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CSAE ROUNDTABLE — Business Insights: Working with Partners to Foster Association Growth

Recently, CSAE had the chance to speak with some of its corporate partners about issues relating to business. The CSAE Roundtable was held to generate discussion and to hear from industry leaders on how to improve association growth.

Q: When you begin working with an association, what are some of the first steps you take to identify potential opportunities for the association?

LDA: Marsh’s client engagement framework is built first and foremost upon one basic objective: establish a thorough understanding of your business. We begin by asking questions to gain a full understanding of your association, your business strategy and your risk issues. This upfront effort helps us assess whether your risk management and insurance strategies are in line with your business objectives. We seek to identify not only traditional insurable risks, but also non-insurable risks such as operational and strategic threats to your business. In addition, the same steps are taken when considering the implementation of a business group risk and insurance solution for the association’s member clients.

Upon appointment, Marsh conducts an exposure review to identify and prioritize our clients’ insurable risk exposures and identify potential gaps/improvements in its risk management programs. The process serves to develop an action plan with responsibilities for both Marsh and our clients, as well as timelines to address priority risk exposures. These action items will become part of the overall service management process.

JR: MaxPeople focuses resources and time to conduct an initial workplace assessment with all new clients to ensure associations are keeping up with current HR best practices and trends. This also provides the opportunity to identify gaps and quickly mitigate any risks to help protect members.

We also focus on connecting associations to members for growth, and work to make referrals whenever possible. As a company focused on maintaining deep relationships and adding value, we can also make introductions to industry and subject-matter experts in order to provide further member benefits.

CS: We conduct a discovery phase with a client where we ask lots of questions, listen and prepare an unbiased audit of what’s working and not in keeping them competitive – and where to get the best bang for their buck in focusing next steps. Our client’s marketing or membership engagement problems don’t serve themselves up in neat little packages. They are bundles of symptoms that need to be unpacked and sorted out before any intelligent marketing solution will successfully spark growth. It is really a “measure twice, cut once” approach at the outset, but boy does it pay off in the long run.

Q: What are some of the ways that you track and evaluate the success of the relationship? Do you use metrics to track your progress?

LDA: On an annual basis, Marsh Canada provides its association clients with a Stewardship Report to outline the progress and status of their insurance and risk management programs. This review process is an integral part of Marsh’s client service cycle and serves as a forum to discuss current goals and business plans well in advance of renewal negotiations. The resulting discussions also give our clients an opportunity to assess the performance of Marsh.

We also regularly monitor our performance through formal client surveys, the results of which provide valuable insights into our strengths and key areas where we can improve. Individual client surveys provide our client teams with feedback on specific account-related items on which we can apply our immediate focus. The feedback we receive through the survey process becomes part of the continuous planning process with our clients.

Marsh’s Client First Principles are designed to promote service quality through clearly defined performance standards and continuous improvement strategies. These principles are applied when auditing files to measure our performance against strict metrics and address industry-wide timing requirements for documentation and invoicing issuance. Employee adherence to our Client First Principles and Disclosure Policies is subject to a formal internal audit and compliance process. 

JR: To ensure we maintain a strong partnership, we regularly communicate and solicit feedback to help build a lasting relationship. We measure and track client satisfaction through a variety of methods including Net Promoter Surveys on a semi-annual basis and regular check-ins with clients via Client Experience Huddles. We also do follow-ups with clients after training sessions using questionnaires and verbal discussions to solicit feedback on the level and quality of our service. Feedback also allows us to discover new ideas and future training needs for clients.

The frequency of client referrals is another indication we use to assess customer satisfaction. Ninety-eight percent of our business comes directly from referrals. Our clients stay and often recommend us because of the vast experience, deep relationships and value we provide.

CS: In our marketing consulting practice we have two key success factors with clients:

1)  Are they growing in their capacity to lead their own marketing strategy without us? That’s a big sign of success – the proverbial “teach a man to fish” approach.

2)  Do we continue to get more and more value for their dollar with each project? Most marketers forget that ours is the profession of growth – but we don’t ever lose sight of this at Halmyre. The metrics of our success are therefore very simple – is the company realizing more growth at a lower cost over time? If yes, we’re doing the right thing for their business.

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Q: How do your company’s core values reflect your fit with the association sector?

LDA: Marsh & McLennan Companies’ core values, listed below and found in our code of conduct, The Greater Good, guide how we support our clients in the association sector and, invariably, closely align with how our association clients support their own members.  

•   Clients:  We deliver exceptional value to clients on a global basis by meeting or exceeding our clients’ requirements and by innovating to meet emerging client needs in a manner that promotes shareholder value over time.

•   Integrity: We conduct business consistent with the highest ethical and professional standards and we will not tolerate behaviour that deviates from those standards. We will act with integrity, honesty, courage and mutual respect.

•   Colleagues: We make Marsh & McLennan Companies a great place to work for outstanding people by treating all of our colleagues as valued partners, in the spirit of collaboration, engagement and inclusion. We will empower people, hold them accountable for results, and reward them based on their performance as individuals, as teams and as part of our company.

•   Execution: We focus our efforts and consistently deliver on our commitments to client’s shareholders and colleagues. We will ensure alignment around goals, cost discipline and financial accountability.

JR: Like MaxPeople, associations are typically very people focused. This is the heart of our business. We also aim to partner with organizations that have values that align with our own:

•   Teamwork: Always together – accomplish, celebrate, and overcome adversity.

•   Initiative: Just go for it, don’t be afraid to fail.

