How To Gain Early Adopters Using Industry Associations.
Breaking into a new market using association relationships.
When I decided to take New Audience Media to the event market I realized that I had a major problem, I didn’t know anyone in the trades how and convention industry. Over the last ten years I built my referral network with advertising and marketing agencies.
The target market for my new service were owners of tradeshows and conferences, known as event managers. Almost every other B2B vendor was trying to form partnerships with them to sell services to their exhibitors and sponsors. Knowing that cold emails or cold calling would not break open the doors to this market, a friend of mine recommended I create a partnership with Visit Seattle.
Visit Seattle is Seattle’s destination marketing organization, they raise money by taxing hotel guests in the 55 downtown area hotels, then use the money to market Seattle to event managers so they bring their large conferences to the Washington Convention Center. Visit Seattle has a partner program for vendors like me to support the local event ecosystem. Membership in this program costs $600 per year.
The relationships with Visit Seattle generated more than $500,000 in gross revenue. More importantly, they gave us our first set of early adopters and presented a chance for our brand to break into a highly competitive market place.
Here is some key learning from my experience partnering with associations.
1. It’s up to you to make it happen. Visit Seattle has over 600 partner members to manage and only 2 membership coordinators. There is no way that each coordinator can spent time with each partner member each week, or month. We found that weekly emails to our association contacts with success stories and consistent follow-up on networking introductions is needed. Understand that most membership coordinators are a few years out of college and want to help you. But, due to the high volume of member needs the only way you’ll get anything to happen is if you stay present and make it happen.
2. Communicate with honor and respect. Becoming part of the paid partner program does not guarantee the membership coordinators or other staff will help promote your product and make introductions. Remember, their partners and clients are the associations life blood. If you approach their hen house with a salesman mentality then little results will be achieved. Always approach your requests for referral introductions with the upmost respect. Tell them why you are a good fit with the business that your seeking an introduction to and reassure them that because they are putting their personal word on your company that you will pull out the white glove treatment and always speak of the association with high respect.
3. Do your research and ask for small favors. After you become a member you’ll most likely gain access to a membership database. Spend time identifying a list of contacts or business that you’d like introductions to. Once this list is assembled do not submit the entire list and ask for referrals. Remember, the membership coordinator is extremely busy and they will need to do their own research on each introduction they make. Asking for 10 intro’s all at once is unreasonable but asking for 2 or 3 at a time is very reasonable.
4. Say Thank You. Most people never follow up with the membership coordinator after the referral is made. You want your coordinator to feel vested in your company’s growth. Keep them updated through your entire sales cycle. Let them know the amount of the proposals. Send emails saying things like, “I’m meeting Jeff today for the first time to review our proposal. It’s a big deal for us and could lead to $50,000 in business and you’re the person that made this happen for us! Thanks again, I’ll keep you updated with our progress.”
5. Be present at networking events. Asking for things all the time will get you nowhere. In order to support the association, it’s important to show up to their events. Associations need your help too, they need large turn outs to their events and they need active members. When you support them, they will support you.
6. Budget more than the membership dues. Membership dues are your foot in the door. Associations will have advertising opportunities, lunch and learn events, fundraiser gala’s, auctions, and other events that they will want your support or attendance with. Plan for the year on what your time commitment and involvement with these events will be. Don’t feel obligated to sign up for their advertising programs and don’t feel like you need to attend everything but showing support throughout the year is a must.
7. Everyone Likes Perks. Your membership coordinator is a 9-5 employee and has fixed income. Odds are you are a business owner or a sales associate who has a larger finical stake in the game when business closes. When the cash starts to come in, don’t forget who made this happen. Happy hours, dinners at restaurants they like or extra tickets to local events are great ways to make them feel appreciated. Also, this gives you a chance to create a human to human relationship with them vs a member to coordinator relationship with your main contact.
8. Association Management Companies. Is the association that your wanting to form a partnership with ran by an association management company? If so, understand that the administrative staff is on retainer and they are not invested in your success. Be careful with these types of situations. When you ask for something be sure it’s worth it. Think of an Association Management company as a property management company that charges people HOA dues on their condo’s, most times they are non-innovative companies and have very traditional practices. I have come across AMAZING association management companies and ones that are not that impressive...keep your ear open to understand what type of AMC your going to be dealing with.
9. Connect on LinkedIn. Associations have a volunteer board of directors and other volunteer ran committees. Reach out to them on Linkedin and send them a request to connect. Don’t ask for anything, simply state that you’re a new member and your looking forward to being involved. Remember, no one likes a salesman. Also, these volunteers are extremely active in their careers and have no obligation to help you out other then moving the association objectives forward. You can use this technique with association sponsors and exhibitors too.
I’ll update this post as more ideas and techniques come to me. Associations can be important allies in your fight to bring your product to market. Show respect, be present, and be appreciative of the opportunities that they provide for you. Without association partnerships New Audience Media would have never signed our first round of early adopters. Because the association made the referral introductions we had instant credibility and were no longer viewed as a no name startup trying to sell things.