the good news.  A “cold” list does have one advantage over marketing to a familiar or “warm” audience: there are no preconceived ideas of the association, and no previous decision has been made to not join.

Now the bad news: In this busy world, selling the association to someone who has never heard of it is difficult.

Here is the solution: Don’t sell the association. Sell the pain that is solved, the dream that can be realized, or the trouble that is avoided.

  • If I asked you to join the National Association of _________ (fill in the blank with any profession) because we lobby, have education, and provide networking, it’s unlikely you would be interested.
  • Alternatively, if I told you I was part of an association that saved me from getting fired during the “Great Recession,” you might just want to learn more.

Don’t be offended that no one wants to join your association. Unlike our grandparents, no one wants to join an association because it is “what professionals do.”

However, people do want to find things that:

  • save time
  • help them get a raise
  • lay the groundwork for that next promotion, or
  • result in recognition and fame.

If that “thing” happens to be an association, that’s great.  (If you’re reading this, you know that “thing” IS an association, because associations offer many wonderful things. But by definition you aren’t a cold prospect.)

With that in mind, let’s move on to tactics. Let’s presume you have a list with phone numbers and emails.

  • Generally speaking, many people hate receiving cold calls via phone. But clearly they can be effective, as companies continue to use them. If your association makes cold phone calls, the best results tend to come from members calling the other prospects. Members are simply more credible, and they can offer personal stories along the lines of “the association saved my job.” Staff and paid callers may be less credible.
  • Many people hate receiving emails, too, of course. But emails do provide an excellent way to reach the audience quickly, let you test various messages, and measure everything. The key with emails is to offer what the prospect wants (hint: they don’t want to join an association).

Regardless of the tactic you use, the key is this: slowly nurture the relationship.

Think about it this way:  You wouldn’t walk up to a stranger and ask him to meet your parents.  So you shouldn’t contact a cold prospect and just ask him to join your association.

This perhaps is the irony of marketing to cold prospects: Selling to them doesn’t work.

Start by being their friend. Find a way to help them with their troubles. Earn their appreciation.

You might just build a wonderful relationship that lasts for years to come.


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