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Jul 13, 2022 BY Andrew Buck Marketing

6 Ways to Convince Your Members to Buy Your Association’s Professional Credential

Mighty Insights

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In our experience working with some of the world’s great associations, we often notice a problem: They don’t offer any—or enough—concrete responses to the question every member (or would-be member) has: What’s in it for me? And with direct competition, associations have to fight harder than ever to keep members engaged, happy, and renewing or signing up to become a member.

This shortcoming can also extend to continuing education (CE) offerings, including professional credentials, where organizations don’t seem to pitch (or promote) the value of their professional credentials enough.

As a result, too few professionals are earning credentials and too much revenue is being left at the table. Let’s look at how to fix it.

#1 List All Benefits of Getting the Professional Credential

Benefits are not features, yet associations often communicate as if they’re the same thing. Your customers think about features, but they feel about benefits. And in the end, you want users feeling, not thinking.

  • Features are the characteristics of a thing—a description of its traits or truths.

    • For a professional credential, features might include: it’s valid for three years before renewal is required; it comes with a digital and printed certificate; it’s earned over the course of 12 classes, two hours each; etc.

  • Benefits are the specific ways a person’s life will improve. Often, benefits are the results of features, but not always.

    • For a professional credential, benefits might include: it will help you earn a higher salary; it will give you a fancy set of letters to place after your name on your resume; it will get recruiters to call you more often to try to poach you to a better job; it will give you instant credibility with your peers and clients; etc.

Your first step in improving how your association markets its continuing education (CE) and credential offerings is to write the most comprehensive list of benefits possible. Exhaust your brainpower. Ask people from every department in the association for their contributions to the list. Ask your board. Ask some members. Maybe run a member survey that explicitly asks, “In what ways is your life and/or work better since you earned your credential?”

Also, create a list of benefits for each type of member. For example, if you have a “student member” type, list any benefits that are unique to students.

Don’t make too many assumptions about what’s actually a benefit to a particular type of member. For example, for professionals late in their career, the benefit of “being able to get new, better jobs” is probably less persuasive because they’re less likely than younger members to seek new jobs.

Frame everything about your credential in terms of the user’s what’s in it for me? perspective. Write your benefits list(s). Then move to the next step.

#2 Get Proof

Many of your benefits won’t be measurable—at least not precisely.

That said, you could report on what percentage of credential-holders find it beneficial. For example, you could conduct a survey that asks, “Has having the credential helped your career?” and then publish what percentage of respondents said “Yes!”

But some benefits can be tracked with numbers. If you can get these numbers, do so, then publish them widely and regularly and in big, bold font. For most association-based professional credentials, the measurable benefits people will care most about are:

  • Increase in annual salary

  • Increase in professional opportunities

  • Movement upward in their current business (i.e., promotions)

To get these numbers, you can probably conduct a survey. But you may also need to follow up with some one-on-one conversations to confirm the data the survey suggests.

Testimonials are one of the most powerful persuasive tools at your association’s disposal. Collect them regularly. You can get them from open-ended questions in a survey, such as, “What’s been the best part of your career since earning your credential?” Additionally, testimonials can be solicited directly from highly engaged members.

Having testimonials alone isn’t enough; you must also communicate them well. To do this, you should:

  • Create a unique design for testimonials on your website so you can drop them anywhere on any webpage.

  • Get a high-resolution headshot of the testimonial-giver.

  • Try to include: the testimonial giver’s first and last name, job title, city and state, employer/company, the question, the testimonial answers, and the testimonial itself.

  • Share these on social media at least once or twice per week as standalone posts, and add a module to your marketing emails designed specifically to make testimonials stand out.

We recommend wrapping all of the above tactics into a discrete marketing campaign aimed at driving credential sign-ups.

#3 Anticipate Objections Before They Become Objections

It’s time to make another list.

Take a piece of paper. At the top, write OBJECTIONS. Then draw a line down the middle of the page. On the left, list every objection someone would have to seek the credential. No objection is too big, too small, or too petty. Again, ask around your office for more ideas. You could include this in a survey, too—e.g., “Why haven’t you sought the credential yet?”

Once you’ve written every conceivable objection down, use the right side of the page to respond to the objection. You’ll find most of the objections have some sort of fix, most of them pretty easy ones. Some objections will be too personal or too outside your control to fully settle, and that’s OK.

Here’s a quick example of the most common objections you’ll find and some examples of how you might respond:

I don’t know why I need it.Your employer may pay for it. Or if you sign up before July 30, you can get a 50% discount. Plus, it more than pays for itself considering people who get this credential earn 15% more in their lifetime than those who don’t.
I don’t know why I need it.Here’s a list of benefits for you: more money, better jobs, more clout, etc.
It takes too long to earn.It’s self-paced, we have a ton of resources to help you study and pass the tests, and it will be valid for two years. Plus, the renewal process in two years is much quicker and easier.
It seems too hard.It isn’t easy, but it’s not as hard as you think. Making it kind of hard ensures that the credential has meaning in the marketplace. Plus, we have a whole library of free study materials—along with a Discord server for your colleagues who are also pursuing the credential to share ideas and tips, and resources.

You could literally post your list on your website as is. No need to make it elegant or bury it in narrative text. Post these to social media now and then—e.g., “The Top 5 Objections to Earning the XXXXX Credential and Why They’re Not True!” Alternatively, you could design an infographic that makes the case more visually interesting.

Make sure your staff is armed with these so that, if they’re out in the world and meet someone, they’re ready to shoot down the objections as they pop up.

