Trade associations can be an excellent resource for educating yourself about a segment and generating leads. Finding them is pretty straightforward; however, most salespeople 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 relationship.
- This might sound silly, but make sure you’re pursuing the right organization. If you’re going to make an investment in joining an association, make sure it’s the right one for your segment.
- Once you’ve found a good fit, do your homework. 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 conversations that you’ll discover your segment’s most pressing issues.
- Attend the association’s 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 and what they charge their members to attend. How many people typically show up? What are their positions and professions? How could you participate in these events and help?
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 was speaking 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.