Solutions for golfer acquisition

Feb 27, 2020

Here’s an unfortunate scenario when it comes to golfer acquisition: You welcome a first-time customer who pays his green fee in cash, plays his round and drives away, leaving only his name from the reservation. No other personal data was captured.

Professionals who specialize in golfer acquisition might give you credit for an acquired new golfer but ONLY if you’ve got a way of communicating with that person on a programmatic basis.

Take it from Nicole Roach, Senior Director, Consumer Marketing for GOLF Business Solutions, who makes it her mission to encourage golf course managers to always be thinking about adding to their “audience” of golfers who can be marketed to effectively. Solid golfer acquisition and retention strategies not only make good business sense, they also are critical to a truly successful operation.

In fact, someone who actually booked but didn’t play your course still counts, in her book. The golfer you’ve never heard of who books a round but then cancels should still be considered one more you’ve acquired, she believes. “You add that person’s data and now your audience is one golfer ahead,” Roach says. “Audience building is what it’s all about.”

It’s common knowledge that acquiring a new customer is way more costly than retaining one you’ve already got, so it’s worth being a little bit scientific about the newly acquired. Roach believes a course can benefit greatly by subdividing acquisition into multiple categories and tracking the progress of each.

“Someone can play your course once, play it multiple times, or join your loyalty program – those are all ways of including them in your acquisition data,” she says. “This qualifies as ‘acquisition’ if you can just get the person to provide a name and email address or get them to sign up for your SMS messages containing offers and other content.”

It helps to know certain patterns underlying your course’s play. So, if you recorded 25,000 rounds last year, was there an 80-20 rule in which 2,000 golfers played 10 times each and the other 5,000 rounds were played by a couple thousand folks playing a few rounds each? Roach points out that when you acquire Golfer A and Golfer B, one may have been totally worth the effort, the other less so.

“One way to look at it is to ask whether a given round could have been booked at a higher rate than what you actually got,” she says. “You make that happen by increasing the part of your audience that is relatively less cost-sensitive.” It’s valuable to know your total “uniques,” she says, i.e., the number of different people who teed it up at your course.

To determine a comfortable cost-per-acquisition (CPA), Roach suggests looking at your gross margin (per round) across a full year of operation and using that as a benchmark. “If your margin per round is $8, spending $8 in marketing and other outreach efforts to acquire a golfer is very sensible,” she says. Obviously, you’re not devoting all your profits to this one purpose, just using the margin metric to create an acquisition rule of thumb.

If you’ve plugged along and amassed a fairly large and relatively active pool of golfers who are engaged with your course, you don’t want to slide backward. No database goes a year without drop-offs, but the GOLF Business Solutions viewpoint is that losses should be minimal. “It should always be under 5 percent, and with our client courses we shoot for under 1 percent,” she says.

How does a golfer you’ve acquired become one that you’ve lost? That’s always the little mystery that needs solving. It starts with defining the period where the losses occurred and looking closely for whether any notable changes were made. “‘What did we do differently’ is the question you want to ask,” says Roach. That could include emailing golfers too often, emailing them too seldom, changing your message, discontinuing specials, or some other shift.

“That’s where email is particularly helpful,” Roach says. “It gives you the most response data. You can count your opens and click-throughs and usually find what you need to reverse a negative trend fairly quickly.” Of course, there are trends in your database and trends in play—two different (though perhaps parallel) performance areas. On the play side, loss consists of the “defector” whom you’ll program into the software as a somewhat regular customer—with a per-year minimum number of rounds—who stops showing up. “You can set that for 30-, 60-, and 90-day flags to be sent up,” says Roach. “You’re talking about a player who’s gone dormant that the course wants to reactivate more than re-acquire—and there are incentives you’ll use to make that happen.”

Caring for the database that holds and shows your acquired golfers is like caring for the turf on your fairways and greens. Frequent and consistent checkups are the way to go. “We suggest that courses look at their databases on a monthly basis, at least—really the more frequently the better,” Roach says. “That lets you see your trends and gives you a way to aggregate enough results to make good conclusions, plus sufficient time to plan your next initiatives.”

Golfers have lots of choice, so the very fact that you’ve built a large following of players who are engaged to a certain degree and could become more so is a tribute to the quality and consistency of what you bring to market. And some of them you’ll please to such a degree that they’ll find you downright captivating. 

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