Segment Your Advocacy to Sell Memberships



Government relations is the often-cited reason to join an association.  So, how do you make the advocacy program compelling and urgent for a prospect to jump into the fray with your association.

Businesses have specific problems and your association must address them specifically.  And most importantly, the association really needs to interpret why it is important…not to the association, the industry, but the company.  For example, a prospective member company doesn’t understand a newly issued regulation in California, nor the long-term economic implications. Another member prospect has a problem with a piece of legislation, which will increase their cost of doing business.

For some organizations, it’s the prospect of a higher minimum wage passing. Whether the perceived impact is real – as an association, you need to sell those members on the fact you have the data to back their concerns and effectively influence on their behalf.
The stakes are also dramatically higher at the state level.  This is an extraordinary opportunity for our organizations to lay infrastructure at the state level.

My experience is large companies are really the best fit for a government relations pitch.  As the company gets smaller, the distance from government relations may get a bit further and the importance of connecting the issue becomes even more important.

Large companies can afford association membership, and their presence at the association table is good business. The seat at the table, and the ability to influence the government relations priorities is critically important.  And, if the association ventures away from those priorities.  You’re in trouble.

The mid-sized company can be a challenge. But these companies need government relations the most because of the desire to scale and become a larger company.

These companies are usually large enough to be affected by most regulations and may be operating in multiple states.  So, these companies have greater risk. However, they often don’t have the government relations or industry affairs infrastructure or experience of larger counterparts. It is not unusual for a one-person shop to have wide-ranging regulatory and legislative responsibilities.

Their government relations staff seem less familiar with how things work in Washington. And, they typically are not located in DC. The staff members are often overburdened with state and local issues. So, it’s these medium-sized companies we can truly showcase the value of advocacy and association membership.
Here’s your game plan. Ensure your association government relations and technical experts are rock stars for this membership group. Showcase them in webinars and invite medium-sized companies to participate. Get your government relations experts on sales calls with those medium-sized companies because I guarantee you, their expertise will blow away that person in charge of company government relations efforts.

The third membership category is the small business. From my experience, these have shown to be a tricky target for advocacy sales, but that’s not to say there are exceptions to that rule. I’ve worked with several organizations making fantastic inroads selling government relations to small businesses. Although, most of these types of companies don’t have the bandwidth to keep abreast of legislative and regulatory issues of concern.

So, sell them on the political operations you have in place, and offer involvement in your PAC and arrange Congressional visits – folks on Capitol Hill often WANT to meet with small businesses. This fact makes for a great connection – and, a hugely persuasive argument for getting this small business on board.

So, my recommendation is to segment your member groups based on these types of general themes. You can best sell government relations and advocacy to any prospect in your industry this way. But you must cut and dice up your membership segments to be successful.


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