Critical success factors (CSFs) for membership websites are key activities you must do extremely well in order to be profitable. In comparison, key performance indicators (KPIs) of membership websites measure those activities so you can judge whether you are successful or not. If you are interested in learning more, you can check out the difference between CSFs and KPIs.
The activities considered critical to membership websites for success relate to signing up new members and keeping members paying. You can attack these in many different ways but there are key activities that you must focus on first.
Signing Up New Members
The first part of the profit equation for membership websites is to get new members. Without new members, you don’t have anyone to pay next month. Without them, you have no revenue. The key activity in getting new members, even before finding new visitors that you can convert into members, is transaction processing. In a way, nothing is more important that processing transactions.
To be successful, you must establish relationships with the companies that are going to help you with transaction processing. This starts with banks. They give you access to credit, debit and ACH systems. If you think that you don’t want to deal directly with a bank and will instead work with a third party processor, I urge you to reconsider. Let me tell you a little story.
Approximately 13 years ago, online transaction processing was still young. The technology systems and protections weren’t what they are now. It was a lot of work to get direct access to a merchant account from a bank and it took a lot of technology. The easiest way to process online was through a third party system. I was processing transactions through a third party processor that was having trouble with their merchant bank.
During this time, there was a lot of crackdown by the credit card companies about security, fraud scrub, etc. This third party processor wasn’t able to get on track with what the merchant bank demanded and they lost their merchant account. This meant that EVERY SINGLE CUSTOMER I billed through their system was gone. My recurring database was toast. Technically, it belonged to the third party processor, not me. Customers were paying the processor, not me. So I couldn’t move them to another processor. This was a disaster!
The only thing that saved me was the fact that I had transactions processing at backup third party processors, ACH processors and international processors. Luckily, not all my revenue came from this one processor. But it still hurt incredibly bad and was very hard to recover from.
Remember, your recurring database is your most valued business asset. If you don’t control it, then you are at risk of losing it. You lose this, you lose everything! This is why you should have your own direct relationship with a merchant bank.
Bank Merchant Accounts
Processing with a merchant account means you have the direct relationship with the bank. The bank takes the money from the credit card and deposits it into your bank account. It is the cheapest way to process credit cards. You get paid the quickest as well, with deposits done in 24-48 hours after transaction.
Merchant accounts hook into your website using a payment gateway, which is responsible for collecting the credit card info from your system and sending it to the merchant bank. They then transmit a yes or no response back to your system. The most popular payment gateway is authorize.net and a lot of merchant banks require you to use them. Other banks offer you more options.
Qualifying for a merchant account can require good credit, stable business, an account with the merchant bank, or cash reserves. This could be tough to do for some new businesses, so look around at the different qualifications. You can check out a nice section of merchant services reviews (http://www.merchantmaverick.com/review-category/merchant-accounts/) to explore the options available.
Third Party Services
If you must use a third party payment processor, keep these things in mind:
Third party payment providers are typically more expensive to process with than direct merchant accounts. But, they have softer requirements for setting up an account. My biggest issue with a third party processor is you have to send your customer to their payment page to enter credit card details. This requires another step in the join process and it doesn’t match the design of your site. This means customers have another opportunity to rethink their purchase leading to lower conversion ratios.
Mobile has taken over desktop for time spent consuming digital media (http://www.kpcb.com/blog/2015-internet-trends). You will have users browsing and buying your membership website from their phones and tablets. If your pay wall steps are not mobile ready, then you will lose customers.
Alternate Transaction Processing
The other important aspect of transaction processing is offering something that everyone can use. That is credit card or check processing (ACH) in the US, but a lot of people in the EU don’t use credit cards. Make sure you offer a payment option that they are able and willing to use. The more coverage you have, the better your chance of signing up more members.
Options to explore include:
What to look for in a payment processor
There are a lot of questions you should be asking when searching for payment processing alternatives for your membership website:
- Do they offer recurring billing? Obviously a membership requires recurring billing. If the merchant payment provider or gateway doesn’t offer recurring billing, then no dice. Move on to another option.
- Can you keep your recurring database? I believe I covered this pretty thoroughly earlier 🙂
- Can you use a membership website plugin with your payment processor? Before you decide on both your payment processor and wordpress membership plugin, make sure they are compatible now or can easily become compatible with a bit of customization. If you aren’t sure, error on the side of sticking with your payment processor and find a membership plugin that will work with them.
- Do they offer mobile payment pages? Your join pages and payment pages need to look good on mobile if you expect to convert a visitor to a member when they are viewing you on their phone.
- Do they have a payment gateway provider that you can easily integrate with? The gateway connects your website to the payment processing network. Some merchant account banks will let you choose your gateway and others will force you to use a specific one. Authorize.net is the most popular gateway and is integrated in a lot of other software and plugins
- How much do they charge in fees? You are going to be charged fees – a per transaction fee, a percentage charged fee, a monthly account fee like your bank account does, possibly a statement fee, chargeback fees (when someone disputes the charge and they are given their money back, you are charged a fee by the bank). There are others as well. Be clear on the fees up front and work those fees into your pricing structure the best you can.
- What kind of control do you have over fraud scrub? Customers submitting a payment form for a transaction can abandon for a lot of reasons. One is requiring too many fields to fill out on payment forms. If your gateway allows you some control over your fraud scrubbing (making sure the transaction is authorized by the card holder), then instead of getting a full billing address, just get the zip code from the customer.
- Do they offer any type of customer service? Third party processors will provide customer service. After all, your members are their customers. They will handle things like cancellations, refunds, and technical issues. Make sure you can coordinate with the processors customer service team to help customers stay customers. Also, be sure to understand their refund policy. You won’t have any say in changing it.
- Can you speak to someone for help? If you can’t call your payment provider on the phone, then run away. These people have a money relationship with you and should be accessible by phone.
- How long have they been in business? Again, payment processors have a relationship with your revenue, make sure they have been around for awhile if you are going to trust them in the relationship.
- Do they have any negative reviews or complaints? Same thing here. If they have a lot of complaints or bad reviews, do you really want to trust them with your money?
- Who else uses them? What kind of social proof do they provide? This is important in establishing trust as well. Money and trust are not mutually exclusive in this relationship.
- Can you accept payments from international customers? The more payment methods offered by one company, the easier it can be to integrate with them. However, it is much riskier to have all your payment eggs in one basket. If something goes wrong, you can lose everything.
- 1. Do they require a minimum amount processed? If you have a brand new website and you are required to process $1000 a month, you aren’t going to make that. Will they cancel your account? Will they charge you more fees. You need to be sure to work with a payment processor that is willing to help a new business get started without charging.
Regardless of which methods you attack to bring in new member prospects, you must be rock solid when it comes to transaction processing if you are going to have any success with your membership website. Depending on your setup, the processing methods you employ will affect the other decisions you might make later.
Which plugin are you going to use for your membership? That depends on which one(s) can integrate with your payment providers.
What audience are you going to target for new member prospects? That depends on where they live and how they pay for things online.
Remember, control your own database of customers whenever possible. Build relationships with your payment processors and stay abreast of all rules, features, etc. Get this right and you have a major leg up with your membership website.