Making the Most of Memberships

By Lain Ehmann

It’s common to join professional organizations in an effort to make contacts, but what do you do once you’ve joined? And exactly what kind of contacts are you going to make? The answers to these questions depend on how strategically you approach membership in professional and industry organizations – a mindset most people don’t take, says Anne Baber, co-author of Make Your Contacts Count: Networking Know-How for Cash, Clients, and Career Success (AMACOM, 2002). Making the most of your memberships means asking the right questions before you join, and then putting in the face time to show the members who you are.

One mistake people make is not choosing memberships carefully, says Baber. It’s better to be active in a few groups than a no-show member of dozens. You want to be proud of your association with the group, so evaluate organizations based on their reputation, the alignment between their missions and goals and your own, and their ability to put you in touch with the people you want to meet.

Depending on your goals, you might want a large or small group, local or national, or one with a social or educational focus. For salespeople looking for customers, Baber says, “It’s much more important to join the organization that your clients or customers are part of. Go where your customers are.”

Paying the yearly dues and getting your name in the membership directory isn’t enough. “Once you’ve decided what kind of organization you want to be part of, you have to go,” says Baber. “You have to show up. You have to become involved.” It’s through active participation that you demonstrate to potential customers what kind of salesperson you’ll be.”

Become as active as your time and goals allow you to be. You might want to become an officer, or simply help with hospitality. Whatever your role, remember that you’re on display. Even if you’re just organizing the monthly coffee service for the meeting, Baber says, people will view your efforts according to the all-or-nothing rule. “Whatever you do, people will assume you do everything that way. So whatever you do, do it well.”

If you’re wondering when prospecting enters the picture, it might not – at least not directly. “In some organizations it’s considered very tacky to contact the people you’ve met with a follow-up sales call,” warns Baber. You’ll want to get to know the ground rules for the organization before you join, and definitely before you start pitching your products.

Baber’s recommendation is that you hold off selling products and concentrate instead on demonstrating your character and competence and getting to know the other members. “Don’t make it a sales call,” she says. “Make it a personal get-to-know-you kind of thing.” Though you’re not directly selling your product, you are selling yourself all the time.

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