A look at the inner workings of one association’s data-tracking and scoring system for member engagement and spending. It ain’t pretty, but it’s a powerful tool.
Imagine you’re a trade-association executive asking a member company to buy booth at your tradeshow. “This could be a great investment in your company. Between industry exposure and face-to-face conversations with buyers, the booth pays for itself,” you say.
We now have real data, and we can slice and dice data from this and say, ‘No, actually that’s not true.’ The numbers don’t lie.
“We’ve already spent $20,000 with your association in print and online advertising this year. I’m sorry, but our budget for working with you is tapped out,” comes the response.
Problem is, you had no idea about the $20,000 in ad spending. That knowledge is in a different database than the one that tracks membership. Bummer.
Associations offer a lot of different ways for members to interact, and tracking all those interactions is a chore, to say the least. But once it’s done, it can pay off in big ways.
Susan Avery, CAE, CEO of the International Association of Plastics Distribution, says developing a comprehensive engagement-scoring system for IAPD’s membership has allowed her staff to be “much more sensitive in terms of overall company spend.”
Avery joined IAPD about eight years ago. “Early on, the big issue or question that I really wanted to answer is, I wish that I had a single place that I knew how much our members were spending and what they were doing with the association,” she says. Now she does, and “huge blind zones” like ad spending are a thing of the past.
Associations that comprehensively track and monitor engagement are often turning to a scoring system, as well, to make sense of all that data, because it can get unwieldy quickly. For example, here’s a zoomed-out screenshot of a portion of IAPD’s tracking report:
Whoa. The full report is 303 rows across 57 columns. It tracks every member company’s spending and participation in pretty much every opportunity IAPD offers to do either. Everything from dues and convention attendance to golf-outing participation and award applications is covered. “If there’s a dollar value, we assign a dollar value; if there’s an engagement value, it’s a count,” Avery says.
On the far right of the report is where the scoring comes in. There it totals dollars spent and engagement count for each company. Each of those totals is given a score of 1 through 10, akin to a percentile system (10 for 90th-100th percentile, 9 for 80th-90th percentile, and so on). Those scores are then combined and, with some specific weighting factors and Excel macros, assigned a grade of A, B, C, or D.
The report is linked directly to IAPD’s association management system (iMIS) as well as other data sources, so it is up to date whenever it’s viewed. Avery estimates wrangling the data sources and building the tracking file took about 70 hours of staff and outsourced IT time. Now that it’s up and running, it requires only occasional development updates when new products or services are added or weighting factors are adjusted.
The process forced some data-management deficiencies to the forefront. “This was a great way for us to also map out where things are currently being housed,” Avery says. “So, if something wasn’t in iMIS, let’s put it in iMIS and try to get things in a central location so it didn’t cost us a pretty penny to try to gather all these various data sources.”
Now, IAPD is beginning to put the data to use. First off, it has been able to verify or refute a lot of conventional wisdom held among staff and volunteer leaders. “Those anecdotal comments that you get, we now have real data, and we can slice and dice data from this and say, ‘No, actually that’s not true,’” Avery says. “The numbers don’t lie.”
It also gives IAPD a clear picture of its at-risk members. “We’re looking at the Cs and Ds in a different way. This is a wakeup call: Look, we better personalize and start talking to these companies and find out is it a matter of, ‘Are these things not valuable to you? Do you not know about them? Are we just pushing so much information out that we’re creating mass chaos for you?’”
The end of 2013 will complete the third year of tracking, at which point IAPD will have its first set of three-year trends, an important milestone. Avery says the report’s formula will be adjusted to factor in a company’s year-over-year change in spend or engagement—i.e, is it more or less active with the association?—as 10 percent of the final letter rating.
IAPD is a trade association with about 280 member companies. Avery acknowledges that the approach to scoring engagement among organizational members is much different than it would be for individual members in a professional society.
“It would be kind of hard in a professional association where you have 20,000 or 40,000 members. What value does it have to know which of your members are the top thousand?” she says. “I would go at it from a completely different perspective from the professional side, but with the same questions, more in profiling members and groupings than I would looking at individual people.”
However you might go about it, IAPD’s example offers a glimpse into the nuts and bolts of tracking and scoring engagement. It might not be pretty, and it will probably look a little bit different at every association, but the end product is a powerful tool.
Does your association comprehensively track member engagement and spending? Have you built reports like IAPD’s? What challenges did you face, and how are you putting that data to use? Please share in the comments.