5 Ways to Successfully Sustain Your Membership Business

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Starting a membership or subscription business is great.

It’s a move many businesses are making and will probably continue to make, because the membership model works.

But keeping a membership business running over the course of a few years, on the other hand, isn’t so great. In fact, it can be downright hard.

So how do you make sure that you keep growing over the course of a year, or two years, or five years?

Here’s are 5 ways to keep your members engaged for the long haul…

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1. It’s About Having a Great Product

Whether you’re a SaaS business or traditional commerce business (or somewhere in between), having something of value to offer is the key difference between a company that sustains long-term and one that burns out quickly.

That doesn’t mean you need to cure cancer to be valuable, but your offering does need to answer a problem of some kind.

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That could be the answer to, “How do I build a website quickly?” or even “How do I get healthy snacks without having to go shopping?” The problem can be big or small, but it has to be a problem, and it has to target a certain market.

The reality is that you’ll know within the first year whether or not your product is providing enough value to keep members or subscribers engaged.

2. It’s About Retention

Acquisition is extremely important, of course. If you don’t have members, you can’t keep members.

But if your product or service is providing something of value that people want, your goal is to make sure they use it on a consistent basis. We’ve written before on the importance of retention and reducing churn, but according to the latest statistics, more than two-thirds of service businesses in the last year experienced annual churn rates of 5% or higher.

Additionally, almost the same number saw an increase or no change in churn since the previous year, even though reports also show that more than half of the companies surveyed increased their spending on customer retention.

That means membership businesses are still losing customers in droves, despite focusing more on retention. So what’s the key, here?

3. It’s About Staying Competitive

It’s probably safe to assume that every time your member or subscriber receives a renewal notice, they will probably ask the following questions:

  • Do I actually use this?
  • Do I get value from this?
  • Is it worth it?

If your product or service isn’t something that’s useable every month, that will inevitably cause higher churn rates and prevent you from being sustainable long term. You will have to constantly focus on getting new customers like a traditional commerce business.

If your product or service isn’t providing value, you need to reevaluate the problem you’re trying to solve (see point #1).

If your product or service isn’t competitive enough – if it isn’t “worth it” – then you’ve already lost the battle. But what makes something worthwhile? That depends on who you ask.

According to the latest customer loyalty statistics, the overall value or benefit of a service is a more important for Baby Boomers (70%) and Gen X (70%) than it is for Millennials (65%) and Gen K (61%). Millennials in particular are hard to please, as they are more likely to make financial decisions based on how expensive (or inexpensive) a product is, not just the benefits it adds to their lives.

Basically, if you’re not priced competitively, your ideal market over the next 5-10 years will ignore you before you get a chance to get off the ground.

4. It’s About Your Sales Team

A lot of retention and value can be communicated through your sales team. However, an effective sales team has to understand that it’s about more than just preventing cancellations – it’s about providing a good experience.

Customer loyalty stats also show that 60% of U.S. consumers won’t complete an intended purchase because of a poor customer service experience, and 47% of customers would take their business to a competitor within a day of experiencing poor customer service.

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When it comes to your team, you have to ask the following questions:

  • Is your current team serving your members timely and efficiently?
  • Is your current team able to meet member needs?
  • Is your current team passionate about what they do?

Stopping someone from leaving is about more than getting their credit card and a “yes.” It’s about getting them excited to keep using your product or service. If your team doesn’t understand what’s exciting about what you do, or they’re not excited to sell, they’re not going to further your cause.

This might mean taking a look at your current talent pool to see what’s working and what’s not. Your team should be able to recognize churn behaviors in your subscriber base, know the causes of churn, and be able to provide the right plan of action for each member to keep them coming back.

5. It’s About Operational Efficiency

Sustainable memberships are the result of companies that have sustainable operations.

If your production costs are higher than your income, you won’t sustain your business long enough to worry about retention. If your team has a high turnover rate, you’re more likely to have a high member churn rate. If you don’t even have a team, you’re probably in the wrong business.

The more efficient your business is on the backend, the better it will be for members on the front end. Efficient practices are key to success.

The best way to create operational efficiencies is to foster a company culture that supports team members and promotes growth (see #4), one that uses tools and other resources to drive productivity and minimize stress, and one that has strategic practices in place for retention and acquisition.

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The key is to not leave things to chance. Make sure your operations are tight, your team is able to function, and everything is running smoothly before you focus on growth.

As they say, an inch of prevention is worth a pound of cure. In this case, an inch of operational efficiency is worth a pound of customer-service-related churn. (Though that doesn’t roll off the tongue quite as well).

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Final Thoughts

Having a membership business can be worth it if you do it right, but the keys to success lie in the usefulness of your product, the strength of your sales team, and the strategic planning of your operations.

The key is to make sure your internal operations are optimized so that you can focus your efforts on providing a great (and valuable) service to your members. Remember that retention is important, so develop a team that can meet their needs and provide solutions.

And don’t be afraid to play around with your pricing and offering to make it ideal for the members you actually want to keep around for a while. Over time your membership base will shift, so be sure you’re able to stay competitive (while still providing good old fashioned customer care, of course).

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About Joanne

Joanne is a writer who specializes in educating online site owners about building a thriving membership business.

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