Monday, February 18, 2013

Finding Clear Skies in the Fog of the Future

You know, it's a funny thing about associations...I often wonder how association executives can tell the story of their association with "passion" when they don't even participate as an association executive in ASAE or state SAE.   Yet they wonder why people in the association they lead aren't members.  Execs don't attend an annual conference, yet wonder why their members don't attend theirs, and most of all, association executives don't participate in industry-wide benchmarking studies, and wonder why they struggle to get participation in their own.

I believe participation as association executives in things like membership, meetings and benchmarking, in the world of associations, is sort of like "paying it forward."  It's walking the walk, meaning what you say, and "believing" what you say about the power of associations.

With that said, I want to put focus on an area that I feel associations are losing out on.  It's a benefit that associations of the future should put a lot of time and effort in developing.  Associations that succeed in the future will be associations that "do things for their members that members cannot do themselves effectively."

One of the most powerful benefits that no member can do themselves effectively is industry wide benchmarking.  It is costly for any one company in both time and money to organize, coordinate and fund the benchmarking effort.  Hence, it is the perfect set of golden handcuffs for an association to wrap around their members.

No matter what industry, benchmarking provides unbelievable inside intel about what is going on within any set of member companies and the industry.  With the economy and business climate being in such a fog, no one feels great about hiring new people, making capital investments or just feeling good about the daily direction of where you are headed.

It is a powerful source when you can open up a set of industry data to see where trends have been and where they are headed.  Especially given that trends have been developed from "actual data."   Our association does monthly sales trends, as well as, quarterly operational cost studies.  It's all online, secure, confidential and easy for members to input data and download real time reports.

We believe benchmarking clears the fog of the future that provides clarity of where the industry is headed, where areas of growth are, and what areas of your business need improving.  You can't know that just looking within your own company.

Every business has 5 to 10 major numbers that can tell you how that business is doing.  I want to challenge association executives reading this to do two things:
  1. Set up a benchmarking task force in your association, and have them try and nail down the 5 to 10 meaningful numbers that could tell you everything about the direction of the business in your industry.  These can be related to sales figures, sales calls, or any operational cost items.  Then survey your members to see how many would participate if they could receive a quarterly report of their figures compared to the industry and local region.
  2. TAKE TIME to participate in one of the most powerful association benchmarking studies in the U.S.  This study is put out by Marketing General with incredible data to provide to your staff, association leadership, as well as, any membership committee.  It shares intel on membership recruitment, communication strategies, and non-dues revenue structure.  Marketing General brings to associations nearly 35 years of testing, market research and data analysis of member behavior and membership marketing.  Simply put... they deliver the intel you need to know to grow your association.
I performed the survey for our association and it only took 15 minutes.   Our association will reap huge returns from the data I will get back from this comparative report... you can to if you invest the 15 minutes.

CLICK HERE to participate in their study.  DEADLINE IS:  Tuesday, Feb. 19.  Don't Delay!

If you are serious about growing your association, you need to look into benchmarking for your association members and take the Marketing General Survey.  Your members and board leadership will thank you.

If you have any questions on benchmarking, feel free to contact me at

Monday, February 4, 2013

How to Have the Golden Hand Cuffs on Association Members

For years, back in the 50's through the 90's, individuals and organizations were members of associations to "just belong."  It was a must.  Nowhere else could you access new products, information, key industry data and a vast network of people to help you succeed in your industry.

Associations had a built-in set of "golden handcuffs" for value because the internet did not exist as it does today.   They were the only real place to access new product launches, information and networks of people.

Then a life changing event happened for associations, in the 1990's, AOL and Google became the information highway for everyone.  Now everything was different...information was at the fingertips of anyone who had a computer.   Over the last 20+ years, the internet has taken over an area that was once so vital to associations..."Information and Data".

The 800 hot-line to the association offices is no longer needed to get critical updates on legislation and industry news.  With a couple of key strokes and Google, you can have over a billion pages at your fingertips to filter through.

Hold on!  Did I just say a BILLION?  Yes, and sometimes more...  Now why would someone possibly waste half a day, if not possibly an entire day, sorting through what is right, wrong or even legitimate? BECAUSE IT'S FREE!  That is a major problem for associations.  Information is now free and at everyone's finger tips.  The question now arises as to, "If information is so available and free, then why are associations concentrating on that for member value?"

In order to understand the answer to this question, you need to understand the types of benefits and their relationship to member value.  Here are the three types of benefits any association can offer:
  1. Those things your members can get for free without you (adds zero value to the association)
  2. Those things you are going to do whether I'm a member or not (adds some value to the association)
  3. Those things you do for your members they can't do themselves effectively (maximizes association value)
You see, any association that has most of its efforts going into #1 & #2 are typically struggling to find a connection with their members...especially the younger generation.  Things like an informative newsletter, government relations, insurance programs, etc. aren't adding any value because these are areas that were once a "lock" for associations, but are no longer.

However, associations that put 100% of their focus on identifying #3, DOING THINGS FOR YOUR MEMBERS THAT THEY CAN'T DO THEMSELVES EFFECTIVELY, will rule the day in the future!  This takes a little effort to understand your members' businesses better than they calls for surveying your members to understand what they feel their biggest problems and challenges requires you to LISTEN to them, and then ACT on what they say.

Remember, in the world of associations, innovation isn't developing the next big mobile app or device.  It's simply creating solutions that solve your member's problems and challenges.  If you do that, they will trust you, know that you care for them, and you will have great relevance in the life of their business.

I take my own association for example:  Seven years ago we chose to put all of our focus on #3 above, and we began listening to our members with the intent of restructuring our strategic plan to reflect what they said were their areas of challenge.  We came away with the following areas of focus:

  1. 24/7 Online Training
  2. Effective Face to Face Networking Conferences
  3. High Energy Leadership Training Relevant to the Younger Generation
  4. Financial Benchmarking and Forecasting
  5. Online Member Matching for Networking
  6. Tools to Help Members Reduce Findings in Their Accreditation Audits

You see, our members could decide to do any one of these for themselves, but it would cost them tens of thousands of dollars to do it, and it would take them away from running their business everyday.  These 7-things aren't just a Google search and goes way beyond that!

Since our Association put its focus on these 6 areas in 2006, the Association has grown over 18% in annual dues revenue, 28% in per member revenue, and 840% in net worth...with the largest economic downturn in our history.

Do we have a set of "golden handcuffs"?  YES, because the 6 areas noted above are crucial to the success of any company within our industry, and they can't get it anywhere else, nor can they do it themselves effectively.

When an association gets back to the basics of why they exist:

1) Organize themselves
2) Coordinate their efforts
3) Leverage the costs over many
4) Build trust as a group
5) Do things together they can't do themselves effectively

...they will begin to see member value, engagement, and loyalty start to grow to levels they never thought possible.

No matter what the size of your your association, if you want to maximize member value, engagement and loyalty, check out my half-day Association Innovation Think Tank by CLICKING HERE.

It is helping association boards/staff find their way to higher levels of excellence for their members and industry.