How to Give Your Industry Partners the Value They Need

Associations hoping to build value for their members may want to look closely at the experience their industry partners have—because it can have an impact on their members too.

Associations tend to mostly focus on their members. But do they need to give their industry partners more attention?

Industry partners, who may also be called associate members or alliance members, often help generate value for the association as a whole by supplying goods and services that members need.

They may not be quite the same as regular members, but they can make your standard memberships more valuable—along with your expo halls and other sources of nondues revenue.

Ed Rigsbee, principal of Rigsbee Research and author of The ROI of Membership, highlighted this role in a recent discussion with Associations Now. He said that industry partners are important, in part because their needs as vendors can help make events and other member benefits financially feasible for associations to offer to all members, balancing value and mission for everyone. He ties the value of industry partners to broader points about mission.

“You’ve got to serve the mission, which frequently is very nebulous and very high-minded and might not be realistic,” Rigsbee said. “You’ve got to serve the members that are the functional people in your industry. What about serving the people that are paying the freight right now?”

Rigsbee noted that industry partners are often looking for access to members, which might take the form of sponsored content, whether at events or in other settings. Rigsbee said that many traditional members may welcome this access—if managed transparently.

“As long as you’re honest, and you tell your member, ‘This is a sponsored session,’” members will likely be OK with it, he said.

A Vendor’s Take on Industry Partnerships

Alexander DeBarr, president and CEO of Naylor Association Solutions, sees his organization’s role in this discussion as less about looking for something from the association itself and more about getting an opportunity to serve a target audience—in his company’s case, associations.

You’ve got to serve the members that are the functional people in your industry. What about serving the people that are paying the freight right now?

Ed Rigsbee, principal of Rigsbee Research

“Clearly I’m a for-profit business. I have budget targets to hit, all kinds of fun stuff, like every business in the world,” he said. “But the best way for me to achieve my job as a company is to have more clients, and you only get more clients if you’re doing a good job helping them, so we’re very serious about helping our clients.”

DeBarr says that it’s important for associations to find partners that are willing to look out for their industry’s needs.

“Associations have to be really strategic in their approach, and I think one of the ways they can help be more effective is by identifying good vendor partners who have their best interests in mind and who can help them,” he said.

Mutually Beneficial Industry Relationships

Relationships are an important element of making industry partnerships work, and they’re of high value to companies that take part in such memberships.

DeBarr noted the importance of a collaborative relationship and for groups to understand the industry partner’s goal is to serve the association effectively.

“We want them to have a good sense of how we can work together for the common good, but for everybody else in the market, I’m not so worried about them understanding my needs,” he said.

DeBarr’s way of thinking about this issue, especially within the association space, echoes how other vendors might think about working with customers they want to attract via industry partner programs.

“I think a large number of vendors have a sincere interest in helping the association succeed,” he said. “But I think we need to make sure they have an open mind.”

Associations looking to build industry partner programs in other fields might benefit from building programs with this kind of nurturing in mind.

Member Status Upgrades

Of course, there may be opportunities to expand relationships with industry partners based on your industry makeup or strategic needs.

For example, the Fragrance Creators Association decided last year to turn its associate members into active members, which heightened the role of previously secondary players in the field and gave them a larger voice in the association moving forward.

“This change will benefit all Fragrance Creator members,” said Farah K. Ahmed, the association’s president and CEO, in comments to Associations Now last year. “It will support a greater diversity of perspectives—not only on a project basis, but in the overall strategic thinking of the organization.”

(erhui1979/DigitalVision Vectors)

Ernie Smith

By Ernie Smith

Ernie Smith is a former senior editor for Associations Now. MORE

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