When trying to change your association’s financial model to focus on non-dues revenue, it’s vital to assess the habits of your sales staff. People are inclined to take the easiest route in their jobs, which can lead them to focus on maintaining old advertising accounts instead of attracting new advertisers. Naylor Association Solutions Chief Marketing Officer, Dave Bornmann said, “It is human nature to gravitate toward what is easier, so people tend to spend more time on renewals and less on new customer acquisition.” When doing so, the sales representative acts more as an account manager, and the association will find itself unable to meet its revenue quotas without relying on dues.
Larger sales companies acknowledge the value of maintaining old advertisers and attracting new ones, so they’ll frequently have teams to work on both. However, this is unsustainable for associations that have to allocate money elsewhere, which forces the sales team to have both responsibilities.
While a member of the sales team may be required to hold both of these responsibilities, they require a different skillset and mentality. Sales representatives are often compared to “hunters” who have to hunt down new leads, and an account manager is often compared to a “farmer” because they are focused on nurturing current clients. According to the Brooks Group, a sales training company based in North Carolina, a sales representative should have the following skills and qualities:
- Respectful persistence to secure the client without scaring them away
- Easily able to establish a friendly rapport
- Listening to a potential advertiser’s wants and needs without the focus being on the sale
- Exhibiting strong knowledge of the advantages of advertising with your association
- Confidence in closing a sale
Meanwhile, the Brooks Group recommends a similar, but different, set of skills and qualities for account managers, which includes:
- Taking a consulting, advertiser-focused approach when interacting with clients
- Prioritizing the advertisers that need the most attention to help your association maximize revenue
- Building strong personal relationships with your contact from the advertising group to stop competitors from stealing clients
In essence, sales representatives should focus on racking up as many new customers as they can, and account managers should focus on the long-term goals of maximizing the advertiser-association relationship.
Bornmann recommends association leaders consult the numbers for their NDR vehicles to see if their sales team is acting more like account managers. If the percent of new advertisers in your magazine/e-newsletter or exhibitors/sponsors for your conference aren’t balanced with recurring advertisers/exhibitor/sponsors, there is likely a problem. More specifically, between 15% and 20% of advertisers in your print magazine should be new from the previous year, and 35% to 45% of your of your e-newsletter advertisers should be new from the past year. For conferences and meetings, your association should aim for 15% to 25% of sponsors and exhibitors to be new.
If you find that your number of new advertisers is lower than the industry’s best practices and want to make changes, the first thing to recognize is that there is no silver bullet when it comes to recruiting advertisers. The technological age is churning out new tools so fast that it’s impossible to keep up. Before deciding on the actionable steps to improve your association’s marketing, you should sit down with your sales team to learn how they’re currently engaging with advertisers and sponsors and how that has changed from over the past few years. Getting feedback from your sales team can help guide your association leadership in planning its new outreach strategy.
Industry experts recommend a number of best practices that associations can experiment with to see what works best for it, some of which include:
- Building a media kit website
- Enhancing social media presence
- Introducing annual performance benchmarking
- Implementing sales cadence software
- Starting direct mail and email campaigns
Many associations already use these kinds of tools to recruit and retain members, but a much smaller number of them are using them to grow their non-dues revenue sources. All the available options may seem daunting, but try not to get bogged down by attempting everything at once. Instead, choose to invest your time and resources into one or two tools you think will best serve your association. “You simply can’t do everything at once, and even for those approaches or tools that you choose to implement, you can’t expect to be experts in them out of the gate,” Bornmann said.
For those associations that can’t allocate the resources to stay up-to-date on the ever-evolving world of advertiser solicitation, outsourcing sales management may be the best option. When choosing to follow this route, it’s vital to do your research first. Make sure a potential revenue partner is using the best practices, and have them take you through their sales and marketing process to make sure you’re getting your money’s worth.
Whether you’re just now noticing you have an account manager instead of a sales representative or you’ve always known, you’re not alone. Every association faces these struggles as it builds up its non-dues revenue generation activities. Start overcoming that obstacle by talking to your team.