Association Outcomes Trump Outputs.Emerging from the great recession and experiencing an almost 50% drop in conference attendance, the Cable & Telecommunications Association for Marketing moved to realign its focus on member business outcomes. Like many Associations today, members are under pressure to produce results for their companies and their focus is about “outcomes” for themselves, their organizations, their constituencies, and customers. An association’s “outputs” (conferences, journals, etc.) are just mechanisms and tactics; members demand “outcomes.”
Members Demand Outcomes
When members don’t feel that they can impact something that they care about, they form their own coalitions, forums and on line communities outside of the association. Too often an association’s internal discussions are about tweaking “outputs,” not creatively driving the “outcomes” that members really care about. In a number of cases Associations shift their focus in order to satisfy member’s new expectations.
Zell Murphy, Senior Vice President, Finance & Administration at CTAM: Cable & Telecommunications Association for Marketing http://www.ctam.com says he and his colleagues needed to shift their focus in order to align with their members business objectives.
It’s essential to understand how an association is currently impacting member objectives. This requires securing actionable data about member perceptions of their environmental and operational challenges. Murphy agrees and emphasizes that CTAM utilizes survey data and ongoing member contact to define the level of impact they require to achieve their business outcomes. He notes that his members defined the level of strategic collaboration they expected.
Association Outcomes Trump Outputs
With a shared focus on outcomes, many members want to contribute and be connected if they believe that business objectives will be achieved. CTAM reports improvements in renewals and new member discussions much different from: “what do I get for my dues?” conversations before the changes. Although there is only modest operating growth, it reverses what might have been a downward spiral had they not shifted from an output to an outcome focus.
Strategic member engagement means data driven decisions. By segmenting your audience you can begin to understand each group’s priorities. What are the outcomes they seek? How do they participate with your association today? What can you learn about them via the social media they embrace?
Audience segmentation will vary from association to association. Common examples include: company size, location, the engaged individual’s role, scope of responsibility and career stage, their types of engagement, the challenges faced, and special interests. Some Associations also identify which members utilize competitor Associations.
Segmented Communication And Engagement Tactics
Segmentation drives Association communication and engagement strategies and mechanisms. Associations must avoid continually sending everything to all constituencies, and wondering why there are so few “click throughs” (including by your volunteer leaders). Understanding your constituency segments also helps staff better determine:
When to use “push” tactics (e.g. education, product sales)
When to use “pull” tactics that encourage knowledge contribution and collaboration behaviors
When to use influencing strategies (e.g. with Legislators, Regulators, the media)
Think in terms of primary and secondary approaches, not one size fits all.
Develop Member Segment Profiles
Don’t expect to move every segment to a higher level of engagement. Look for the segments that you most desire to have contributing to the collective body of knowledge and the development of new solutions. Also identify those segments that most drive your evolving business model.
Engagement and Moving to We.Moving to “we” is about inclusiveness and being open to the possibilities that might surface. This requires an integrated blend of “push” and “pull” offerings, with the explicit expectation that together “we” make great things happen for members.
There is a fundamental flaw in the approach of many associations. Everything, whether spoken, written, or inferred, says: “here is what we do for you”. And in their attempt to demonstrate that staff and volunteer leaders do care what members think, associations tend to be far more reactive than proactive. Worse yet, some shy away from asking members what they really want for fear they might actually get that feedback. Not everyone wants to have their views challenged, especially if they have spent years executing on those views/assumptions.
Understanding an Association’s alignment with member needs includes assessing the relationships between staff, volunteer leaders, and other members. Most association executives view this interface through a lens of “we/you”. The evolving association model is all about “we”.
To be relevant then, Associations should help members collaborate to achieve something they care about. Use the Strategic Engagement Framework (below) to reinforce a balanced blend of member behaviors that collectively result in optimal association impact.
Engagement and Moving to We
People value and make contributions to activities that help them achieve something they care about. Treating each member as having a piece of the puzzle because the association’s job is to facilitate 24/7 knowledge sharing leads to innovative solutions which drive member their business outcomes.
Members Feel Connected? With year end approaching, member retention may loom large for any Association. Understanding why members leave gets to the heart of issues like retention and member connectedness. Connectedness is the critical organizational outcome that drives long term success, and unlike “loyalty,” it can be measured in behavioral terms. The 3 C’s capture how member knowledge “contributions” lead to “collaboration” and also stimulate and reinforce “connectedness”.
Why Members Leave
In the Strategic Member Engagement survey (http://bit.ly/1g8g1J2), executives rated the frequency at which members leave for 11 potential reasons. While the ranking changed slightly, both professional society and trade association executives agreed the top 5 reasons that members leave are:
1) Insufficient perceived value (ROI)
2) Retired, changed companies, in transition
3) Joined for a one time purchase discount (e.g. meeting registration)
4) Acquired by another company that won’t pay the dues
5) Insufficient connection to their business/professional objectives
As shown in the graphic above, if an Association member perceives an opportunity to have an impact upon something he/she cares about, behaviors start to change from being a Recipient to a Knowledge Contributor. And for some, individual contribution that is recognized and openly appreciated leads to Solutions Collaboration with other knowledge contributors.
