What a Former Chicago Drug Dealer Taught Me About Membership Marketing

I was on my way to Chicago to visit a client for two days of planning their new membership offering. I was late to board the plane, so first class was full except for my seat. Sitting in the seat next to mine, I saw a gentlemen who didn’t look like someone you’d ever see on a plane much less within the first class cabin.

His appearance was very different than other passengers’. More gold teeth and FUBU clothes than the typical business causal you’d expect on an airplane. It didn’t matter to me; I was glad this flight had power outlets in the first-class section so I could plug in my laptop and get some writing done during the flight.

As it turned out, my seatmate was chatty. Within a few minutes, he’d revealed he was on his way home after nine months of in-patient rehab. He was from a rough neighborhood and was eager for a fresh start with his son and his son’s mother.

It didn’t take long before he was asking me what I do. That’s a surprisingly challenging question for me to answer, especially for someone who is not “in the business.” My answer included marketing, and he was intrigued.

In addition to the work that landed him in drug rehab, the man was an arborist. He owned a tree service and had transitioned to landscaping. While he had a good collection of residential accounts, he earned most of his profits from commercial accounts.

He had an interesting observation.

There would be times when a residential client would call him to say, “Hey Willie, I’ve got your check. Would you like to come by to pick it up, or do you want me to mail it?” Willie’s answer was always, “I’ll be right there.”

There were times when Willie would jump into his BMW Z8 hardtop with his son to go pick up the check. Whenever he rolled up in his BMW in a customer’s driveway, Willie told me he lost that customer within a month. Customers didn’t like their landscaper having a nicer car than they did. The instant a homeowner saw Willie’s BMW, he decided he was paying too much for his landscaping services.

From then on, Willie always parked his BMW and called on his customers in his beat-up work truck.

This is an important lesson for all of us. When marketing, we often show photos of large corporate headquarters buildings to demonstrate stability. Or we show off large homes to display a lifestyle that’s the result of a successful business. While we must demonstrate success and give our customers a lifestyle to aspire to, we have to be cognizant that everyone has prejudices.

One of the strategies I’ve used is to show people the ugly yellow house my wife, my 2-year-old daughter, and I lived in across the street from a drug dealer. I show this as the “before” image, prior to showing the success I’ve achieved for myself and my clients. This way, I reduce resentment when I show them my current lifestyle, home, and pool. I’m open about where I started before I learned all these marketing strategies.

And for Willie, I was able to help him create a marketing program for his new landscaping business. There’s a program for residential jobs and a program for the higher-margin commercial jobs. This way, he’ll be able to more than replace his previous income for him and his son.

The biggest problem with membership programs is that members quit. I come alongside you and your team to help stop your members from quitting. You start the process by scheduling an assessment. Next you’ll receive a comprehensive membership program growth plan. Then third, if it would be helpful to you for me to support you and your team implement your plan, I’m happy to set-up to guide you through your membership program transformation. Get started by scheduling an assessment today.

About Robert Skrob

The problem with subscription membership programs is that members quit, I fix that problem. For more than 20-years I have specialized in direct response marketing for member recruitment, retention and ascension in diverse subscription members environments including non-profit associations, for-profit publishers/coaching, subscriptions and SAAS companies. For an evaluation of your current churn rate and how I can improve it, contact me here. I discover there are often two or three quick wins you can implement within a week to lower churn immediately, let’s talk about your quick wins.
10X Subscription Growth

2 Comments on “What a Former Chicago Drug Dealer Taught Me About Membership Marketing”

  1. I can see this. I remember when I publicly announced that my goal for a particular month was to have my first ever six-figure month. One of my members — who is also a long time client and fan of my work — said that his first thought was if “he was contributing to my 6-figure month” and had “qualms” about it. Looking back, and reading this blog post, I get it.

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