Business Strategy

Masters of Sales: Success Through Association

network associations

Central to the growth of every business organization and professional entity is membership in organizations through which one can meet and get to know potential referral sources, learn about trends and issues, gain new friends, and stand out by leadership work in a committee or task force.

Yet, in the cruelty of the past recession, we have all had to reassess membership fees – Are they worth it? What is the value proposition? Have I brought in any business from my membership? Are the events worth attending and the speakers worth listening to? While we have social media to do some networking and build thought leadership, it is still true that that significant deals are based on personal knowledge and cemented face to face.

Some memberships survived, but for good reasons. Associations are the source of networking, an activity that a three year research study cited in The Economist concluded holds “…a positive correlation between the amount of effort the workers said they put into building contacts—inside and outside their offices—and their pay rises and career satisfaction.” No sense avoiding that, is there?

Finding the Right Association in the Tomato State (NJ) or Anywhere

Barbara E. Kauffman never planned to be the Executive VP of the Newark Regional Business Partnership (NRBP;, a regional chamber of commerce in bustling Essex County, NJ. Her education and background is in natural resources policy and management. She executes her position with an excellence that dims the competition, creating a business association that many commercial businesses should emulate. Barbara does not do this alone, every member of the NRBP, modeled by its CEO, Chip Hallock, have similar dedication to providing tangible value – a return on investment for members. As Barbara advises prospective members, once you have done your due diligence, “Commit to joining for a year, and be sure to take advantage of all the member benefits you can, to ensure the greatest value.” 

What’s different about NRBP? The goal of the organization is to help members become successful through membership, and that goal is apparent throughout NRBP’s actions. When most folks join a business organization, they rue the fee and know they are going to have to sink or swim on their own, despite promises made during the courtship. And who likes to enter a ballroom full of strangers who all seem to be talking in proprietary groups?

When one enters an NRBP event, friendly registrars welcome you and send you into the capable and gracious hands of an “Ambassador”, who is charged with finding out your needs and introducing you to a particular person of your choice or into a conversation group. You are not left to eat your breakfast muffin in a corner. When you become a member, you receive a call to discuss leads that are suited to individual needs and mirror company strengths.

We are a “Business Concierge”

By seeing itself as a “business concierge”, when a member asks for advice on myriad issues, they call NRBP. At an event or in between times, Barbara steps in when a member has asked to set up a meeting with a particular person for a business purpose. As a result, contacts are prescreened for being the right source and a person who is willing to assist. Who has done that for you lately?

Barbara’s reach is enormous because of her long history in NRBP and because she connects outwardly. She is an active member of other associations that add value to NRBP membership. If a member can gain some advantage through those organizations, Barbara informs them and often accompanies them.

Events are carefully planned by NRBP so that content delivered by speakers is of high value, on point and critical to members’ needs. This reflects Barbara’s continuing challenge to “redefine value for members.” Added in the last years to this effort is the position of Members Relations staff to update and systematize member information and interactions.

Next Gen Social Leadership

On a larger scale, NRBP advocates for economic development and growth, regional competitiveness and the improvement of the lives of citizens through revitalizing Newark. One of the projects that Barbara highlights as a new endeavor for NRBP is the Youth Entrepreneurs Academy, which teaches middle and high school go-getters in Newark how to start and run their own, real businesses or a social movement. Students are trained and mentored, they pitch to investors, and they register their business entities.

Thanks, Barbara, for your wise counsel and thoughts!

Cross Industry Briefing Points

  1. Choose your business development investments and memberships wisely. Interview the member leaders, the association staff and more importantly, long term members. Ask to attend an event free to evaluate possible membership. Critical analysis should include your asking attendees at an event: How long have you been a member? Do you find it fruitful and why? Are you on a committee? Have you invested in sponsoring events?
  2. Non-profits, just like for profit entities, have to continually focus on tangible value for members/clients to raise revenues. Competitive advantage benefits stem from both organizational processes and the people that deliver those benefits. Those benefits should change year over year based on members’ needs and competitors. Before investing in membership, find out how the organization stays abreast of member needs.

Prospective clients today, just like prospective association members, are more likely to evaluate your firm’s social responsibility, as well as your products or services. There is some research positively linking investments in social responsibility and financial performance that should not be ignored in light of workers’ and investors’ shifting values. For more on the link between corporate social responsibility and financial performance see, Orlitzky, Marc, Frank L. Schmidt, and Sara L. Rynes. “Corporate social and financial performance: A meta-analysis.” Organization Studies, 24, 2003. For an interesting recent pro and con analysis of shareholder value see, “Does Socially Responsible Investing Make Financial Sense?”

About the Author

Chris Filip is a business development expert improving revenue and gross margin results for B2B and professional services firms. She is an active speaker, published author and media commentator on all aspects of competitive strategy.