Tennis Industry magazine

 

Facility Management: Membership Drive

A more aggressive sales approach may be what you need to bring more members to your facility.

By Rod Heckelman

T he standard approach for most every club or facility is to provide a tour for a prospective member. You know the routine: Your front desk gets a call or a member refers someone and the first step to selling that new membership is to show them your facility, introduce them to your programs and explain to them how they are going to enjoy using your club.

Some clubs have salespeople to conduct this task so that a more professional approach can be guaranteed. Not only does this ensure a complete introduction, but also it often provides an opportunity to negotiate the transaction on a case-by-case situation. If all goes as planned, you have a new member.

Unfortunately, with these more challenging economic times, that technique may need to be shelved and a new, more aggressive approach may need to be employed.

In years past, giving a tour to a prospective member would have seemed appropriate and welcoming, but would you give a tour to someone who is attending a party you’re hosting? Wouldn’t you just invite them in and have them become part of the festivities? If they are inquiring about your club, they are already interested in becoming a member. Aren’t most of the questions and answers that are provided during a tour also provided through usage?

No Negotiating

Today, prospective members, and for that matter most consumers, will probably make the decision to join in a matter of minutes. These are minutes you can’t waste or misuse. Today, you want those prospective members to feel like members as soon as they walk in the door.

You see this happen today with car sales. Often the car salesperson will just toss you the keys, do a little paperwork and tell you the car is yours to enjoy. The idea is aggressive and effective; you go on the lot and if you like a car, you own it.

Clubs need to do the same thing; you walk into a club to inquire about a new membership and bingo, you’re a member. No tours, no negotiating, you just begin to use the club in the fashion you had hoped to use it.

If they are hoping to become a tennis member, you line them up with a current member, get them court time and have them hitting balls right away. With swimming or fitness, they should not only be introduced to the facility and able to use it, but also be introduced to one of your staff who works that area of the facility. Let that staff person show them how to best use the pool or fitness center and maybe even help them take part in a swim or fitness class.

In sales you hear a lot about closing the deal. With this new approach, the deal should be considered closed when they walk in the front door. Don’t waste their and your time trying to find out how they ended up inquiring about your facility. You will have plenty of time to gather that information once they are a member. Your first and foremost task is to get them to use and enjoy your club — any way possible. If that can happen, you are on your way to having a new member.

Following Up

It should be in your program to always follow up with a new member a few weeks after they have joined. Hopefully you have in place an intro that they receive free from a staff person in each department. Tennis facilities in particular should always have the tennis pro review the player’s game and show them how to properly use the facility and meet others.

Eventually you will find out how they discovered your facility and you will be able to use that information to help you when locating your advertisement. With most clubs it is referrals, and putting in place a system to recognize and maybe reward those referrals is a smart plan.

If by chance you were not able to sell that membership during that initial contact, you can always take a second shot at them. When doing so, avoid e-mails that look like they are mass-produced. Also avoid any threatening end to some special sales program. If for some reason they cannot meet that deadline, that threat results in sending them elsewhere.

To this day, a call or personal contact is still the best method of following up with a prospective member. It is during this second time around that you hope to discover what might have been missed on their initial visit. For this to happen, avoid providing them with more information about what you have to offer or what your competition can’t offer, but rather simply ask questions as to what they want. It’s the salesperson that needs information, not the prospective buyer, and although they may have been visiting other clubs, putting down the competition brings a negative context to the conversation. Stay focused on what their goals and desires are and, hopefully, you can recruit them.

Another common mistake in the follow-through with a prospective member is the use of a numerical survey. You get these a lot from large corporations that are trying to manage from the top down. The service industry, which is what we are in, is about developing relationships and discovering what members want and look for in a club. I doubt very much that in a personal relationship you would ask your partner, “On a scale of 1 to 10, how do you feel our relationship is going?” Would you judge art at a museum on a scale of 1 to 10? Surveys should ask questions that allow feedback that is more thorough and insightful. Most facilities have sufficient staff to review answers and respond to input. Take advantage of that and listen, react and change to better your sales program.

Eliminating Hurdles

Many clubs are also moving away from prospective members having to make an appointment to see the facility or meet the salesperson. The problem with this model is that it creates a hurdle for the buyer to have to take on. Even if your facility provides commissions for sales, consider creating a program that trains every front-desk person on how to conduct a sale. Packaging a commission program for that model can be done and the results can be very lucrative and productive. The club gains members and the front-desk staff are more motivated to take part in sales. This can also provide extra income for the front-desk staff, allowing you to adjust salaries.

The fact is, if you have hired the right type of person to work your front desk, they are probably perfect for sales. Selling in our industry is all about liking people and wanting to help them, and isn’t that one of the most important qualities you want in a front-desk person?

Not just the front-desk staff, but your entire staff, can sell memberships. The tennis pros, swim instructors, trainers, massage therapists, all of them can have great influence on prospective members. More and more clubs are rewarding these key people and even creating programs that provide extra income when they take part in member retention.

Imagine a tennis pro getting a small commission at the close of a sale, and then at the end of the year receiving another commission because that member is still active. Now imagine that reward process taking place every year as long as that member is active. The results are twofold, both improving membership and staff retention. The bond between the member and that staff person is an important association that impacts the experience both will have at your club. It will always remain a healthy experience and contribute to member retention if you reward it.

This aggressive sales program is not for everyone. If you’re afraid of losing your exclusive image or you have a waiting list to join your club, then this approach might not be suited for you. But if you’re trying to survive these tough times and are looking to increase your membership, give this approach a try. Just toss the prospective member a membership card and tell them to take a drive.

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About the Author

Rod Heckelman  is the general manager and tennis pro at the Mount Tam Racquet Club in Marin County, Calif., where he has been for the last 31 years. His career in the industry started in 1967 at the famed John Gardiner’s Tennis Ranch. In 1970, when Gardiner opened his resort on Camelback Mountain in Scottsdale, Ariz., Heckelman, at age 20, became one of the youngest head pros in the country. He created the “Facility Manager’s Manual” based on his years of experience in the tennis business.

 

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