Winning the Hearts and Minds of Business Professionals


by Matt Sanderson

In “Winning the Hearts and Minds of Business Professionals,” Matt Sanderson explains that the right formula for engaging stakeholders of business and professional trade associations is by striking a balance between an emotional and a rational appeal. Read More

WinningtheHeartsandMindsDespite the diverse range of industries and professions served and the variety of missions and activities represented, one characteristic that unites nearly all business and professional trade associations is the urge to quantify, a trait that is highly valued in business. Simply stated, the members, boards and other stakeholders of business and trade associations are wired to think like business people, because they tend to work in business. Conversations about return on investment (ROI) or return on membership (ROM) are common within association board rooms and with our SmithBucklin teams.


But there are risks in communicating only in quantifiable data, because it can create a transactional mentality that can work against the valued cultural aspects of an association that are often critical, yet harder to quantify. The right formula for engaging stakeholders of business and professional trade associations seems to be striking a balance between an emotional and a rational appeal.


One way to accomplish this is through storytelling, capturing the positive impact from association involvement in the words of members. Increasingly, the client organizations we serve in the Business + Trade Industry Practice are using testimonials as part of a membership-development strategy.


The North American Building Material Distribution Association (NBMDA) – an organization dedicated to developing and promoting the effectiveness of distribution processes to improve member profitability and growth – begins each of its monthly e-newsletters with an “Industry Thought Leader” interview that asks NBMDA members about their views of the trends impacting the industry. These interviews offer a unique perspective on the industry and the value of NBMDA membership, and frame it in a first-person narrative to make it personal and relatable. In addition to the e-newsletter, the interviews are used to reach prospective members and, in part, have helped lead to significant membership growth. In 2013, NBMDA experienced the most year-over-year membership growth in its 61-year history.


Another example comes from the Building Service Contractors Association International (BSCAI) – a worldwide network of member companies that provide cleaning, facility maintenance, security, landscaping and other related services to building owners and managers. BSCAI routinely asks volunteers to explain why the organization is valuable to them. These testimonials tend to relate to the benefit of a specific program or event, and often use phrases like “this has been my experience” or “this is why I attend.” BSCAI captures these testimonials on video and shares them on its website, YouTube channel and in emails sent to members and prospective members. The videos spotlight the value of BSCAI membership and events in the words of the members themselves, and members enjoy the opportunity to have their story shared with their peers.


By using this storytelling framework, associations are able to reach a quantitatively inclined audience with authentic, emotional messages that speak to the impact of association involvement in surprising – and surprisingly effective – ways. It also helps to remind us of the power our associations can have on the people and companies that we have the opportunity to impact through our work.


This article was originally published in the 2014 edition of Circuit, SmithBucklin’s annual magazine.