Partnership Program Helps VIP Members See the Big Picture
At the Society of Cable Telecommunications Engineers, a group-membership plan is attracting deeper engagement with the industry's higher-ups and boosting SCTE's membership and training revenue along the way.
“What’s in it for me?” is a question every association aims to answer while recruiting and engaging members. But here’s a close second, which perhaps not every association devotes as much time to: “What’s in it for my boss?”
Unless your association serves a community of sole practitioners or an industry of holacrats, corporate hierarchy is a reality to be dealt with. The person holding the proverbial checkbook simply can’t be ignored. And that person has a different—or at least broader—set of concerns about what membership in an association ought to deliver.
That difference was a major influence that led the Society of Cable Telecommunications Engineers to evolve its membership strategy a few years ago toward deeper engagement with top decision makers. Judging by the early results, it has been a success: SCTE’s membership has grown nearly 50 percent in barely two years, and it has nearly doubled its training revenue.
All that while not abandoning SCTE’s history in serving the cable industry’s technical professionals, says Bill Schankel, MBA, CAE, vice president of marketing. SCTE remains an individual membership organization—a single member’s annual dues are just $75—but it now counts 11 cable operating companies and five industry-supplier companies as members of its Corporate Alliance Partner Program. The new strategy “didn’t do anything to change our membership structure,” Schankel says. “It just set up a higher-level partnership agreement.”
Essentially, the program is a group-membership option, with incentives for a company with many potential members and trainees to coordinate its investment and engagement with the association. By meeting a threshold of employees enrolled as SCTE members, a company can become a Corporate Alliance Partner and be eligible for discounts on those members’ dues as well as fees on training programs and SCTE’s Leadership Institute.
A more streamlined relationship between company and association has been a benefit to both sides. SCTE dedicates staff to work with each partner company to “help them better plan out their year,” Schankel says. “Previously, they had a lot of one-off, individual members signing up. We centralized that whole process for them, to say, ‘Here’s your whole roster of current members; ensure it’s a clean list. By the way, now, because you reached this spending threshold, you’re going to get a discount on these member dues and on any further members you sign up.'”
SCTE’s membership is up from about 14,000 in 2013, before the partner program was launched, to more than 20,000 today. Schankel attributes 90 percent of that growth to the partnership program. “It’s been great for our professional development and training department, as well,” he says.
Corporate Alliance Partners can also customize some elements of SCTE’s training programs, for example by adjusting the focus on certain technologies within a course or by breaking a course into smaller modules that can be integrated into a company’s career-advancement requirements. Partner companies are also invited to participate on SCTE’s professional development committee, giving them a chance to guide the association on its future training initiatives.
That sort of high-level engagement can be attractive to VIPs in your membership, but providing those opportunities may require a new kind of member service, Schankel says. SCTE has borrowed a page from the trade-association playbook, creating account executive roles for certain staff members, who now maintain regular interaction with partner companies. Recruiting them took on a new style, as well. “We had to have our value proposition in place, to not only show how much you’re spending but here’s what you’re getting out of it, and here’s even more we can do for you if you get to the threshold,” he says.
That same spending and engagement data that SCTE shows partner companies is what it used to develop its initial plans for the partnership program, looking at past engagement levels and setting partnership thresholds that would spur more engagement from the companies. An early pilot period with a few companies proved useful in getting the thresholds and benefits right.
“Early on, we had a few versions of this model before we launched it that didn’t resonate with companies,” Schankel says. “There were a few variations of this before we launched it officially.”
The biggest challenge has been on the technical side. More than a year into the program, some of the processes for managing the partner program are still manual. “The staff training was somewhat easier because people could see the results and understand why this is a good thing,” Schankel says, “but the systems and the business processes are a project that’s been in transition since the start, and we’re still trying to really nail down what the best process is to handle it and to simplify it.”
While growth is good, SCTE now needs to keep it manageable. Schankel says it will likely target just two or three new companies per year for the partner program, to not “overshoot” the organization’s ability to deliver on the program’s benefits. After all, the partnerships are built to be close, ongoing relationships with companies and their key decision makers, a way for SCTE to serve the needs of the full range of its industry’s workforce. They’re not something to be churned out en masse, Schankel says.
“Really the growth came less around the model and the discounts but what the model allowed us to do through deeper engagement with the companies,” he says.
How does your association appeal to C-suite leaders in your industry? Do you offer group-membership plans or a partnership program like SCTE? Please share your perspectives in the comments.