Sales: the process of establishing credibility and rapport in order to further a relationship

When all is said and done, we are all in sales. Yes, you, association leader and staff.

Your value proposition is a version of a sales pitch – a sales pitch based on what you deliver to your member based on relevant member needs.

Presidents and board members have their own ideas about what’s important. It’s not always blatant. More often it’s in a board meeting when the CEO is presenting a new, final value message that doesn’t include the words “advocacy,” or “professional standards,” or “legislative affairs” that one board member makes the comment: “What about advocacy? Members don’t think it’s important, but it’s THE most important thing we deliver to them.”

To communicate relevant member value, the board can’t dictate what is valuable. Value is in the eyes of your customer.

After investing resources to get formal member input and build a value message, one board president sketched out all the member benefits he thought should be part of the value proposition. In his words, “That group of 30 people doesn’t know what’s important. It’s our job to tell them. Professional Standards, Advocacy, Community Affairs. Those things are what’s important.”

Member value is not about what the president (or board) tells them. Value is “selling” what members get to help solve their big problems or take them to the next level in their business.

Yes, I said “sell.” The first principle of selling is to know your customer well enough that you can tie their problems or needs to what your “product” does to satisfy those needs.

If I walk into a hardware store and ask for something to secure my picture onto the wall, and an employee says, “We’re known for paint primer. You really ought to buy this,” I’ll walk right out. But if the store builds credibility, and offers a helpful solution for what I need today, I’m open to hearing about, and maybe even trying, their paint primer next time.

The most effective value propositions come from associations who listen to members’ worries and needs – who put faith in the value their members uncover. Leaders listen well and then respond to their members in the members’ language.

The most effective leaders are artists who convey the value proposition in terms that deliver on their words: offerings that show how the association lives its promises. These leaders are adamant that the value proposition doesn’t go to the back burner at the mercy of the leader’s idea or demand of the day.

Don’t stop doing what you do well…but don’t put words in your members’ mouths about what they should find important. You will find a way to incorporate professional standards and advocacy into your value message…but you must begin with the language they speak and think in. Start with delivering what they need most. And cross-sell from there.

This is not only a great sales strategy but a great loyalty strategy too.