This is the point at which association magic begins! It’s when contributions and collaboration evolve into a sense of belonging that is called “Connectedness” (http://bit.ly/1ATwwUe).
Members Feel Connected?
Members leave when they perceive insufficient value, insufficient connection to their business/personal objectives, insufficient opportunity to have an impact, or they really don’t want a bundled package of offerings and only joined for a discount.
Association’s driving member connectedness with the 3 C’s (contribute, collaborate, connect) provide differentiated member value and are better positioned to accelerate their retention and overall financial performance.
People only contribute time, knowledge, and ideas when they perceive an opportunity to impact the outcomes they seek. Keeping and winning higher engagement levels happens when Associations create ongoing opportunities for their constituencies to contribute knowledge and collaborate with other members.
Assess your Association’s constituency segments within the following 4 level framework. For example:
Disconnected Observer.Lurking on website or on-line community, communications scanner, congressional staff, the general public
Knowledge Contributor. Speaker, writer, availability as a knowledge expert, mentor. This can also be the constituent that translates or transfers knowledge between stakeholders
Solutions Collaborator. Board, committees, roundtables, special interest groups, legislative campaign
Steps To Keeping Members Engaged
The following steps will help keep members engaged:
Understand the 4 levels of engagement & look for constituency segments that are primarily distinguished by one or two (of the 4) levels.
Identify member behaviors that impact the industry or profession.
Create opportunities for members to engage in the design of new solutions that drive member outcomes.
Success is measured in member behaviors that motivate connectedness. Target high probability segments to move to higher levels of engagement.Differentiate the “experience” at the national level and understand which member segments are best served at the local level.
Keeping Members Engaged
Everyone is busier than ever, especially as associations emerge from the recession and continually shift their attention to growth strategies. As such, people will only contribute time, knowledge, and ideas when they perceive an opportunity to impact the outcomes they seek. Keeping members engaged begins with understanding the 4 levels of engagement.
Free eBook “Accelerating Strategic Member Engagement” is available for all Association Executives atwww.potomaccore.com
Member Value Drivers?Too often an association’s internal discussions are about tweaking “outputs” and not creatively driving the “outcomes” that members really care about. This only fuels the “we/you” culture that exists in so many associations. Associations can get into trouble when internal discussions infer “we know what’s best for our members”. If members don’t feel that they can impact things that they care about, they form coalitions and on line communities outside of the association. (http://bit.ly/1qEaS3H)
Outcome Focus and Member Value Drivers
Members only care about “outcomes” that address their business and professional challenges and opportunities (See ROI TO R.O.M.E.http://bit.ly/1nCFqiU). Change the conversation from selling and testing satisfaction with association outputs (conference, journal, etc.) to engaging members in ways that facilitate knowledge sharing and collaboration with other members.
Up At Night Issues
Whether obtained via survey, focus groups, interviews, roundtables, online community dialogue, social media tracking or other mechanisms, it’s essential to understand how an your association is currently impacting member objectives. This requires securing actionable data about member perceptions of their environmental and operational challenges. If these issues aren’t surfaced, Associations may not be asking the right questions.
Member Impact Surveys
Associations should utilize impact surveys instead of satisfaction surveys as impact surveys are forward looking. They focus on the desired future outcomes that members seek to address their “up at night” issues.
Member Value Drivers?
Strategic member engagement begins with changing the conversation from “outputs” to “outcomes”. An “outcomes” focus drives member value and helps to accelerate competitive positioning and Association operating results. (http://bit.ly/1g8g1J2)
Knowledge Based Solutions. In today’s knowledge economy, an association’s competitive positioning requires a differentiating “experience” that treats each member as having a piece of the knowledge puzzle. Members are seeking knowledge based solutions which require both “push” and “pull” approaches.
“Push” and “Pull” Approaches
Most association executives recognize that the challenges their members face today require knowledge based solutions. However, the prevailing approach seeks out knowledge experts and “push” that person’s knowledge out to the membership through educational programs, newsletters and journals.
Today’s Leading edge associations view their role as the integrator, aggregator, curator, and enabler. This means they “pull” members together and facilitate the sharing of knowledge so that innovative solutions are created to address shared member challenges and opportunities. These associations view their constituencies as each member having a piece of the knowledge puzzle.
Knowledge based solutions are achieved through a proactive blend of “push” and “pull” information sharing mechanisms.
Competitive Edge Using Knowledge Based Solutions
Associations accelerate their competitive positioning when they address “up at night” issues by creating opportunities for members to share knowledge and create new solutions together. As such, the differentiator are the relationships members create as they work collaboratively to impact the solutions they collectively seek.
