Wednesday, October 10, 2012

How's the Partnership with Your Commercial Members?

From time-to-time, friction arises between an association and its Commercial Members, between buyers and sellers. It is a common occurrence and while no one enjoys dealing with complaints or griping, there is a way forward that improves the relationship:  The Partnership Tune-up.

A few years ago, I conducted a tune-up that helped repair fraying relationships between an association's Institutional Members and its Commercial Members. The results were well worth the effort, getting both sides back on track, culminating in a stronger partnership.


1. Ask, "What role should the association play in strengthening the relationship?"

This was the central question emphasized throughout the tune-up process. It conveyed an important message, "Let's get beyond finger pointing and blaming to figuring out what is necessary to improve the relationship. Tell us what needs to be done. We are all members of this association; it is important that we collaborate to make things better."

The goal of this question was to shift the conversation towards a positive state.

2. The Commitment to Listen Means Conversations, not Surveys

We wanted to hear what both sides had to say. To accomplish that, we conducted two sets of phone interviews: one with the directors of member institutions and the other with the Commercial Members. Conducting in-depth interviews was essential if we were to give members the chance to have their say (and yes, even rant a bit). It allowed for a richness of interaction that a survey could not provide.

The reaction was encouraging. Nearly every member interviewed expressed his or her gratitude; they appreciated the fact that someone took the time to listen (FYI: the average time for each interview was 40 minutes). 

3. Emphasize Shared Goals for the Path Forward

There was good news! It turns out that despite what seemed like numerous complaints, there was more agreement than disagreement between the two parties. In other words, they were in sync about priorities and what improvements to make. This provided the foundation for a Path Forward plan agreed to by a working group consisting of Institutional Members and Commercial Members.

Bottom-Line: The partnership between associations and its commercial members requires maintenance from time-to-time. Does your association need a Partnership Tune-up?

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