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Data and Relationships: Too Much, Too Soon?
By Rebecca Breeden | October 3, 2019

It’s inevitable. In every implementation of a new AMS solution, we eventually come to the question of what information needs to be collected for particular transactions – joining, registering, subscribing, etc. Inevitably, we are often handed a set of forms that are either throwbacks to the age of paper or are lengthy tomes printed from online forms.

And there the struggle for data economy begins.

The conversation goes something like this:

Implementer: What pieces of this information are necessary to start your relationship with a new member?

Customer: All of it.

Implementer: Are you sure? Could we eliminate these 12 items about their areas of expertise?

Customer: No, we have to have that to add them to communities or email preferences?

Implementer: Do you have to do that information from the member or prospect when they first reach out to you, or could you gather more information over time?

Customer: Yes, that’s when we’ve always done it. It’s part of our “join process” and part of the automation of benefits flow down we spent $10,000 automating in our current AMS that we hate.

Implementer: Oh, okay. Well, we have seen clients increase engagement by reducing the data barrier to entry. (Insert quote, “Those who fail to learn from history are bound to repeat it.” )

Customer: We HAVE to do that. (becoming animated) You said you could support that in the DEMO!!!. (shuffling papers to find the contract they came armed with.)

Implementer: We can do that, but is it possible we could begin with something less time-consuming for the prospect or member and work our way up to gradually asking for more information?

Customer: This is supposed to save us time. That’s a lot of work!

You probably get the idea. Many organizations are struggling to recruit, engage, and retain members. We live in a society of instant relationships and yet, associations are still wedded to the idea that to develop a relationship means turning over your life’s story.

Is it time we start to think about relationships differently? What if we could start with the most basic of information points and from there begin sharing the things that make a relationship with us valuable. In today’s jargon, what does it take to swipe right or swipe left?

Take a Cue from the Competition
We hear so often that membership is aging and organizations are struggling to recruit and engage younger members. Perhaps we need to take a lesson from the data economy of more popular platforms. Social tools require very, very little information to begin sharing. One of the greatest challenges to membership-based organizations are the connections and resources potential members receive from free tools like LinkedIn, Facebook, or Reddit. Why not consider a minimalist approach to start?

Progressive Profiling
We know profiling can have a very negative meaning. Still, we are all being profiled all day, every day by the tools we use. Even our beloved smartphones learn our habits. In today’s permission-based economy, if you want to gain more from your experience, you share a bit more information gradually so that content is more relevant, contacts are more valuable, and opportunities are more convenient. Progressive profiling is a technique that allows marketers to gradually collect more data on leads at strategically timed intervals throughout the buyer’s journey. Essentially, based on users’ willingness to respond and their engagement after response, we ask for more. If they give us an email to get a newsletter and then open the newsletter and engage with a piece of content (think click), then we ask for a little more.

The Death of Closed Societies
For many organizations, the basis for overwhelming data collection is the need to validate credentials and ensure a level of expertise. However, that may not be necessary for simple, appropriate interactions that show value before a commitment. You are likely going to get push back. “Wait, you’re going to give them an article or let them attend an event?” We can already hear the hue and cry. If you are one of those groups with a “club” mentality, please remind the club that anybody can get anything from anywhere these days…including from for-profit entities who are happy to take your data beleaguered prospects.

A fusionSpan client promoting a recruitment initiative for a particular style of education is using progressive profiling to gradually ask for more and more information to move prospects through an engagement funnel. Once users ask for more information, they are moved through an engagement program that ultimately results in them sharing more and more information on progressive forms and applications.

Here are some soul searching questions for you as you rethink the way you start your relationships with future members.

  • What are the very minimum requirements for you to begin your relationship and begin to show value?
  • For every additional data set (think 2-3 data points), what is the additional value we can show?
    What conversations and changes need to happen internally to allow you to scale back on initial data collection?
  • How can we tell when our relationship is solid enough to ask for a larger data set?
  • How do we need to reconfigure the way we roll out benefits and access to allow for this slower data relationship?

Keep your eyes open for our follow up article on who you can begin to see the journey for your customers unfold and better determine how much you can ask for and when.

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Rebecca Breeden

Becky is the Director of Digital Strategy where she works with clients to transform their thinking and approach to digital spaces. She is a long-time technology and digital strategist in the nonprofit community. Becky is a graduate of the University of South Carolina with a BA in Journalism. She relocated to the DC area in 1999 when she became the director of communications for a major association management software firm. Becky lives in Silver Spring with her husband, two children, and a menagerie of pets. She is a volunteer on winter weekends on the National Ski Patrol at a resort in West Virginia.

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