How do you sell government relations as one of the most valuable aspects of association membership? Today, selling advocacy requires a focused and strategic approach.
Businesses have specific problems. 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.
We’ve been successful in selling for associations with great government relations and advocacy programs – and, key to success is to make advocacy tangible and segmented. Let’s break down the tendencies by large, medium, and small companies.
Large companies often have a lobbying firm with government relations staff on board, or, perhaps a DC corporate office. The association advocacy advantage for these folks? With the resources big companies typically have, they can keep abreast of the challenging legislative issues facing their industry with consistent monitoring and research; however, they really need to be in the “room.” They need to be affiliated with the association, so it doesn’t make a move, a decision or adopt a policy that could adversely affect their business.
Large companies can afford it, and their presence at the association table is good business. Make this messaging crystal clear.
The mid-sized company can be a challenge. I’ve talked with many associations about this particular group. This category causes the most frustration because associations often have difficulty articulating the value proposition. But, I believe they are the companies that need us 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, so they are at 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.
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.