It’s a whole new ballgame for associations and their conferences, particularly when it comes to building long-term loyalty. New realities are taking shape, disrupting previous value models and perceptions.
Reality #1: Senior executives are more involved in attendance and membership decisions. They’re scrutinizing ROI more closely and pushing back on fuzzy estimates.
Reality #2: While learning, networking, and business leads are still the “Big 3” reasons why organizations choose to participate in conferences, how value is defined and measured for each of these categories is all over the board.
Reality #3: As Boomers exit and Gen X ascends to the leadership suite, these value discussions will intensify.
What steps are you taking to improve your own value proposition? How will you ensure future success in this participant value game?
“Coaches who can outline plays on a black board are a dime a dozen. The ones who win get inside their player and motivate.” — Vince Lombardi
Time to Get Inside Your Customers’ Heads
In today’s high-tech world, when conference or membership revenues stagnate or dip, we often turn to technology.
- Let’s get a survey out to our membership.
- Let’s design better reports with more detailed analytics.
- Let’s add a webinar and another email blast.
All options worth exploring, but we might be missing the most important step: Conversations with our best customers.
Aside from calls to promote YOUR conferences, do you ever reach out to your A-List participants, exhibitors, and sponsors to learn more about THEM? Calls to learn about future goals and aspirations? Calls to learn about new business challenges they are tackling? Calls to learn about the problems they recently solved?
Years ago, I managed a team of Business Development agents. This was a highly-trained, prospecting SWAT team, who would reach out regularly by phone and email to earn five minute conversations with C- and VP-level decision makers. They were hunting for problems our firm could solve. When they reached an executive, they would hold back on the sell and instead, launch into a thoughtful sequence of questions to uncover business challenges. Better than half of those conversations resulted in leads that would be assigned to sales. Better than half of those leads closed, often for six figure investments.
Never underestimate the power of one-on-one conversations to increase loyalty and drive revenue growth.
How can this same approach be used to grow your membership and conference audience?
- Start with Your Best Customers: Which organizations are solidly engaged with you right now? We’re talking about key attendees who come to your conference year after year. They’re satisfied, but there’s room to make them very satisfied. If you’re not segmenting your customer lists, start ranking these in tiers: A, B, and C. Your A-list would include larger organizations (your economic buyers) who regularly send a group of people to your events.
- Assemble Your SWAT Team: You’ll need extra-mile players, but you’ll need depth, too. Go beyond your meetings team and recruit others from sales, marketing, membership, and leadership. Don’t forget your volunteers. I’ll bet there’s a ringer or two in that group. Each member of this SWAT team will be assigned five A-List accounts to pursue throughout the year.
- Map Out Your Game Plan: Research your A-List targets, get potential needs on the table, and start creating lists of questions that map back to your conference value proposition. Sales is attending the event, but how might R&D benefit? Move beyond the usual suspects and go deep and wide. Look for others in Marketing, HR or Training, Finance, IT and Operations. Innovation and solving problems are top priorities for most organizations. Who else would benefit from learning about the latest innovation and thought leadership conversations taking place at your conference?
- One Last Huddle & Go: Set reasonable expectations (one attempt per account per month?). Ask team members to report back to you monthly on progress. Roll all results into one report to share with the team. (There’s nothing like peer pressure to motivate.) Remember, slow and steady wins this race. Parachuting in with calls every few months won’t cut it. By the way, player-coaches are more effective in leading these types of business development initiatives.
- SWAT Team as Event Ambassadors: If you have recruited the right people and they’re demonstrating that you’re a caring organization, they are now forming even stronger bonds with your best customers. Make sure your SWAT team is front and center at your conferences, welcoming these best customers and advancing relationships through face-to-face exchanges.
This “deep & wide” 12-month strategy requires patience, persistence, and constant fine-tuning to move the results dial, but when you do (and you will), it will be worth it.
Would this year-round “deep & wide” event growth strategy be a fit for your organization? What challenges or obstacles might get in your way?