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Product Principles

Build a Smart Sunsetting Strategy

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Associations are known for having a hard time letting go of programs and products. But creating a strong product portfolio means being thoughtful about eliminating underperformers and focusing on those that move the association forward.

While associations worked quickly to meet new member needs during the pandemic, their expectations have evolved over the last three years. But have association programs and products changed along with them?

“The world changes around us all the time,” said Ankur Ponda, MBA, senior consultant at McKinley Advisors. “COVID taught us that we need to be agile and nimble and adapt to the market and what our members are telling us. Our portfolio needs to evolve with those changes.”

As part of her process, Jennifer Blenkle, senior director, strategic initiatives, at the American Physiological Society, conducts a postmortem with her team for each project to review what worked, what didn’t, and what they can to differently.

“That’s an easy entry point to evaluate programs,” she said. “These conversations can feel less threatening, and help you build a culture where you realistically talk about your programs.”

Part of that evaluation may mean letting go of programs, products, and services that no longer benefit members or an association’s bottom line. While sunsetting a product is never easy, having a smart strategy in place will make the decision easier for both staff and members and ultimately help associations curate a stronger portfolio.

Focus on Performance

It will be easier to determine which products are performing and which are not if associations have key performance indicators and other metrics in place that they can track throughout the year. Those elements may include the program’s expenses and revenue, staff hours for the project, and whether it aligns with the association’s mission and strategic priorities.

“You want to be tracking whether the programs are meeting your desired outcomes,” Blenkle said. “What are the expenses and the impacts, and how do members feel about it? You only have so much capacity in your organization, so you need to make sure that the programs you move forward are meeting your goals.”

Ponda recommends looking at your data. “Are you losing revenue? Are you putting in a certain number of dollars or hours on this and what is the yield? If those two don’t align, then it might be a good opportunity to look at sunsetting that project,” he said.

He also suggests using member needs surveys to review satisfaction and participation. “If it’s consistently ranked low on member surveys and you’re hearing that people don’t know about it or it’s not adding much value, those are ways to know if it’s time to sunset a project.”

In addition, associations should get feedback from members and staff who are familiar with the product. They’ll be able to speak to what is and isn’t working and make suggestions for next steps.

Communicate the Upside

Even if data and feedback are making the case that a product is in a state of decline, sunsetting a product may lead to blowback from staff or members. Staff may be concerned about what it means for their future in the association and members who had a hand in launching the product may be disappointed to see it end.

With that in mind, it’s a good idea to be transparent throughout the process, set up a game plan, and talk to key individuals about how the decision will affect them.

“You want to bring them along in this process,” Blenkle said. “Help your staff be part of the decision-making, so they understand the evolution of needs and the opportunity to be part of new projects and initiatives.”

Make sure your strategy also includes the positives that come from sunsetting the program. “Emphasize how it can bring staff a greater focus to their role,” Ponda said. “Explain how this change aligns with the direction the association is moving.”

If the program was taking up association resources and unable to generate a meaningful revenue or impact, ending the program will give staff more time to focus on new ideas, initiatives, and programs. And as members recognize the value that these new products offer, that will begin to have a trickle-down effect on retention and recruitment.

“That has potential revenue opportunities for the association that they let one program so they can then introduce a new project with greater value add,” Ponda said.

Hannah Carvalho

Hannah Carvalho is Senior Editor at Associations Now.

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