Soon after a new vendor member pays their dues, they receive emails asking them to spend even more money with the association.
Upgrade your directory listing!
The advertising deadline is coming up!
Don’t miss out on sponsoring this event!
Reserve your booth now!
While these are all worthy marketing expenses—and essential revenue for your association—think about the impression these offers make on new members. Do they feel nickel-and-dimed? Like they’re seen only as an association ATM?
Try something different. Offer something that costs them nothing. Teach them how to get more value from their membership. Show them all the ways to generate leads and do business in the association community.
Why you should care about a vendor’s membership experience
Let’s address the question in the back of your mind. Whatever you call them—vendor, supplier, associate, industry partner, or affiliate—these members are not your core member or primary focus. Plenty of them do just fine without your help. So why make any special effort?
Because when you help these members become better community citizens and get more ROI from membership, they win, your membership community wins, and your association wins.
Vendor education programs give these new members a better understanding of your primary member’s professional life, job, and business—the daily grind and their challenges, concerns, interests, and goals. These programs teach vendors how to conduct business as an association member.
If you’re an association member yourself, you’ve probably witnessed a few vendor members spoil the party for everyone. Someone scrapes email addresses from a directory and spams the entire list. Or they only show up in the online community to promote their business. You know the ones—they deal out their business cards to the table while giving their sales spiel.
This behavior, if not corrected, creates a two-class culture. Vendor members are no longer allowed in the community or in session rooms, which is a shame because many of them have valuable expertise to share.
Some vendor members were primary members once but went to “the other side,” like they do in the association industry. Think of the people you know who work for a consulting firm or vendor now but used to work for associations, and vice versa.
Vendors are subject matter experts who can help you deliver content to members and beyond—think sponsored articles, podcasts, webinars, and other educational programs. They can also volunteer, serve on advisory councils, be mentors, and help recruit and onboard members as ambassadors or committee members.
When you help vendor members succeed, they’re more likely to renew and double-down on their marketing investment by partnering with you on lucrative (for both of you) sponsorship opportunities.
Vendor member education programs
These programs teach vendor members how to behave and do business as a member. The best people to teach these skills are fellow vendor members. Why would they help the competition? Because they are raising the profile of the entire vendor community and preventing a few bad apples from spoiling the party. Besides, there’s enough business for everyone.
New vendor member onboarding
To help new members achieve their goals, show them how to become a good citizen of the membership community, help them understand the marketing opportunities available to them, and tell them about ways to get involved and further their career.
Upon joining, add vendor members to a targeted onboarding email campaign that runs for several months. Share tips for doing business with members interspersed with advice from successful vendor members. Space out descriptions of marketing opportunities so you don’t overwhelm them with information. Include advice on how to make a name for themselves, share their expertise, and develop relationships with fellow members.
When a supplier company puts a new person on their membership, treat them like a new member by adding them to this onboarding campaign.
Quarterly new member meetups
Hold quarterly virtual and/or in-person new vendor member meetups. To incentivize live attendance, provide a promo code for a discount on a booth, ad, directory listing, or event registration.
At these meetups, a panel of vendor and regular members share tips for developing relationships, expanding their network, and building their reputation. For example, they can discuss vendor-to-vendor referrals, networking dos and don’ts, and volunteering.
Individual meetings are ideal if you have enough staff and volunteers. If not, your association’s business development, corporate relations, or sponsorship team would benefit from meeting with new vendor members. Learn about the member’s marketing goals, get a sense of their expertise, and give advice on how they can achieve their goals and share their expertise.
New vendor members have a range of industry experience. Some might be just out of high school or college and some might have been working in the industry for 30 years. Their success depends on how well (and how quickly) they understand the needs and challenges of their prospective and existing customers.
The newer ones would benefit from introductory education about your industry. Invite a panel of members in positions with purchasing influence and/or authority to describe a day in their life at work and the purchasing process—how it works, pet peeves about vendors, and what makes a good relationship. Ask them to discuss the challenges, problems, and frustrations they experience on the job and see looming on the horizon. Run this program a few times a year with different guest speakers and post the recordings on your site.
If exhibitors don’t get enough leads, they’re unlikely to invest in a booth again. Virtual exhibitors are more at risk if they don’t have a good pre- and post-show plan. Many associations now offer free on-demand online exhibitor training covering topics such as:
• Preparation—marketing plan, budgeting and cost control, staffing
• Marketing materials
• Qualifying and managing leads
• Pre- and post-show communication
Ask exhibitors about their show experience so you can design the program they need.
Never stop educating
Vendor members may belong to several associations. You want to make your association their favorite. Keep them close by sharing marketing tips and industry news with them. Let them know how they can expand their network and raise their profile. Remind them about marketing opportunities, but also invite them to attend upcoming educational events. Explain why learning and hanging out with members is as important as exhibiting.
Keep drumming it in: better to teach, not just sell. Meet with them to discuss sponsorship opportunities that allow them to share their expertise, for example, sponsored articles and blog posts, podcast episodes, video series, webinars, online learning programs, and in-person education programs. Share testimonials from other vendor members about their success with sponsored content, volunteering, and other association activities.
The goal of vendor education is to help them become known, liked, and trusted by members of your association community. You’ll become their favorite association when they feel a sense of belonging and earn new business.