Business Pro Tip: Build a Stronger Fit With Your Industry Partners and Vendors

The best fit between an industry partner and your association is the one that best meets your organization's needs.

When it comes to picking an industry partner or vendor to help manage a part of your organization’s business or infrastructure—be it your technology or your events—the tendency is to go for the shiny new object.

But sometimes, finding comfort with an existing partner can leave you happier in the end.

What’s the Strategy?

Simply put, do your homework when researching potential industry partners for your organization, so you’re looking at the full picture.

One thing to avoid is leaning too hard on existing relationships with any one person. Alexander DeBarr, president and CEO of Naylor Association Solutions, said in a November interview that while there may be a tendency among both vendors and associations to want to work with a familiar face, the reality is that you need to do a more in-depth assessment.

DeBarr said that, from the vendor side, existing personal relationships aren’t enough to guarantee new clients.“We don’t take it for granted that, when an executive goes from one association to another, we’re in like Flynn; we’d be idiots if we did,” DeBarr said.

Conversely, from the association side, sometimes key employees leave specific industry partners, which might convince groups to leave an existing vendor in favor of a person they like working with. This strategy can be risky, DeBarr said. “You have to be careful in your vendor selection to make sure they have the capabilities to do the things that they say they’re going to do,” he added.

Why Is It Effective?

Simply put, it encourages the association to do their homework so they find a better fit based around capabilities rather than personal relationships alone.

In a 2016 post, Jim Unander, senior director of IT for Million Dollar Round Table, explained that his association took a multistep process to discover what vendor might be the best bet to replace an aging system. The process was not defined by factors like cost or existing relationships, but on capabilities and overall fit.

“The organization we eventually chose was very clear on its vision both for the company and the association industry as a whole, and its team spent enough time with us to understand what was important to us and explain how they could work with us,” he wrote. “At the end of the day, they were the clear winner.”

What’s the Potential?

The best-case scenario is a long-lasting relationship with a vendor. DeBarr noted that, in Naylor’s case, many of its partners sign three-to-five-year contracts, with the average tenure of its relationships with associations lasting about a decade. The secret to long-lasting relationships? A focus on the association’s success.

“If I’m an association, I want to meet with and do business with vendors who are interested in my success and are willing to work with other vendors in adjacent offerings for the betterment of the association,” DeBarr said.

(filo/DigitalVision Vectors)

Ernie Smith

By Ernie Smith

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

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