Spoiler alert: it’s never just one thing!

If your continuity acquisition or retention numbers are flat (or declining), it’s tempting to think that you’ll find one missing piece that will fix it all. One “Big Idea” solution that causes numbers to turn around, engagement to increase, and management to breathe easier.

“We just need to change one thing about our customer acquisition strategy,” someone in leadership (could it be you?) says. “All we need is…(insert over-simplified-wishful-thinking-single-solution here).”

You’re busy. You want a quick solution. You need to show improvement. Your team is resource-constrained and budgets are tight. “All we need is…” is so tempting. After all, you watched a TED talk about someone who turned everything around by just doing one thing differently.

Or did they?

If you listen again, you’re likely to hear a slightly different story. The one-big-idea story sounds great, but—instead of magic—you may find they followed a path of smart precedents and thoughtful directions.


Success is built on doing a lot of (seemingly) little things right. The key is to know which practices, which tests, which processes, or which messages—and in what order—will get you on the path to improvement most effectively.

It’s tempting to jump to single solutions in your continuity recruitment and retention strategy. Consider these reactions to avoid right out of the gate:

  • “If only every member would just ask another person to join, we’d be twice our size!” What a lovely thought. If only it worked. Your audience members rarely want to do YOUR job.
  • “We just need a new renewal series (and while you’re at it, make it just email, please, because that’s cheaper), and all our retention problems will be solved.” Ah, if only defecting constituents were so easily influenced.
  • “We don’t need to test that – I know it will work. I know exactly what our members want.” Guess you better call Derren Brown and see if he needs an addition to his mentalist act. Or better yet, start listening to your members.
  • “But we NEED all that information on the join form. If people really want to join, they won’t mind answering all these personal questions.” Really? Wouldn’t you rather have more members and nurture them over time to build a robust customer knowledge base?
  • Speaking of join forms, let’s really turn prospects off and call it an “application,” shall we? (Ask yourself – when was the last time you actually rejected someone who WANTED to join your organization?) Even if you have specific criteria for entry, try “Enrollment” or “Acknowledgement” or “Acceptance” as conveying a much better tone for the start of a relationship.
  • “Members know what they were getting when they joined, so why wouldn’t they renew?” Well, maybe they didn’t read what you sent after they said “I’ll give it a try.” It’s YOUR job to educate, engage and sustain.

As great as they are, continuity relationships can be complicated. People often affiliate with you for one reason, and renew for another. They respond to one message better than another (and often, that’s not easy to predict without testing). If you’re not developing and nurturing them into loyalists, they’ll never get there on their own.

Remember this, also – your prospects and new audience members are who they are – not who YOU want them to be. Just because you want more of some category (millennials/women/families/diversity) doesn’t mean your product will appeal to a new market just by changing a few words in the marketing message.


Knowing where to focus your efforts, how to use your existing budgets to greater impact, and – most importantly – understanding what the prospect THINKS they signed up for will change your outcomes. No wishful thinking required.

You know how important it is to deliver on customer expectations. If you promised a white paper, deliver a white paper (with the next call-to-action clear). If you promised access to information and privilege, make sure what you deliver is going to provide value and reinforce the “voice” of the community.

But sometimes there’s a disconnect between what YOU think you’ve promised, to WHOM, and what your customer/member believes they said “yes” to. If you wait until the next time you ask them to renew or repurchase, you may be in for an unpleasant surprise.


Start with a review of what you said to get the customer to say “yes.” Check it against your onboarding and fulfillment. How many times do you reinforce the promise in the first month? Two months? Three months? Are you delivering on the promise? Or do you have a disconnect between your product and your promise?

This exercise will help you understand if the path to improved results requires a big shift, a slight left turn, or a commitment to a whole series of adjustments. Building an effective, engaging onboarding series is considerably less expensive than tearing apart a multi-effort renewal series. But your real answer might involve a combination of both (and more).

If you really dig in, you may find you don’t have a renewal problem – you have a get-to-know-you problem.


You’ve done the research, analyzed current practices, and determined where to start working on improvements. Now it’s time to test your ideas.

A general rule of thumb is that 10-15% of your marketing budget should be allocated to testing. Too much test budget and you miss your production goals. Too little and you never get better. Don’t be seduced into trading your R & D for an extra 10% in production. When message fatigue sets in, your new member/customer acquisition flat-lines and your renewals go south.

So what to test? This is a particularly important question, because you can run up against test budget ceilings quickly if you’re not smart. Pick your tests based on magnitude of potential gain.

Some are obvious: Subject line testing comes first (if your target audience doesn’t open the email, nothing else matters). An outer envelope test can salvage a fatiguing but otherwise strong direct mail package and is a much better choice than adding a brochure. (Just like subject line testing with email – if they aren’t interested enough to open the envelope, it doesn’t matter what you put inside.)

Some are less intuitive. But you’re in luck, because we’ve done the recordkeeping for you. Check your instincts against the “Next Yes Consulting’s Do-This-Not-That Checklist” download.

Every test has an element of risk. If a test can only produce marginal gains, it is not money well spent. You’ve only got so many chances to make an impression before your prospects/members quit opening your emails or envelopes. So make it meaningful, make it count.

The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step. And so does a rewarding and long-term relationship.

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