Members desire knowledge based solutions which include “push” and “pull” approaches where each member owns a piece of the knowledge puzzle.
These factors help associations create a differentiating experience that help improve their competitive positioning (seeKnowledge Sharing And Engagementhttp://bit.ly/1rJamVJ).
Knowledge Based Solutions
When competing for mindshare, strategic member engagement ( http://bit.ly/1g8g1J2) can be a marketplace differentiator for Associations. The strategic challenge is to continually fill the pipeline with constituencies who seek a more powerful “experience” than they receive at competitor organizations.
Stimulating Connectedness. Many association executives still yearn for member “loyalty” and have traditionally sought to measure it by retention rates. What does membership loyalty mean? There are very few examples of one-stop shopping. In a knowledge economy, members proactively seek information from many sources.
People most value the things in which they personally participate. They feel more “connected” to those groups who value their personal contributions. Accelerating strategic member engagement (http://bit.ly/1g8g1J2) is about creating many opportunities and “experiences” to contribute and feel valued; something that members don’t find elsewhere.
Creating Solutions Together
Traditionally, associations focus on what they do for members. The real power of the association form of organization is facilitating the creation of new solutions to address evolving member objectives. To accelerate this, volunteer leaders and staff must create a culture of “we”.
The “We/You” Fallacy
Determining an Association’s alignment with member needs includes assessing the relationships between staff, volunteer leaders and other members. We find that most association executives view this interface through a lens of “we/you”. The evolving association model is all about “we”.
GCCA, www.gcca.org, the Global Cold Chain Alliance continues its transformation to a “we” focused organization notes President & CEO Corey Rosenbusch.
Moving to “we” doesn’t happen overnight. It requires nurturing; “surprise and delight” if you will. Actually it is a 3-stage transition that goes from:
“We (staff & volunteer leaders)/They (outsiders)” to
“We/You” (as the member becomes a recipient of association offerings), and then strategically on to
“We” (highly engaged solution community)
As members start to contribute and collaborate the relationship shifts toward “we create new solutions together”. However, if members are never effectively engaged, they remain in “we/you” relationships with the association.
At the majority of associations, member engagement takes a back seat to fighting fires and meeting budget expectations. Over time, member dissatisfaction, poor retention, or weak membership growth can prompt boards to ask the tough questions.
In several instances executives are demonstrating the direct linkages between their efforts, member outcomes, and their association’s business model. They understand that corporate and individual members view their participation with associations through a very different lens than when they had relatively few go to sources for information and knowledge sharing.
Change The Conversation
People value and make contributions to the activities that help them achieve something they (or their company) value. Continually generating more activities is unsustainable; it also creates an unfocused “all you can eat buffet.”
Member Contract: Focus On Member Outcomes
Corey Rosenbusch, President & CEO, and his team at GCCA (the Global Cold Chain Alliance), www.gcca.org worked closely with their largest member to craft a 3 year member contract linking the member relationship to their strategic business outcomes. In doing so, they moved the conversation away from “here’s what you get for your money” to “here’s the power of engaging with others in your industry/profession to create new, innovative solutions”.
ROI TO R.O.M.E.
Only when board/staff engagement and member engagement are high do innovative solutions surface through a “we” collaboration. Moving to a “we” focused community is about inclusiveness and being open to the possibilities that might surface. Increasingly, associations, including the Global Cold Chain Alliance, recognize the significance of “we” collaboration and strategic member engagement (see 2/24/2014 posthttp://bit.ly/1g8g1J2).
Selling or Engagement? Engagement drives the association’s business model, while enhancing the association’s influence, prestige, and competitive positioning. Discussions like these can completely change the conversations away from: “what do I get for my dues?” Associations looking to grow revenues and membership and improve engaging instead of selling could better position their organizations for longer term success using this approach.
“Impact ” VS. “Satisfaction”
Quite often, associations are tracking member “satisfaction” with their offerings. “Satisfaction” surveys have the explicit connotation of “we want to know if you as a member appreciate all that we are doing for you”. Often disappointed with satisfaction survey results, associations add more and more services.
Alternatively, impact and outcome survey data allows you to set priorities and minimize the activities that no longer provide sufficient relative value. This is also an opportunity to find out how various segments of members and non members prefer to be engaged, and which other organizations are trying to meet their needs.
Member Impact Strategies
Evidence that the member impact survey and corresponding strategies are taking shape and impacting operating results and performance at different organizations. In addition, Corey Rosenbusch, President & CEO, GCCA, (the Global Cold Chain Alliance) says that his organization is shifting away from a “member satisfaction” focus to a “member impact” focus.
Selling or Engagement?
Is there any correlation between the frequency of impact surveys and 3 year business model trends? The Strategic Member Engagement survey shows that those who conduct member impact surveys annually were far more likely to report an upward 3 year trend in their operating results.