Corporate Membership Model Leads to Epic Growth
Looking to the future, anticipating business needs, and a time-honored back pocket strategy helped lead the Association of Proposal Management Professionals to sustainable success—even during a pandemic.
Rick Harris, CEO of the Association of Proposal Management Professionals, is always looking for ways to grow his association.
“The best CEOs are going to look forward to find the niches and deliver,” Harris said. For example, a McKinsey & Co. report [PDF] revealed that a lot of organizations have a skills and professional development gap. In addition, a Korn Ferry study estimated that there will be a global human talent shortage of more than 85 million people by 2030, which could result in about $8.5 trillion in unrealized annual revenues.
Those pieces of data were key to mapping out a strategy that showed what direction APMP should be headed. “Associations have this unbelievable treasure trove of power that corporations are looking for,” Harris said. “We can serve [corporations] in a way they can’t themselves.”
Become the Go-To Association
Corporations are worried about how to serve their customers, but they don’t always have the time to focus on how to close that skills gap and provide professional development for their staff. “That’s something associations are well-positioned to do,” Harris said.
Those trends and data led Harris to think about how APMP could be more like a trade association and revamp its membership model to include an organizational category that would provide corporations with the services that they need but weren’t getting. APMP immediately started focusing on attracting corporate members.
The group doubled down and hired additional membership staff to provide white-glove, concierge-like service to its corporate members and formed a Member Value Team five years ago. “It’s all about relationship building with our customer,” Harris said. “We wanted to give corporate members a confidence, a place to go, and service they’ve never had before.”
The Member Value team built relationships with the corporate members and asked them what they were looking for, which revealed a need for more specialized certification programs. The team aggregated their responses and came up with a couple of certification programs to meet those needs, then conducted a member survey at the end to test it. APMP launched both programs during the pandemic and they have taken off. “It’s because we went to the customer and knew what they wanted to do,” Harris said.
The idea was to become the association the corporations thought of first, so they would be more inclined to automatically renew based on the bespoke relationship fostered by not just the Member Value Team but also the entire organization. “Our plan worked, and it would work for any association in general to identify gaps and see where your association can fill those gaps,” Harris said.
Eleven years ago, APMP had 18 corporate members, and now it has 186, which represents a 900 percent growth increase. Even the pandemic could not stop its momentum. APMP’s corporate membership portfolio grew by 44 percent, while its individual membership grew by 9 percent.
Harris credits his ability to branch out and try new things on a piece of advice he got from a CEO 33 years ago: “Always do what the board wants you to do, but always have a wild card.”
But it must be a well-researched wild card that you are confident is going to work. Because when you deliver on the wild card, the board will give you more and more space.
“We look at things like the pandemic, not as a brick wall that we have to stop and start reducing and cutting,” Harris said. “We look at it like a speed bump—and how we can take advantage of that using the model we have built.”
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