When Is It Time to Add a New Member Benefit?

New member offerings can prove an important value-add for members, but they need to make sense for both an organization and its members. The Association of Energy Services Professionals found such an opportunity in a new partnership, but opportunity alone wasn’t what sealed the deal.

Associations are always looking for new ways to bring value to their membership base. Member benefits are a core part of that value. But as association leaders assess the value and packaging of their existing member benefits, they may also be asking themselves when it’s right to add a brand-new benefit to the buffet.

Existing relationships can get the wheels turning on new member benefits—but opportunity alone isn’t enough for an association to take the plunge.

Hence the situation that the Association of Energy Services Professionals (AESP), a group targeting professionals in the energy industry, found when it decided to partner with Selling Energy, the producer of an educational platform that teaches sales tactics to energy professionals.

“An evolving grid demands an evolving workforce, and this training partnership will help us meet tomorrow’s needs,” AESP President and CEO Jen Szaro said in a news release.

Ian Motley, AESP’s manager of marketing and communications, said in an email that idea came about because of a personal relationship the company’s founder already had with the association, which helped lay the groundwork for the collaboration.

But that connection wasn’t the deciding factor, Motley said. Ultimately, the changing needs of the group’s 2,500 members was what sealed the deal.

“Their offering was a solution for a pain point in our industry—that people who are not used to having to sell their services are now finding themselves having to do just that because of changing business models,” Motley said. “That came from qualitative feedback with leaders of our member companies.”

Making the Call to Add a Benefit

A new benefit doesn’t just emerge out of the blue—often it requires checking the pulse of the membership base, and listening closely to what they are asking for.

“It’s a 50/50 mix of qualitative feedback from our board, paired with quantitative feedback we gather every year from our annual member survey,” Motley said about AESP’s new education offering. “We then take that feedback and the staff tries to marry those two kinds of feedback with our strategic plan and resourcing/budgeting plan.”

Another factor that needs to come into play is with staff—who may not be in the room when the strategy is being developed, but will be directly affected by any end result.

“I would heavily encourage leaders to check in with their mid- and junior-level staff and not proceed without taking operational stakeholders into consideration,” he said. “Often, they can spot opportunities to better leverage a partnership or even hidden pitfalls that can help senior leaders save themselves from embarrassment.”

And if you’re partnering with an outside company, as AESP did, there has to be some natural synergy to make it worthwhile, as Motley noted.

“The offering has to further our strategic plan and be a mutual win-win,” he said.

Understand Member Stamina

Of course, trying to understand what members want just based on what they say in feedback has its limits—and failing to account for those limits could leave you in a position where you’re offering member benefits that prove better in theory than in practice.

“I have noticed that there is often a gap between what people say they want and what they will actually do,” Motley said. “It usually comes down to enthusiasm vs. required commitment.”

As a way to avoid situations like this, Motley recommended researching the work of other organizations that may have run into similar situations over the years.

“I would heavily encourage people to look to other organizations outside their industry to see what has and more importantly has not worked,” he said. “It has saved me more than once.”

(siridhata/iStock/Getty Images Plus)

Ernie Smith

By Ernie Smith

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

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