I’ve presented at several association events, helped plan an association conference, attended several conferences and moderated a range of “lunch and learn” events for SNAP (my favorite association of associations). One thing I’ve learned and fully support: the best dialogue takes place when associations talk with other associations.
There’s a natural resistance among associations to asking for help or direction from industry experts. Too often (and once is probably too often), vendors try to promote themselves or their particular solution, typically to their detriment. Associations want a fair story, a full story and the information required to make a good decision.
Unfortunately, this resistance can sometimes put associations at risk. Listening only to other associations may not lead to discovery of best practice. Industry experts can often point associations toward useful solutions. Dialogue with the right vendors can also help associations reduce the time and expense of developing RFPs and manage the volume of data collection required to support business cases for new initiatives.
While no vendor or consultant wants to talk at length with an association about business they will never get, any good supplier recognizes that investing in the association community will help raise awareness and increase the likelihood of a sale. To make the best use of vendor resources, associations need to cultivate relationships with both current and potential suppliers.
Good relationships require disclosure (and less non-disclosure) on both sides. Associations need to be reasonably open about the information they are looking for, the way it might be used and the time frame in which a decision may be made. Sometimes these conversations require a legal framework, but more often they simply require common sense, particularly when working with vendors who are already providing goods or services to your association.
For their part, good suppliers need to listen, reflect and follow up with advice, not necessarily a solution. Associations looking to branch out should cultivate relationships with those suppliers who demonstrate those skills.
Finally, “relationships” can be as simple as keeping up with exchanges on e-mail, following one another on Twitter, or sharing good ideas you’ve come across in print or at a conference. The face-to-face part can be a cup of coffee every few months, or a lunch when your industry expert is in town. Take advantage of opportunities to learn. That’s good advice on both sides of the equation.