What do You do for Me?

How to sell the ROI of REALTOR® association membership.

I think the #1 reason for joining the REALTOR® association is you are supporting an organization that helps protect your profession and livelihood. We would have numerous restraints on our business if it wasn’t for the efforts of our state and national associations. That alone is worth the $500 I pay a year for membership (I also pay another $200-$500 a year to the REALTOR® Political Action Committee). A REALTOR® is also held to a higher standard than your typical agent. We have all had dealings with shady agents who believe it is all about themselves and not the client. If you want more reasons, check with your local or state REALTOR® association. They can give you numerous more reasons to join.

— Posted on Trulia in response to a forum question: Do I have to join the REALTOR® association

If you’ve gone on a broker office visit and chatted with a roomful of young real estate agents about all the association does for them (for their businesses, for homebuyers and homesellers, and for the community), you can practically hear their collective “Oh, now I get it!”

So why is it so difficult for some members to understand the value of REALTOR® membership? Either you’re not offering programs, products, and services of value to your members (unlikely) or you’re not effectively communicating their value in a way that resonates with members.

The journey is as important as the destination

Uncovering what members think about your association’s value is the first step in crafting a member-centric way to express why they should be members. This is what’s called a value proposition. It’s a promise to members detailing how the benefits they receive in exchange for their dues investment will enhance their businesses, careers, community, and industry.

A value proposition is the member’s rationale for choosing your association over another or none at all, says Melynn Sight, a consultant who has helped many associations develop value propositions.

“The process of developing a value proposition forces you to evaluate your services and communications with members from the members’ point of view,” says Sight. “This is a significant shift for many organizations and one that can create meaningful dialogue about current and new-member services.”

Gaining a deeper appreciation for the members’ experience is the goal behind the National Association of REALTORS®’ “Day in the Life of a REALTOR®” program that aims to enhance and create services that are more relevant to members.

“It’s the outside-in perspective,” says Sight. “A value proposition articulates what members need most and links those concerns to relevant products and service offerings that the association delivers.”

As opposed to a strategic plan (which details your organization’s goals and how it will allocate resources to achieve them) or a mission statement (which describes the core purpose of your association), a value proposition is about how the association fulfills members’ needs.

You may even uncover a member need that is not met by a current product and service.

“It’s a whole different way of communicating,” explains Sheila Dodson, RCE, CEO, Baldwin County Association of REALTORS®, Ala. “It’s a big change in how you articulate what you do back to members. It’s a description of how we answer their needs and communicating value in such a way that they understand what they receive.”

For example, instead of simply listing technology classes as a membership value, describe how the classes provide members with technology readiness, “because knowing the right technology and how to use it gives you more effective ways to service your customers.”

Reframe the Benefit: Not Classes, Knowledge to Maximize Your Earning Potential.

REALTORS® are businesspeople. But most REALTORS® enter the profession without formal business education or training. Your REALTOR® association can help you bridge that knowledge gap. Take advantage of tools, resources, and professionals who can help you become a more successful entrepreneur. From required continuing education to brokerage management resources, you can learn how to optimize your business and maximize your earning potential. Membership includes access to technology, financial resources, tax, accounting and insurance services, shipping and transportation services, plus global and commercial resources to expand your business options.

—adapted from marketing material from the Northern Virginia Association of REALTORS®

Your value is not a catalog of benefits

Most REALTOR® associations have a benefits brochure or a webpage listing all the products, services, discounts, events, and programs that come with membership—and this is important, too. But a value proposition goes beyond presenting the benefits of membership.

For example, you may believe that members understand the value of educational courses, but, in fact, many members fail to connect the dots between education and making more sales. This is where your value proposition comes in. The value of educational courses is gaining knowledge that will make members better professionals and lead to career success. The value is what members get out of the benefit.

Members can appreciate this notion because they do it in their business all the time. They don’t just help families find the right house with the right number of bedrooms at the right price; they highlight the value of homeownership, the sense of being part of a community, the investment in the future, and the home as an expression of the owners’ identity.

A single value proposition can be applied to the entire association, or several value propositions can be developed for specific programs or products. They can also be developed for specific audiences, such as brokers or young professionals.

At the Northern Virginia Association of REALTORS®, work is underway to uncover the needs of various member constituencies and create an individualized member experience, providing the resources that matter most to each member. After a months-long project, internally dubbed Shop REALTOR®, NVAR is forging an ambitious path to rethink access and delivery of member value and benefits from all three levels of the REALTOR® association in a more thoughtful and deliberate way, says Ryan Conrad, RCE, CAE, CEO.

“With differing career paths, business models, brands, clientele and marketing strategies, REALTOR® members are unique,” said Conrad. “At NVAR, we made a conscious decision that their association membership should reflect that.”