#4 Make the Process Simple

It won’t matter how persuasively you make the case for your credential if the process of signing up and earning it are a user-experience nightmare. Few things will improve your conversion rate more than a seamless, intuitive experience.

But this requires sophistication and expert design. It doesn’t have to be expensive, but it does have to be thoughtful and thorough. It’ll also require some usability testing along the way to get it just right. No step in the process is too small to be overlooked and optimized.

The bulk of your focus on user experience should, of course, be aimed at the classes themselves.

  • Do you have the right number of classes?

  • Do they come in the right order?

  • What’s the method of learning, online or in-person?

  • If they’re online classes, do they look good and does the technology make sense? Or are they kind of bland and ugly and confusing?

  • Are quizzes along the way too hard, too easy, or just skippable altogether?

  • How do users know when it’s time to move on to the next class?

Dozens of other questions exist. But the gist is this: If you continually force your members to think too hard about the process, they’re much more likely to quit or slow down. You want them to think about the substance of the courses, not the infrastructure around them.

#5 Make Your Case Constantly and Consistently

She wasn’t talking about marketing when she said it, but Eleanor Roosevelt’s quotation is important to remember: “You wouldn’t worry so much about what others think of you if you realized how seldom they do.” Write that on a sticky note and stick it on your computer monitor.

The lesson: The people whom you’re trying to first find and then convince to buy your credential don’t think of your association, if at all. So, when you finally manage to place yourself in front of them—whether via an email, a social media ad, a search ad, etc.—you have to seize those precious few seconds. You have to convert that momentary attention into deeper interest.

How to do this? At the risk of sound repetitive: Focus on the benefits.

Don’t be too cute or clever with your messaging in these instances. Lead with the most important message: “If you get this credential, you’ll have a better job, more money, and greater influence.”

The only reason people think the Nike swoosh is such a brilliant logo is because Nike spends billions of dollars every year putting it in our faces. We can’t avoid it, so we come to like (or even admire) it. There’s nothing inherently powerful about most organization’s names, taglines, logos, or key messages; it’s how and how often they’re delivered that makes them eventually work.

Once you’ve established your benefits-focused messaging for your credential, invest time and money in putting it into the world. Otherwise, it won’t move the needle. And whenever you do “put it into the world,” do it the exact same way every time (more or less). Again, the people you’re seeking have busy, stressful, easily distractible lives. The kindest thing you can do for them is (a) prove that the credential will improve their lives and (b) say so as many times in as many places as feasible until they see it and internalize it.

#6 Inject Your Professional Credential With 4 Moments of Joyful, Whimsical Surprise

Earning a credential is often a tedious plod. It usually takes weeks and months of work, and it requires users to marshal focus they may not have.

But you can make users forget all of that by simply installing four moments of unexpected delight along the way.

How, precisely, you decide to unexpectedly delight your users is up to you. There are thousands of examples online of companies and organizations doing something unusual. Steal the ones you like. (One of my favorites comes from the pet product delivery service, Chewy.)

The First Moment: Immediately After Registration

A colleague of mine recently joined a professional organization. This is the email he received right away:

Feeling excited? Of course not. It’s cold, impersonal, and computer-generated. And it’s thoughtless.

Your first moment of joy can be simple—maybe an email that is personalized with their name comes “from” a person with a person’s name, contains a funny GIF, and a link to a $5 Amazon gift card to put toward the purchase of a “beautiful picture frame to hold your future certificate.” (That’s just one idea, of course!)

The Second Moment: About Halfway Through the Course

If you have the technology, automate an email that goes to the user once they’ve completed about 50% of the courses.

Note: If your credential is earned live in person, the opportunities for delight really expand. You can take a karaoke break in the middle of class. You can have a full-size Snickers bar waiting at each student’s desk when they arrive in the morning. You can offer a $50 gift card to the winner of an egg-in-spoon race down the main hallway.

The Third Moment: Upon Completion

This is the moment of triumph, and you should find a way to lend it a sense of pomp and circumstance. Really make your members feel special at that moment.

There are, as always, many ways you could do this. But my favorite is a bit old school: Print a credential certificate and mail it to them.

And don’t cheap out on it. Print it on high-quality paper using a high-quality printer. Have your Executive Director sign it with a real pen. Make it look like a degree from Harvard or Stanford—all Old English font and fancy language. MAKE IT A BIG DEAL. Plus, nobody gets mail they love (other than Amazon packages), so receiving a physical representation of their hard work will make their day. And, more importantly, it will make them remember and like you.

The Fourth Moment: About Six Months Later

Sometime after the credential is earned, follow up with something delightful. (Make it better than an email, if you can.) Again, let your imagination go. If possible, create a moment of joy that is clearly “on brand” for you. For example, if you’re an association of train conductors, maybe send them a Photoshopped image of a train engine that looks as if their name and credential were written across its side in great graffiti. If you’re an association of hairdressers, maybe send them a photo of your leadership team all wearing ridiculous wigs and holding signs that spell out “C-O-N-G-R-A-T-S!”

Maybe you take an afternoon and film a bunch of personalized, 30-second videos on your iPhone where your Executive Director congratulates them (by name) while holding an adorable puppy. Who doesn’t love a puppy?

You can pair this moment of connection with a slight request: “If you’re enjoying your credential, would you take a moment to email one of your colleagues to encourage them to earn it too?”

See what we did there?

Mighty Citizen Can Help

If you’re like many associations we know, you likely have limited resources and time to accomplish some of the very important methods we discussed today. Fear not! Mighty Citizen has over 20 years of experience helping associations build deeper connections with their members and increase their revenue. Give us a shout.

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