July 15, 2019
It’s easy to take vendor members for granted. After all, they have a strong motivation for joining: the members of your association are their prospective customers. But renewing? That’s another story.
The success of a vendor member’s career and/or business depends on their ability to generate leads and close sales. If, after a year of membership, they don’t succeed in doing much of either, the chances of them renewing are slim.
In many associations, “regular” or core members are used to seeing vendor members come and go, not making much of an impact on the community. However, the membership experience of all your members will improve if you treat vendors as a membership segment with unique needs, challenges, and interests.
Vendor members may not be your membership priority but they can provide a great deal of value to your association.
Word-of-mouth marketing. Vendor members are primarily involved in sales, business development, and marketing. They talk for a living. Their success is based on fruitful conversations and relationships. Because their networks extend far beyond your membership, they act as unofficial PR reps for your association’s events, programs, advocacy efforts, and membership.
Volunteering. Vendor members are seeking ways to meet and develop relationships with other members. They’re willing to contribute their time and expertise as volunteers if it will help them meet fellow members. Personally invite them to help with small jobs like working at event registration or serving as a membership ambassador. Or discuss ways they can help in bigger ways, such as delivering educational content, procuring gifts for a silent auction, or organizing a visit to state legislators.
Revenue. Vendor members are a traditional source of non-dues revenue, but you can’t take that for granted either. Nowadays, many corporations are seeking more ROI for their marketing budget—the source of funds for their membership dues, exhibit and sponsorship fees, and advertising purchases.
Logo placement may no longer provide enough of a return for them. These longtime sponsors want to become revenue partners who work with you to provide value to their target audience, member decision-makers.
Expertise. Many vendor members are industry experts. They’ve worked with many of your members, introducing them to new products, technology, processes, practices, tactics, and strategies. They have case studies and “lessons learned” to share. Sit down with them to discuss ways they can share their experience and expertise with your members and customers.
Vendor members are most at risk for not renewing because many of them don’t achieve their membership goal: getting and converting leads. They joined knowing they’d have to “pay to play,” but do they really know how to play?
Many of them are unsuccessful because they don’t know how to network and develop relationships in the association context. If they take the Glengarry Glen Ross sales approach—“Always Be Closing”—to association events and post-event follow-up, they won’t do well. You need to show them the best approach for getting a return on their dues investment. It will take longer, but it will provide long-lasting results.
In addition to the orientation you regularly offer to all new members, provide a special orientation session for vendor members. In this quarterly in-person or online session, invite veteran members—both vendor and regular members—to share networking and relationship development tips, for example:
Record these sessions and share the recordings on your website. Encourage new and veteran vendor members to listen to the advice given by their fellow members during the different sessions.
If you offer vendor company memberships, watch the revolving door of primary contacts. Don’t assume a new person was given any guidance about association membership. Treat new primary contacts—and other new additions to company rosters—as new members, even if, officially, they’re not. Invite them to new member onboarding sessions, add them to onboarding email campaigns, and make time to personally discuss membership goals with them.
New vendor members expect the usual marketing opportunities: exhibiting at trade shows, advertising in publications and directories, and sponsoring events. But, you can also show them additional ways to increase brand awareness, share their knowledge and expertise, and establish a reputation for thought leadership, for example:
Learn about their membership and business goals. Discuss ways they can provide value to their target audience—your members—while increasing brand awareness.
Some of your vendor members may be old hands at trade shows but many of them are winging it. Provide exhibitor education that teaches them how to take a strategic approach to their trade show participation, for example, the best way to handle pre- and post-show communication.
Encourage vendor members to attend educational events, conference sessions, webinars, and online learning programs throughout the year. If they want to succeed, vendors need to learn as much as they can about their prospects’ work lives, including the issues they’re facing.
Once or twice a year, offer an introductory program about your association’s industry or profession. This content is ideal for salespeople and any other professionals who are new to the industry.
Foster a membership culture that accepts vendor members as valuable contributors to the association. When you help vendor members become successful by giving them opportunities to share their time, energy, and expertise, you’ll also strengthen your association’s community.
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