How to Sell Education to Hard-to-Reach Employees of Member Companies

Associations have a hard time making employees of member companies aware of and interested in their education programs. Many employees don’t even know about the association or realize they have access to member benefits and discounts.

Putting company memberships at risk

Membership applications for trade associations usually ask for the contact information for the “member of record,” the person who pays the bill, and maybe a few other people. In a 1000-employee company, the association might only be connected with a handful of people, usually high-level staff involved in advocacy issues.

What happens? You promote programs to these few people only—people who might not even be the target audience. Without extending your reach deeper into the company, you miss out on connecting with dozens, maybe hundreds, of employees who would be interested in your programs.

If the primary contact leaves, the relationship with the association might leave with them. If no other employee is invested in membership, the chance of renewal is slim.

Professional development: the key to membership activation

In a recent ASAE Collaborate discussion, Kristopher Knox of Halmyre addressed this problem: “How do you activate layers and tiers of members to realize the full potential of the association in their career development and contribution to the company?” He suggests laying out a pathway for their activation—and you know how we love a pathway!

Develop a strategy for guiding employees down a pathway that helps them see why and how to explore association resources or get involved in association activities. Professional development can serve as a hook that attracts their attention and draws them in. But this strategy only works if you understand their interests, needs, and goals. Once you do, you can target marketing to different employee segments at member companies.

Some of the tactics we share below belong to the membership team, and others to the professional development and marketing teams. It takes a collaborative effort to attract, engage, and win the loyalty of member company employees.

employees of member companies

Marketing professional development programs to employees of member companies

This is a three-step process:

•    Get the employee’s contact information.
•    Make them aware they’re members.
•    Introduce them to relevant programs.

Gather employee contact information

The biggest challenge is getting the contact information of employees in your target audiences. You might already have information for some of them in another database at your association:

•    Event attendees
•    Magazine subscribers
•    Customers
•    Exhibitors, sponsors, and advertisers
•    Political action participants

LinkedIn can tell you who works at member companies—a good research project for an intern or entry-level employee. Focus only on employees in the specific segments who will benefit from your programs.

Some associations rely on liaisons or ambassadors at member companies to provide contact information for co-workers, but you have to make this “job” as easy as possible for them. Give them a form with slots to fill out for various positions or member personas who would benefit from your programs, like regulatory staff or young professionals.

Ask liaisons to forward the form to the specific departments on your list, such as human resources, learning and development (L&D)/training, regulatory, sales/marketing, legal, etc.

But why should these liaisons spend time helping you? What’s in it for them? Offer additional discounts on programs, special VIP perks, or gift cards. Ask for their feedback and thoughts on what’s going on at their company or in the industry. Invite them to serve on an advisory council. Show them you value their assistance and opinion.

Once you collect employee contact information, treat it like a precious asset, because it is. Ask for more than one email address in case their work email bounces. With a second email address, you can follow up with them if they leave for another company. Then, you can get their new company information and add them to that parent record or recruit the new company for membership.

employees of member companies

Let employees know they’re members

As soon as you get contact information for a new employee record, put them into an onboarding email drip campaign that’s crafted specifically for this scenario. Tell them why you’re emailing them: to let them know they’re members and to introduce them to all the perks of membership.

Little by little, throughout the campaign, get additional information about their position, interests, and career stage, if you don’t already have it. This data helps you decide which target audiences they fit into, so you can promote only relevant programs to them.

Ask website visitors to check if their company is a member—and if they qualify for special perks—by entering their name and email address and/or using a drop-down menu. Send them to a special landing page where you welcome them and tell them about the onboarding emails coming their way.

If your website uses a chat bot, train the member service team to collect employee contact information if their company is a member.

At in-person events, set up an exhibit booth or membership hub where attendees can check to see if they’re a member. Ask the event team for the data of attendees who are employed by member companies. Enter them into an event-specific email drip campaign.

Here’s an old-fashioned but effective method that still works in industries where employees gather in offices or facilities: mail membership posters for their kitchens and break rooms. Include an easy-to-remember URL or QR code that takes employees to a special landing page.

Introduce employees to relevant programs

Everyone’s inbox is a disaster, so you must carefully target promotions and membership information so recipients only receive relevant information.

Regularly scheduled virtual orientations for anyone new to the association. Don’t make them listen to another boring PowerPoint presentation. Make these events a combination of networking and information that’s customized for the audience in attendance.

If resources permit, assign a staff or volunteer membership concierge or account manager to each company. In this business development role, the concierge schedules a quick meeting with new employee members to get them started on their membership journey by recommending relevant activities, resources, and programs.  

Cultivate relationships with the HR teams at member companies. They can help you introduce the association as a perk of employment. Ask them to include information about membership in new employee onboarding.

Build collaborative relationships with corporate L&D/training teams. Find out how your association can help them develop employees and bridge their skills gap. An advisory council of L&D and/or HR professionals can help you make educational and credentialing program decisions, and create learning and career pathways.

Send new members to a dedicated page on your website where they can watch on-demand orientation videos targeted at different employee segments and videos about specific membership benefits and resources. Display your career and learning pathways on this page, in addition to displaying them on our education page.

Relationship development is business development. Most people don’t understand how association membership and programs can enhance their career and help their business. When you introduce member company employees to your professional development portfolio and other resources, you start them on a career- and, possibly, life-changing journey.

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