“If people choose to engage on a one-dimensional level that’s fine. But going beyond the surface can enrich ourselves as human beings.”
~ Geri Halliwell

networking-welcome-home“We get lots of visitors and guests, but our membership has been at the same level for the last several years. We’re not sure what to do about it.” My friend was telling me about the challenges of the professional organization that she helps run. “Over the last couple of years we’ve had close to a hundred visitors, but most of them only showed up one time and we never saw them again.

This is a pretty common problem with professional organizations. They go to a lot of trouble to market their meetings. They encourage existing members to bring in guests, but for some reason, their membership doesn’t grow. Most of the new attendees are “one and done” visitors. But there are groups out there that do grow over time. What’s the difference between the two groups?

The stagnating ones don’t have a visitor engagement structure.

You may not personally have any control over how your group behaves, but as a networker, you can adopt these strategies with the guests you invite. After all, your sphere of influence only improves as more people join groups where you are a member. Of course, if you are participating as a member of an operating committee or board, you have the opportunity to bring these techniques to the membership at large.

Here are few of the activities of the successful groups I’ve seen. Most take little or no effort to pull off.

  1. Have a great product. I thought we should get this one out of the way right away. This is probably the primary reason most people start attending any group. They perceive that the program is worth their while in the first place. If they end up disappointed with the program, none of the rest of these strategies will matter. As an individual member, keep an eye out for great speakers or fun activities which you think would benefit the other members of the group. Let the leadership know about these ideas.
    Oh, and if you see areas where things could be going better, give honest feedback to the folks running the show. Be nice. Point out the things they are doing right, but they really need to know what they could be doing better. You might even recommend someone from your network who could address whatever problem you’ve found.
  2. Let the guest stand out. The first time I attended the National Speakers Association national conference, I received a nametag with a “VIP” ribbon on it. All the first-timers received one. All the members knew that they were to help the VIP’s whenever they could to point them in the right direction. If your group does something like this with visitors, you be sure to be the welcoming committee. You’ll make great connections with the new people in the room if you make yourself available to keep them pointed in the right direction.
  3. Acknowledge them. Even if your group doesn’t have a designation for first-time attendees, it should at least acknowledge them. At a designated point in the meeting, have them stand and be recognized. When this happens, you, as a great networker should watch for those you haven’t greeted yet and make a point of connecting with them before the end of the meeting.
  4. Give them a road map. Some of the most successful BNI groups I’ve attended have a member dedicated to taking the visitors aside to give them all the information they need to make a decision about joining the group. They tell them about the requirements, the application process, and answer any specific questions the potential new members might have. If your group doesn’t officially have a program like this, take it upon yourself to have that information at your fingertips so you can give your guests a road map for their potential travels ahead.
  5. Engage with them. Reach out after the event to create a deeper relationship with your guests. Ask them if they have any questions. Heck, ask them if they enjoyed it. This is where a lot of groups slip up. They might put the guest on their mailing list, but otherwise they leave it up to them as to whether to follow up. As great networkers, we know that we have to be the ones who take control of the relationship. That’s why we always ask for their card and actually use that information to create stronger connections.
  6. Invite them back. They had a good time. They met some cool people. They may even have learned a thing or two. They aren’t members yet, though, so the regular meeting probably isn’t on their calendar, so they rarely show up a second time. A week or two before your next event, reach out to any guests you’ve invited in the past and invite them back again. Let them know why they should come, maybe even why you are going to be there. This isn’t a form letter (though you could easily create a customizable template). This is a personal message from you to them telling them you’d like to see them again.
  7. Connect the old with the new. Could you create a mentorship program for your group? Connect that potential member with a long-time member. The newbie gets access to all the experience of the veteran. Introductions become easier and the secret handshakes and taboos are easier to explain. Obviously, unless you are part of the leadership, you probably can’t implement an official program like this on your own. If your group does have such a setup, though, be sure to volunteer. The side benefit of something like this is it also encourages the veteran members to stay connected to the group.

Until you have structure in place, any conversion from guest to member will be purely happenstance. Just as we have to take control of developing the relationships we start at the event, so, too, must we reach out to the guests to develop the relationship between the guest and the group. The nice thing is any techniques we choose to implement really come back to one rule: You have to care.

What do the groups to which you belong do to encourage guests to become members?