When Ricky L. Potts, Jr. joined the staff of the Santa Rosa, Calif. club, he didn’t know what being a Membership Director entailed. “How would I juggle all the leads, sell new memberships, process applications, attend committee meetings and keep current members happy? I needed to develop a scalable process that would be easy to follow,” he says. He quickly learned the value of a Customer Relationship Management (CRM) system as an indispensable tool for tracking all the tasks at hand.
By Ricky L. Potts, Jr. • Membership Director, The Fountaingrove Club, Santa Rosa, Calif.
When I relocated to sunny Santa Rosa, California, I didn’t know what being a Membership Director entailed. Do I just answer the phone, host tours and process paperwork? Or would I be helping to prepare documentation, creating best practices and working with a Board of Directors to welcome new members to the club? This was all new to me, but I was up to the challenge.
Working for Troon, being a member of the Club Management Association of America, and having a lot of connections in the industry, I knew if I had any questions or needed advice, there would be plenty of resources available to me. I was coming to a property new to Troon, a club that didn’t have a Membership Director, and that was rebuilding after the devastating Tubbs Fire of 2017. (As I write this, we are still rebuilding, and hope to open our new clubhouse later this year.)
Rick Ladendorf, President of Prevo Health Solutions, was here helping out through the transition. He spent a few weeks with me showing me the ropes and introduced me to the club’s customer relationship management (CRM) system. We partner with Clubessential, and the CRM would become the lifeblood of my job. After spending time, and a few local craft beers, with Rick, I was ready to start selling memberships on my own. But we needed a process.
We are pulling in leads from several different places, including our website, social media, member referrals, walk-ins, Live Chat and now, thanks to a relationship with The Private Club Agency, a targeted pay-per-click campaign that is running on Facebook and Instagram. That’s not to mention cars driving by and all families rebuilding homes in the area. While I’m not sure how many leads a typical club has, when I landed, we had over 700 active leads in the CRM.
Obviously, membership sales is my primary focus, but don’t forget about membership retention. It costs a club a lot less money to retain a member than to go out and recruit a new one. Sir Richard Branson once said, “Recruitment is sexy; retention is about listening and improving your offering—nothing too sexy about that!” He’s right.
How would I juggle all the leads coming in, sell new memberships, process applications, attend Committee Meetings and keep our current members happy? I needed to develop a scalable process that would be easy to follow.
Building the Membership Sales Journey
Let’s say John Doe is interested in golf membership opportunities. He submits a form on our website and expects a response. How quickly should we respond?
Well, the way I see it, if I am awake, I am available. We all have computers in our pockets, so if a lead comes in, regardless from where, my expectation is to respond within 24 hours. What happens if a lead comes in on a Sunday or a Monday when the golf course is closed? Doesn’t matter. The best time to strike is when the iron is hot, and if someone took the time to fill out a request for more information, then it is up to us to send him or her what they’ve asked for as quickly as possible.
Once the inquiry comes in, I will either call, if a phone number is provided, or e-mail additional information about the club. This is our chance to showcase what we offer and to learn more about our potential members.
From there we will schedule a “Discovery Visit,” so we can get boots on the ground. We have a lot to see here (Athletic Center, tennis courts, heated infinity swimming pool, dining facility, golf course, lake access and more), so versus scheduling a “tour,” we call it a Discovery Visit. Yes, I am a “sales guy” but I am not selling anything. I am simply spending time with these potential members, showing them what we have to offer, answering questions and helping them find the right fit for their needs.
After the visit, depending on what membership category they are interested in, we will schedule time for them to come back as our guest. Want to swim? Perhaps have lunch? Maybe play nine holes this Saturday afternoon? Sure, whatever you need.
We are also on your schedule. There is no benefit in us pressuring you to make a decision. We are ready when you are. But there is no pressure to “join now or else”. Granted, for golf membership opportunities, the initiation fee does change, and we have limits on the number of memberships currently available. But all of this is discussed on the initial visit.
“I am ready to join” … Now what?
If a potential member is ready to move forward, the next step is playing golf with an Ambassador from our club. We will pick a current member to host, pairing them with someone based on age, skill level and career choice. “But I don’t know any current members.” That’s fine. Let’s fill the foursome. Because after you play golf with an Ambassador, you will need to provide a letter from a Sponsor. That Sponsor must be a member of The Fountaingrove Club, but cannot be your Ambassador.
