A year that started out as ‘business as usual’ for most of us took an unexpected turn in March. For the Global Business Development Team at IMechE this was certainly the case. Although it took us in a direction we had not anticipated, it led to some surprising positives and gave the team a real chance to innovate. To tell the story we need to circle back to early January.
At the start of the year everything seemed normal. Of course though it wasn't, and already in China the virus was beginning to spread quickly through the population of Wuhan. As the team went about its daily activity of face-to-face onsite client meetings, I think we would all occasionally hear about COVID-19 on the news, but didn't fully understand the threat it posed. Even in our team meeting in February we joked that maybe this might be the last time we would meet face-to-face this year. We probably all felt (hoped) that somehow it could be contained. Sadly our joke turned into the reality.
By March, it was clear that things were changing fast and life was going to be very different going forward. In mid-March, I remember leaving a site visit at Dyson and thinking ‘will I be able to hold the scheduled visit there next month.’ The answer of course was no, and indeed I had no more site visits anywhere, by the end of that week Boris Johnson had announced the lockdown.
In the space of what felt like only a couple of weeks, the team had gone from daily site visits to none. Clearly this was a position we had not planned for and needed to react quickly. It coincided exactly with the IMechE lapsing members campaign, one of the major activities for the Global Business Development Team. Of course this is not just a business development activity, it involves huge amounts of time and resource from the Membership Marketing and Membership Applications Teams who had been working on the campaign since January. For the team, this represented some unprecedented challenges. They would be contacting members directly to advise them that they had outstanding fees, this would be happening at a moment when people’s lives were being turned inside out and thrown into turmoil. A softer and supportive approach would be required.
As our team reached out to the membership, they were very keen to understand how the current crisis was affecting them and how the IMechE could support our members. The team listened to some very difficult situations and ensured that where possible, IMechE help was put in place. Until COVID-19 , the lapsing campaign had been similar to previous years, the impact of COVID-19 was clear to see as the numbers still outstanding began to rise. For IMechE this is critical, as even a 1% increase in lapsing membership can significantly impact on the services and support it can offer the membership.
As the campaign ran on the team worked harder than ever to reach out and support our members. In parallel to this, across the Institution, online content was being developed and put in place to provide similar services those that had been run in person. Very quickly, our team started to run sessions, both for organisations and regionally, adding new CPD style events that could offer support to members during lockdown. The realisation that events no longer needed to be constrained to a geographic area was liberating; suddenly what had previously been a regional activity could be viewed and watched live by applicants and members from all over the world.
As the weeks rolled by, the efforts of our team pulled the lapsing campaign back on track and the gap began to close. By the end of the campaign the numbers, whilst higher than in previous years, had dropped to a level that was much better than our first predictions at the start of the lock down. New member applications, which had initially stalled at the start of COVID-19 have also recovered towards more normal numbers when compared year-on-year.
The innovations and flexibility our team has shown during this period has transformed its ability to deliver and support the Membership. It was not a road the team expected to travel, but the journey has accelerated its capability online and given it tools that even in a post COVID-19 World it would continue to use. For our future it is clear that a more blended approach with face-to-face and online will be the optimum solution. We will all be living in the shadow of the coronavirus for the foreseeable future and the learning gained will help us all move forward in a positive way.
Alan King, Head, Global Business Development and Claire Maycock, Head, UK Business Development