To understand which products and services offer a strong value proposition for the work that REALTORS® engage in each day, NVAR created the member-led Products and Services Advisory Focus Group. Its mission: to help NVAR better understand, through the member perspective, how to organize the aggregated products and services from the local, state and national associations in a way that will elevate the business success of the REALTOR® agent and broker members.

Using a list of 230 possible actions that a REALTOR® may provide in a typical, successful real estate transaction, NVAR crafted a logical set of categories, or competencies, that a member should develop to achieve success as a REALTOR®. The Products and Services Advisory Focus Group identified eight core competencies: four related to the REALTOR®’s clients and four related to the REALTOR®’s business:

Client-centered Competencies:

  • Pre-appointment (research)
  • Client presentation (pitch)
  • On the market (show)
  • Offer-to-closing (transact)

Business-centered Competencies:

  • Business management (organize)
  • Business marketing (grow)
  • Personal success (network)
  • Professionalism (represent)

“We’ve essentially reframed the association’s products and services to create ease of access [to member benefits] in a way that better aligns with the way we do business,” said Colleen Wright, REALTOR® and 2017 focus group co-chair.

The next step was to reposition all member offerings within the eight-category framework. Each product, service, benefit, event, article, research study, service provider, and strategic partner are coded and tagged in the website content management system based on which core competency it supports, says Ann Gutkin, the association’s senior communications director.

“Not only will the end result create an Amazon-like e-commerce experience, but the website will also provide an online ‘journey’ of offerings to support the member’s client-centered and business-centered work life cycle,” says Gutkin.

To teach members how to use and appreciate the new system, called Shop REALTOR®, NVAR is launching a communications campaign highlighting each of the core competencies and how the association delivers. For example, under the competency of pre-appointment (researching), NVAR boasts, “Before that first appointment, Shop REALTOR® provides tools to help members prepare for a client meeting. Whether it’s a national property database, multiple listing service, marketplace statistics, a network of finance professionals, or presentation resources, REALTOR® have access to facts, figures and connections that will make them the trusted local expert.”

But before you take your list of membership benefits and start detailing its broader value, look at the newly revised Value Proposition Toolkit that an Association Executives Committee workgroup developed. The tool kit guides you through this enlightening and somewhat complex process and covers a range of steps, from who should be involved in crafting the value propositions to how to communicate it to the membership.

If you’re not sold on the benefit of this endeavor just yet, you will be.

“Until I went through the process with my association, I don’t think I really understood the whole concept,” says Dodson, vice chair of the work group that developed the tool kit.

The value positioning exercise involves directly asking members what they value and how valuable certain association services are to them, and then using that feedback to shape your case that will make members see your offerings in a new, more valued, light.

For example, brokers may say they value the long-term health of the market but not connect that to political advocacy, notes Sight. “Being educated about what’s going on politically is important to members, but they don’t necessarily say it that way.”

When it comes to showing the value in REALTOR® association membership, your programs and services need to be translated into member solutions and tools, similar to the NVAR example above.

In the end, you’re not going to get every member to see the value in everything you do. But if they see the value in many things you do, you’ll keep that member.

Show me The Value, Again.

Next step: advertise yourself

Although many associations are mainly focused on promoting the value of using a REALTOR®, it’s critical to set aside resources to promote yourself. After all, members who understand the value of membership create stronger associations.

In addition to a benefits brochure or webpage, many associations run ads across all their communication vehicles promoting the value of membership, one benefit at a time.

The Virginia Association of REALTORS® used several pages in its summer 2017 membership magazine to promote member value (see p. 14 and below).

NAR recently launched a 22-minute new-member value video at nar.realtor featuring 2018 NAR President Elizabeth Mendenhall to help members realize the full benefits of membership.

Members explaining the value of their membership is your most powerful marketing tool. For this reason, it’s essential to have value proposition buy-in from elected leadership and key members. Arm your leaders with a script about the value of each major member benefit so they are ready to promote membership value wherever they go.

Word of mouth today is no longer just face-to-face meetings, it’s also social networking and video. What members say about the value of membership on Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn has an important effect on what others think. Whenever a member questions the value of the association on a Facebook forum or a Twitter post, have dedicated members at the ready to reply with your association’s value proposition in their own words.

Craft a member benefit testimonials page at your website to showcase members’ unique value stories.

Although communicating value with real-life stories and anecdotes is more powerful than listing programs and services, that doesn’t mean you should throw out your benefits brochure. Your association’s tools and services are examples of how you deliver on your value proposition, so it’s still essential to keep them front and center in members’ minds. Many associations distribute a member benefits and value brochure with dues mailing.

Association membership has value beyond what most of your members realize. Now is the time to reassess how you promote the value of your association.

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