Trade associations or a forum of professionals within a certain industry can be an excellent resource for educating yourself about a specific segment and to generate leads. However, the pandemic has changed how trade associations operate. Their annual meetings, for example, were often in-person events and now have transformed into virtual meetings and online networking events.
Finding a trade association should be pretty straightforward; however, most sales professionals aren’t sure how to utilize them. Here are some tricks of the trade (pun intended) that will ensure both you and the association will benefit from your “new normal” relationship.
- Make sure you’re pursuing the right organization. This might sound silly, but if you’re going to make an investment in joining an association, make sure it’s the right one for your segment before you join.
- Do your homework. Once you’ve found a good fit, who are the members? How many members are there? What is their mission statement? How sophisticated are their written materials?
- Pay attention to who the association’s advertisers are. Likewise, interview the people who are editors or advertising directors for the association’s publications. It’s through these communications that you’ll discover your segment’s most pressing issues.
- Attend the virtual events and figure out who is planning them. If they have an education committee, find out who’s on it. Note the topics they’ve presented in the past. What are the committee members and the actual presenters’ positions and professions? How could you participate in these virtual events and help them create even greater value for their members?
Of course, you shouldn’t assume that by plunking down your annual membership fee you'll immediately penetrate the market. Associations can sense someone attempting to take advantage of their membership or “wiggling their way in.” Treat the association the same way you’d treat a prospect—offer something of value and take on the role of a collaborator. Anything short of a two-way street will be selling both of you short.
One final note... I presented at a trade organization’s national conference and had the opportunity to share lunch with a woman whose role it was to brief new members who had just joined on how to make the most of their membership. She told me candidly that the best way to be taken seriously is to volunteer on one or more committees and to work hard to advance the association’s goals. Once the rest of the association’s members see that your shoulder is consistently to the wheel and that you are adding genuine value, you will have established a level of trust and admiration that will open the door to having your own sales offerings taken seriously.