What’s Your Treatment Paradigm?
Some associations treat their supplier members like lepers while others consider their associate members to be potential strategic partners. How do you approach this dilemma? The paradigm for some associations is that of continually figuring out how to squeeze the last possible dime out of their suppliers while others seek long-term partnership.
In the meetings industry publications you’ll read about how to generate more profit from your meetings; mostly by selling more exposure opportunities to your supplier members. This by the way is a good thing as long as you keep the two way value proposition in mind.
Two Way Value
The topic I rarely see in the meetings industry publications is that of delivering value to your associate members. Sure, there is a passing quotation here and there about driving value for sponsors. But, how do you do it?
When considering the value your sponsors seek; keep in mind the number one rule. Understand that their greatest desire is to increase their sales volume. Why else would they be there? To build a better industry; okay, if you say so. Please, get real; while every supplier would like to see higher levels of professionalism and effectiveness in the supply chain and in the industry in general; their number one desire is to increase sales.
What Can Associations Do Differently?
If you want your suppliers to willingly deliver their cash to your association coffers, you must treat them like strategic partners and not lepers. How would it look in your mind’s eye if your paid staff and volunteer leaders treated your suppliers with the respect that they deserve?
- Give them a seat at the table; meaning that one board member position should always be reserved for an associate member.
- Conduct supplier focus groups with the only intent to better understand the specific value line items that they desire as opposed to squeezing them for more money.
- Offer year-long strategic sponsorship opportunities, perhaps at various investment levels so all suppliers have the opportunity to play.
- Increase your conference/expo functionally member attendance. I’ll never forget traveling to the Pacific Northwest to speak at a meetings industry association chapter meeting. While I was paid to present at this meeting, I could not help feeling sorry for the suppliers in attendance. At this particular meeting, there were 4 planner members and 25 suppliers; is there anything wrong with this picture? Suppliers want to network with people that can buy from them, not their competitors.
- Keep your suppliers, association members or not, informed. I’m intimately familiar with an association that recently demonstrated by deed, not word, that suppliers were on the bottom rung of the ladder of importance. For this association’s convention being held in a large-city market they managed to strike an incredible deal on room rates for the convention hotel but were unable to secure a large enough room block to accommodate everyone. This association informed their members, but not their suppliers when the room reservations opened. The result, suppliers then had to seek more expensive rooms at other nearby hotels of they wanted to exhibit at the convention.
Why Does It Matter?
Business is about results, not excuses. If your association wants suppliers and associate members to play the sponsor game at higher levels, and who doesn’t? You had better play the game to win. Winning means developing long-term strategic sponsor relationships. The better in business your suppliers do, the more money they have to give your association in sponsorship dollars. And the way to help them do better is to pay attention to their needs and treat them with the respect they deserve.
In the final analysis, functionary members of an association or society have to pay one way or another. Members either must pay the real cost, without sponsor subsidies, or pay in actions by creating the correct environment for sponsor participation. The choice is on the table.
Ed is the Founder and CEO of the 501(c)(3) non-profit public charity, Cigar PEG Philanthropy through Fun, and president at Rigsbee Research which conducts qualitative member ROI research and consulting for associations and societies. He has been called “the dynamite that broke up our log jam” by association executives—rarely politically correct and almost always provocative—and from a dozen years as a United States Soccer Federation referee, Ed calls it the way he sees it. Exceptional resources at www.rigsbee.com.