Have you ever attended a business networking event where you knew very few people . . . maybe no one?
How did you feel when you were walking in? Confident? Curious? Cautious? Comfortable? Uncomfortable?
All those are possible, of course, but I think most of us would admit to at least feeling a little uncomfortable, if only for a few minutes.
I spent nearly ten years as a regional chapter director in an international networking organization (a job I loved!), and I learned a fair bit about one of the most important aspects of growing a paid-membership organization: the Visitor Experience. Chapters in that organization usually do a bang-up job of welcoming and including visitors; it’s one of many reasons they have had such phenomenal growth.
One of my strongest messages as a director to the members in the chapters I supported was how important the Visitor Experience would be for the growth or death of the chapter. All organizations lose members; attrition is normal. Members move, change jobs, retire – the list is endless. So growth and profitability depend on a steady stream of visitors, many of whom could choose to become members.
Inviting business professionals to attend a meeting as a guest was only the beginning, though. What happened once they got there was crucial. The members had to understand – all members should get this – that everyone is a Visitor Host. Everyone. Some have that title, but anytime a stranger walks into a room, everyone should be on high alert.
Why? Because those first few minutes of a visitor’s experience may well seal the deal for gaining or losing that person as a member.
Every member of every public meeting can have an
impact on a visitor’s experience.
Over the last couple of years, I have attended many paid-membership business meetings, wondering if I could find a group that I would feel comfortable in. With all my outer confidence, I am still no different than most others: I hope that when I enter, someone will be kind and smart enough to welcome me with a big smile.
And why do I say kind and smart? Because showing kindness towards a visitor is a good thing with a personal upside as well. Who gets to make a positive first impression? Who then stands out from the crowd? Who are visitors grateful for? Who sets the tone for the entire experience?
That doesn’t always happen, though.
As the amazing Maya Angelou said:
I’ve learned that people will forget what you said,
people will forget what you did,
but people will never forget how you made them feel.
Recently I attended a professional business meeting, and no one welcomed me. Luckily for me, I knew one of the women there, so I walked over and talked with her for a minute or so.
The meeting started about 10 minutes late because the president hadn’t yet arrived. It appeared that being on time wasn’t a priority for the group because no one stepped up to take her place.
Then she breezed in, all atwitter about how the traffic was awful, backed-up, and on and on. She spent the next five or six minutes on that topic. And as the meeting ended, when another visitor and I thought we’d be able to mingle with the members, she announced to us that we could leave then, that the meeting was being closed to discuss chapter business. We were ushered out. Down the stairs to the street.
We were speechless. Neither of us ever went back.
So my question to you is: How do you ensure that visitors always feel welcome at your meetings?
- Do you have Visitor Hosts – designated or otherwise – who actually welcome visitors? (In some organizations they may be called ambassadors or greeters.) Are they there early, with everything set up, ready to catch the visitors who are also early because they weren’t sure where they were going? Or are most members busy chitchatting with other members, too blind to see the newcomer hesitating at the door? Too blind to see the opportunity that a visitor represents? That person could become a valued member or a valued client. But someone who doesn’t feel welcome is unlikely to return. Any time a stranger walks through your meeting room door, every member should be on high alert! Newcomer at the door!
- Do you include visitors in the entire meeting? Even if you need a little time (five minutes should do it) to conduct member business without visitors being in the room, do you have someone outside the meeting room talking with them until they can return? This is a great time to find out what the visitors saw, heard, thought, and FELT during the meeting. It’s not a sales pitch, it’s just a few minutes to learn more about what your organization is doing well or perhaps not so well from visitors.
And having visitors rejoin the members allows them to begin to feel like a part of the meeting before they actually apply for membership. The unscripted time gives them time to join in conversations, maybe to plan to meet a member outside of the meeting, maybe to compliment someone on a presentation, maybe even to ask about a member’s products or services. If they’re not welcome after the meeting, they lose that chance. And they may never return.
- Does someone always follow up with visitors? It amazes me – not in a good way – that many times I visit a group and receive no follow-up call or email. That tells me several things, some true, some maybe not: They didn’t like me. They don’t see value in having me be a member. They’re totally disorganized. No one steps up or takes responsibility. They don’t actually want more members. They have no idea what they’re doing.
I know the prevailing wisdom is to take care of the members we have, to make sure they’re happy and see the value of their membership, and to make sure they renew each year. Obviously, that’s important. But if we neglect our visitors, who have no reason to be silent about their crummy experience, we will ultimately lose big. We all know that bad news travels incredibly fast – especially now with social media being the huge deal that it is.
What do you want outsiders saying about YOUR organization?