On a recent episode of the Member Engagement Show podcast, Annie Henderson walked us through what it’s been like to make the transition from member-targeted marketing to corporate partnerships and sponsorships.
Making the Big Switch
Annie was candid with Higher Logic’s Beth Arritt about the pros and cons of moving from a membership-focused role to a corporate partnerships and sponsorships role. It calls for a mind shift, but at the same time retaining and leveraging what was learned about the member audience.
That knowledge of and devotion to the wants and needs of members remains Annie’s core principle even as she pitches corporate prospects.
Pitching With Insider Knowledge
If you have a background in member communications or member marketing, Annie says you’re already set up for success. You already know the ins and outs of members, and those members are exactly who a good corporate partner should want to reach and benefit.
Also, keeping yourself aware of what’s happening in your corporate prospect’s space can make all the difference.
“If I’m working on creating a sales pitch for a software-based company that has a platform that helps school business officials with not just their budgeting, but their HR and facility maintenance, I’m going to reference topical items that have recently been discussed on our community network or in our magazine.”
If you were coming in cold, not knowing anything about the membership, selling to a prospect would be much harder.
Growing Partner Relationships One Step at a Time
Annie’s main goal for ASBO International is to fill out their Corporate Alliance Partnership Program. Her approach to doing so involves nurturing and moving prospects up through the various levels of partnership one step at a time.
Prospects must be able to see at each step how well they can take advantage of the partnership levels before they give serious consideration to advancing to the next. This same approach should be taken with people who aren’t yet corporate members, like exhibitors. Work on getting them to step one, which is membership.
Focusing on What Both Partners and Members Want
Annie brings empathy to her corporate marketing, always keeping herself aware that the prospects she’s talking to are very busy people who are going to multiple annual conference exhibit halls a year, usually within a five-month period.
They get pitched a lot. So, it’s important to get straight to the point and be clear and concise about what you’re asking them to do. And there’s a corporate partner/membership balance to be maintained. You don’t want to push corporate partners on members in a salesy way, but you do want an environment where corporate folks feel welcome.
You’re offering them a platform that should go beyond transactional. Corporate partners are experts in their own right and have a lot to offer.
“If they’re going to put that investment toward partnership, you need to treat them according to the value they provide to the professional association, which is that they have expert knowledge.”
Timing is Everything
When you reach out to corporate prospects it must make sense, and just as with members, you have to be relevant and topical. Likewise, you should advise partners when the smartest time to engage members is as well. They’ll appreciate the insight and see you as an association that truly cares about helping achieve its marketing goals.
For ASBO International, which supports school district financial decision-makers , there is a particular time in the school year when they’re budgeting, researching, making procurement decisions about needs for the coming year, and getting school board approval on the budget. That’s a critical timeline insight that the association can offer its corporate partners.
Tools and Tactics
Annie uses tools like Higher Logic Informz to identify people in a corporation making purchases on their LMS. If it’s discovered through the platform that they aren’t members, ASBO International reaches out to them and works to get them more invested with benefits and offers.
Another tactic is pricing strategy.
“We got approval from our board to lower our corporate member dues rate. It was a barrier to entry and now that barrier’s been lowered, we have a much more attractive corporate membership than ever. The benefits didn’t change but the ROI has.”
The lower rate results in more corporate members in the association.
Another tactic Annie uses is a new mini prospectus she developed. It gets right to the point in communicating to exhibitors the many benefits of stepping up and becoming a conference sponsor or advertiser.
Do What You Can, When You Can
Annie ends up with sound advice for corporate partnership marketers. There are all kinds of ideas and things you want to try, but the day to day can bog you down, especially during conference season.
When working through her marketing plan, Annie includes notations for things she’d like to try in 2023. For the things she was able to get started in 2022, the next step is to improve on what’s already been started.
“When I talk about putting down all your big ideas, put them down but you don’t have to implement all of them right away. You might still be learning your platforms, people, and audience. Take it as you can and get the support where you need it.”
Listen to Annie’s full conversation with Beth Arritt on The Member Engagement Show, here.
Beth’s marketing experience encompasses more than twenty-five years of marketing strategy and member/customer engagement in various industries, including puzzles and games, training, education and aviation.
In addition to marketing, Beth has worked in event management and web development, wearing a variety of hats in different positions. She has also been an adjunct professor of marketing at Marymount University in Arlington, Virginia.
Beth received a Bachelor of Science degree in Merchandising from James Madison University, a Certificate in Event Management from The George Washington University, and a Masters of Business Administration/Marketing from the University of Phoenix. She has earned numerous awards for her marketing, including two Top Digital Marketer of the Year awards.
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