We have a list of current members who play golf and are happy to host. After their round, the Ambassador will send me an e-mail with a detailed recap of their experience. This letter is then shared with the Membership & Marketing Committee for consideration.
After the potential member has played golf with an Ambassador, has provided a letter from a Sponsor, and has completed the application (an online application, as part of our Membership Application Portal that was unveiled earlier this year), I compile all of these notes into a single document that will be shared with the Membership & Marketing Committee.
The M&M Committee meets monthly, the Tuesday of the monthly Board Meeting. If the application gets through, it then goes in front of the Board of Directors for approval. Not all applications are approved, but it is my job to ensure we have checked all the boxes, again, based on when the potential member wants to start.
The Value of the CRM
I spend 85% of my day sitting behind a computer managing leads in the CRM. But I wouldn’t be able to keep it all straight without it. From the time a potential member makes contact, we create a record in the CRM. We use A, B, C and D leads, to know where he or she is in the sales funnel. All leads start as a “C” prospect.
Within the CRM, we can keep notes on when we communicate with these people, what their USGA handicap is, what kind of car they drive, what beers they like to drink and more. This information is then shared with department heads throughout the journey, to personalize every interaction.
We had a Discovery Visit recently where I asked the prospective member, “We are meeting after you get off work. What is your favorite drink?” When he showed up, there was a fresh gin-and-tonic and two fresh-cut limes waiting for him.
Once the member plays golf with an Ambassador, he or she becomes a “B” prospect. I am using the CRM to set proper follow-up tasks and not lose contact with these leads. We have found it takes seven “touches” before a potential member is ready to commit. However, there are members we’ve been trying to connect with for years who just aren’t ready yet. But when they are, we will welcome them with open arms.
“No” Means “Not Right Now”
“No, I think I am going to pass. The timing just isn’t right. Thanks, though.” If a potential member says, “No,” do you delete that record in the CRM, or do you set a follow-up task to contact them three, maybe four months from now? What if they join another club in town? Or what if they move to Nebraska? Do you just delete that lead?
The way I see it, it means, “Not right now.” Sure, you joined the club down the street. In six months I am still going to call you to ask you, “How are you enjoying your time at John Doe Country Club? I heard they just redid their bunkers. How do they look?”
Just because they didn’t join our club doesn’t mean we just forget about them. They may not be ready to join today, but if we keep reaching out to them, who knows if or when they will be ready to join. That quick phone call, or short e-mail, is worth its weight in gold if they end up joining down the road.
Setting “Wildly Important” Sales Goals
At the beginning of 2021, our goal was to sell 50 Athletic Center memberships and 25 golf memberships. The Fountaingrove Club is a 501(c)(7), so if we hit those numbers, we should break even.
I took that goal and said, “If we can sell 50, we can sell 75. If we can sell 25, we can sell 50.” That now becomes the goal. But wait a minute—the club only has 368 memberships available according to its by-laws. So that now becomes the “Wildly Important Goal” (WIG). If we focus on hitting the WIG, everything else will take care of itself.
I can’t take credit for that one. Ronald Banaszak, CCM, CCE, who is now the General Manager of Woodland Hills Country Club, taught me that. He was the General Manager/COO at Fountaingrove when I moved to Northern California. For the rest of my career, regardless of what I am doing, the goal will always be the WIG. If we can sell 368 memberships, anything less than that means we still have work to do.
Hopefully this gives you an overview of what the day in the life of a Membership Director looks like. I start my day with 10 or more CRM follow-up tasks, responding to e-mails, making phone calls, working with the leadership team to plan Discovery Visits and working with the golf shop to book tee times. It never slows down, and I love it.
When I got to the property on April 1, 2019, we had 224 golf memberships. As of May 1, 2021, we had 349 and have another 16 going in front of the Board of Directors in May for a June 1 start. If you do the math, that means we will be SOLD OUT and on a waiting list at the June Board Meeting.
Keep in mind, we will go from 224 to 368 without a clubhouse. Our new building won’t be ready until later this year. To come in, having never sold memberships before (and quite frankly having no idea what I was doing), to then work with a leadership team focused on the member experience and get to a waiting list is something everyone on this team should be proud of.
If you have any questions about processes, managing a CRM, creating a memorable experience when showing potential members around your club, or just want to discuss best practices, please reach out. I am happy to do a deep dive on anything related to private clubs and membership sales. But I must leave you now, as I have another Discovery Visit coming up. I can’t wait to meet and welcome yet another new member to or family!
(Ricky Potts can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org)