•   Passion: Be relentless, never give up and love what we do.

•   Excellence: Do our best in all we do.

•   Respect: Speak our mind, mind our speak and honour our unique differences.

CS: Our founding philosophy that governs all of our client, colleague and peer relationships is that you can never go wrong by doing what’s right. Whenever we’re in doubt about the best course of action, we evaluate our actions and do what’s right for the client: for their long-term success and for our client’s customers. We know it will always work out in the end. This is a type of service-based integrity that lines up well with the associations we serve.

Q: Why is the association sector important to your business?

LDA: The association sector has been identified as a key area of growth for the commercial practice at Marsh Canada. Marsh is already recognized as an insurance brokerage leader for association clients, focusing on professional and trade associations in multiple industry segments. To expand this presence further, Marsh has made significant investments in the program and association industry segment targeted to assist associations in expanding their value proposition to members through a preferred group rate business risk and insurance management solution. 

JR: MaxPeople’s services have been created specifically for organizations that need strategic and tactical HR support without the requirement or budget for a full-time, in-house resource. We also offer training and employment law within our firm, which allows us to provide a fully customized offering focused on enabling associations to meet/exceed their business goals in a cost-effective manner.

CS: In short, we find a lot of our ideal clients in the association sector. And ideal to us means that we have a mutually satisfying partnership where each of us brings out the best in one another. Associations tend to be over-indexed with good people working hard to create value for their members. We get that and admire it. It’s easy for us to line up behind that type of commitment and add in our promise to sparking growth, as marketing professionals do – it is actually motivating to all of us at Halmyre.

Q: How do you utilize your skill sets to increase revenue streams?

LDA: Licensed risk professionals at Marsh have designed the business risk and insurance management products to offer associations an additional way to attract and retain members. Since associations generally derive their primary revenue through membership fees, it is an operational imperative for them to focus on initiatives like this to help grow and perpetuate their memberships.

JR: Through our partnership with associations, we are able to help managements improve the recruitment process, increase retention and reduce turnover. We will also work to streamline processes and maximize employee engagement in order to help reach financial goals.

CS: Association professionals have natural inclination to want to do more for their members. Sometimes this plays out to their disadvantage in that they try to do too much of everything, which ends up failing. But it is a fundamental mindset that as a marketing consulting team we can help channel through a little bit of focus, some discipline and by creating some very structured and measured feedback loops that give constructive insights to our clients that tell them what’s working or not. The fundamental desire they have to do what’s right for their members is the “secret sauce” of association’s marketing strategy success!

Q: What strategies have you used to find creative ways to grow an association’s non dues compensation or strategic direction?

LDA: In a transitional insurance marketplace, many downstream member clients of specific associations face rising coverage costs and difficulty in having their risk needs accommodated in the insurance marketplace. In most cases, the buying power of a sponsored group risk and insurance management program aids in negotiating broader coverage and more competitive premiums. This fills an important need for these association members and provides another compelling reason for them to belong to your association. As an additional benefit of the group insurance program approach, pooling member clients together facilitates the identification of loss trends and the provision of educational tools to raise awareness and bring value back to the participants. This offering can also bring compensation to the association for helping to administer the insurance program. 

JR: MaxPeople often partners with associations to offer training sessions and webinars to members. Toolkits and resources could be sold to members on an ad hoc basis as well. Through an affinity program, preferred rates can be offered to association members who will potentially help increase membership. MaxPeople’s HRessentials Lite service offers members a cost-effective option exclusively to CSAE members. It provides access to unlimited and timely virtual HR support as workplace issues arise.

CS: As marketing consultants, we develop customized strategies for our clients to spark growth in their business every day. The process is actually quite disciplined: ask the right questions and be prepared to respond openly and honestly to the answers you get. Too many people ignore what’s right in front of them, deferring instead to what’s easy. Your customers or members will tell you what they want if you know how to ask the right question!

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Q: From your unique vantagepoint, what do you see as the key factors to an association remaining relevant into the future?

LDA:

•   Ensure added value is provided to members that justifies the membership cost paid to the association.

•   Ensure membership satisfaction and retention.

•   Attract new member clients to the association.

•   Assist the industry segment for this association by being leaders in innovation and solution based products.

JR: To remain relevant, associations need to fully leverage technology to the highest possible level to help them operate more effectively and efficiently. There has been a decline in traditional trade shows and conferences, so looking for other ways to educate and connect with members is critical. Webinars and virtual conferences are a great option both in terms of flexibility and cost savings. Also, like any business, associations need to figure out how to focus on younger employees who have different values than previous generations. For example, many younger employees value flexibility, therefore associations need to put together initiatives to attract these types of members. It is also important for associations to continue to provide members with valuable resources/tools to help members attain quick answers/solutions to different business challenges. Providing members the opportunity to connect and network with other members is also essential for associations to remain relevant.

CS: Marketing is the profession of competitiveness; it is the profession that keeps an organization on its toes because it is the venue for truly understanding what your audiences want. It’s not about what you want, or even what your board wants. It’s about how to get and stay in a competitive, resilient position to fulfill the wants and needs of your customers and prospective customers. More specifically, the key factors of being competitive – and staying relevant – are to avoid “last-year-itis” (the tendency to repeat what was done last year because it worked last year) by managing a disciplined process of auditing your value proposition annually. This involves a frank conversation with your clients, and watching – and understanding – the competition and the trends that are impacting you today and tomorrow. It’s not magic. It’s a commitment to a competitive marketing discipline of continually listening and responding to fill a need or want better than any other organization.

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