As a learning management system (LMS) company, we love talking about integration. But this time, we’re not talking about technology. We’re talking about teams. More specifically, we think it’s time for your association to integrate the meetings and education teams.
Traditionally in associations, the meetings department handled conference content while the education department handled online learning content and certification programs. Your association may be different. Hopefully, it is. Because based on what we’ve been seeing, attendees, learners, and revenue partners would benefit if these two teams were combined into one.
The existing disconnect has become obvious as in-person conferences are forced to go virtual. The conference team owns the content, but the education team owns the virtual platform (an LMS, Zoom, or something else). The conference team is in charge of the conference but they aren’t familiar with the technology, and sometimes they aren’t familiar with online learning best practices.
Instead of the meetings team and the education team leading separate lives and using different tools, why not take this opportunity to integrate their efforts?
Foreseeing a hybrid future for learning events
The future of in-person conferences is uncertain. Even when meetings become logistically feasible, attendees may not be ready or able to return. In the interim, associations have discovered the advantages of virtual learning events.
• Virtual events are more accessible to those whose budgets, schedules, positions, abilities, or nationalities don’t permit them to attend in-person events.
• Attendance and registration revenue (if priced appropriately) is increased.
• New sponsorship packages can be created that live on beyond the event.
• Attendees get comfortable with learning online and, therefore, become warmer leads for other virtual learning programs.
Given the success of virtual conferences, many in our community are predicting a hybrid future. Virtual is here to stay as a stand-alone event and as a supplement to an in-person event. It makes sense for the meetings and education teams to work together on all your learning events.
The benefits of integrating the meetings and education teams
Tagoras found that only 43% of their survey respondents have a documented learning strategy and only 21% have a strategy for virtual conferences. When you combine the meetings and education teams, your association is more likely to develop and follow an integrated learning strategy.
You’ll also have a coordinated approach to:
• Expanding your market.
• Generating registration and sponsorship revenue.
• Increasing attendee and learner engagement.
• Enhancing relationships with subject matter experts and other industry partners.
• Leveraging resources.
Brainpower won’t be siloed. In-person conferences benefit from the education team’s experience in designing or overseeing the design of online learning programs. A combined team draws on more individual perspectives and a bigger collective network.
Your association will have a more holistic approach to content. Content is created with repurposing in mind. Before going into a conference, you know which session recordings will be turned into a series of short videos for an online course or become required viewing for a digital badge program.
An integrated team also has a coordinated approach to revenue partners, such as sponsors. You’ll have more value to offer, and so more revenue to gain.
The marketing team will appreciate the collaboration. Marketing segmentation, campaigns, and messaging can be more coordinated and effective. They’re free to promote related content without worrying about ownership and budgets.
Challenges to overcome if you decide to integrate the meetings and education teams
The pandemic has given us an opportunity to rethink how we deliver products and services, but working from home creates its own collaboration challenges. It increases the danger of returning to silos because it takes more effort now to connect and collaborate with people in other departments.
You’ll only succeed with a change like this if you have executive leadership buy-in and support. Show how this move will help the association and both departments achieve their goals.
Control issues. You may encounter staff who worry about ceding territory (i.e., losing control) or not meeting budget and performance goals. They’re anxious about not hitting their numbers and not making bonuses and/or commissions. They’re concerned about losing their job or status.
Individual performance goals and department budgets and goals must be adjusted. Focus on outward-facing KPIs that measure customer retention and satisfaction, and the effectiveness of learning experiences in addition to traditional sponsor, exhibitor, and registration revenue goals.
Sales teams. Combining sales teams can be tricky, but only one team should be handling all exhibitor and sponsorship sales—both in-person and virtual. A company should never be approached by two different departments seeking sponsorships. Make sure accounts and commissions are worked out as fairly as possible.
Siloed data. Sometimes, the department bringing in the most revenue (trade show/meetings) gets to keep their own data in a separate CRM or database. This siloed approach results in data integrity and redundancy issues. Integrating the teams means integrating the technology so attendee and revenue partner data is kept clean, current, and consistent throughout the organization.
Timing and tolerance for change. People will say they’re too busy to make major changes. But, if you put off change once, you’ll find yourself putting it off again and again because it’s never a good time for change if you’re the one being asked to change.
Naturally, staff worry about hitting their numbers, so you need to account for that when timing this move. Make sure people are rewarded properly for the relationships they’ve fostered and the progress they’ve made.
It’s not easy making this type of change, especially when it affects people’s job descriptions and pay, but you have to do it. If you continue to separate these two departments, your learners and sponsors are the ones who lose.
Invite the people involved to help design their future. Let them raise concerns and share ideas. Tie this change to the bigger picture so the focus isn’t on them but on attendees and learners. The goal is to provide better learning experiences, more effective use of resources, better value for sponsors, and more revenue for the association. You are more likely to achieve these goals and exceed your own expectations when working together.