Can Your Members’ Customers Be Your Members, Too?

Give your members' customers a seat at the table, and your industry may be better for it.

Back in June, I spoke with Paula Feldman, director of business intelligence at the Packaging Machinery Manufacturers Institute (PMMI), for more than an hour for our feature article “Intelligence in Demand” in the September/October issue of Associations Now. Through the course of that interview, she used the word “packaging” 12 times, but she used the term “end user” 25 times.

I felt like we talked about end users a lot, and that’s because we did.

This is my scientific way of confirming one of the strongest impressions I came away with from that interview. I felt like we talked about end users a lot, and that’s because we did.

For PMMI, end users are companies that use packaging machines to package their products, which can range from food brands to electronics manufacturers to anything in between. PMMI’s members are manufacturers of those machines, but the end users—PMMI’s members’ customers—play a valuable role in PMMI’s work. PMMI’s business intelligence program wouldn’t be effective without them:

  • PMMI’s Business Intelligence Committee publishes 12-15 reports each year that study market conditions. Input from packaging-machinery users forms the core of these studies.
  • Representatives from end-user companies are also invited to sit on the subcommittees that work on the design and analysis each of the individual studies.
  • PMMI hosts end users for two key in-person events each year : Top to Top, which convenes packaging machinery manufacturers with end user companies, and Vision 20/20, which is exclusively for end users to convene and discuss their experiences and needs in packaging.

One of Feldman’s comments was particularly telling:

“The research firms that we’ve hired, when they go to get this information from the end users for these industry reports, they always tell us they’ve been one of the easiest groups of people to talk to, that they are more than willing to tell them what they want, and they say that our industry seems to be very willing to discuss anything that they’ve been asked.”

That’s a clear sign that PMMI has connected with its members’ customers in a way that makes them feel valued.

In an industry like packaging, this closeness makes sense. A product’s packaging is how it makes its first impression on the world, so it isn’t surprising that end-user companies have a high interest in the machines that help them create that impression. But I think the same dynamic would apply in a lot of industries. Medical fields and their patients. Educators and students (and their parents). Homebuilders and homeowners. And so on. In any of those cases, an individual member will know her own customers best, but she can turn to the association for a big-picture understanding of all the customers in her market.

So, to answer the question in the title of this post, yes, your members’ customers could be your members. But maybe “members” isn’t quite the right term. After all, PMMI doesn’t have an end-user member category, but end users are involved none the less. You can even see it baked in to PMMI’s 2012 Long Range Plan:

“Providing ‘customer solutions,’ PMMI’s future strategic focus and direction requires that a variety of current and new types of companies become core members of PMMI or active in PMMI structures and processes. … While some packaging and processing supply chain organizations will remain or become ‘members’ of PMMI, others will participate in PMMI sponsored special interest groups, forums, alliances, etc. as non-members.”

Whatever you call them—members, stakeholders, affiliates, etc.—your members’ customers can play a crucial role in pursuing your association’s mission.

Joe Rominiecki

By Joe Rominiecki

Joe Rominiecki, manager of communications at the Entomological Society of America, is a former senior editor at Associations Now. MORE

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