We talked about the value of networking in building relationships back in our first blog about the challenges and opportunities of selling a service vs. a product. Being new to an industry, one of the most important and valuable ways you can spend your time is getting involved in the appropriate associations. In addition to the obvious advantage of getting face time with your potential clients, there are a few other huge reasons why this is a good investment for your company – and for your career.
1. Develop Professionally
Associations are not just about networking events, though those are the most fun part! Almost all associations provide educational opportunities for members. As a service provider, it is incredibly important to understand the nuances of your target customer’s role. A key part of any marketing strategy is the development of Buyer Personas, or a breakdown of who your ideal customer is: what their job entails, the challenges they face; their purchasing process; what is important to them; and how they like to be communicated with. While a significant amount of this can be built through market research, there is nothing that can substitute being on the front lines with your customers, listening to and learning about their struggles.
Getting involved in an association and attending their educational events is a great way to learn more about your industry – giving you the intel you need to become an expert in your field, develop compelling thought leadership content, and ultimately connect with customers about things that matter to them. Most importantly, you will begin to see your product or service as a solution to a problem that you know your customers face.
2. Meet your Competitors
When building a marketing program, one of the first high level activities you will do is analyze what the competition is doing – what’s their website look like, who are their clients, what trade shows do they attend, and how are they pitching their product or services? In an association setting, it can be even easier to gain some valuable info on the competitive landscape.
If you are both sponsoring an event, or attending an educational or charitable function, the normal walls between competitors are not usually up in quite the same way. I have found myself on more than one occasion sipping a glass of wine and chatting with a business development professional about how their quarter is going, who is coming and going from their company, and what their clients are saying. Perhaps a vertical your company was considering a possible target is facing a threat in their industry that your competitor has the inside scoop on. Of course, these connections aren’t going to share leads, but you just may learn something that will play a big part in your business’ decision making.
3. Connect with Other Providers
Second only to meeting new potential clients, associations are most valuable for connecting with other companies in your industry who are not direct competitors. These product or service providers are adjacent to you, most likely share many clients, and provide distinctly different value to them. The primary value is, of course, sharing leads and networking opportunities. I consider an association event equally as successful if I get to connect with a hot prospect as I do if I meet another Business Development professional who has years in the field, tons of contacts, host their own networking group, and has a lot of knowledge to share.
In addition to the introductions, connections in your industry can help you develop a much better understanding of the many responsibilities and nuances of your customers’ jobs. Using property managers as an example, it can be easy to slip into a mindset that your product or service is their number one priority (and during a snowstorm, your snow removal contract very likely is!), but they also have security, fire safety systems, furniture and staging, landscaping, and a myriad of other products and services on their plate. Connecting with some of these providers will give you insight that will allow you to better understand, and ultimately, better serve your clients.
4. Provide Value to your Customers
The value of your participation in associations shouldn’t be all about the perks that you and your business are getting. In order to truly establish yourself as a contributor to your field and an active participant in the development of your industry, it’s important to provide value to your customers, as well. Partner with non-competitor companies to host an educational event for your clients (that doesn’t feature your products), to help make their jobs easier. Consider contributing to the committee for the charitable arm of your group to maximize the positive effects of your association events in the community. Join the board that helps plan and execute the events themselves.
Before you know it, you’ll be known as a professional outside of your current role or the services you sell – as someone who is impacting their industry, helping their colleagues, and putting their customers (and future customers) first.
What other ways do you maximize your involvement in associations to build your business? Tell us in the comments!