Should You Treat the New Customer Better?

At the day job I work for a trade association that represents the local apartment industry. The way we’re set up is pretty typical for a trade association, but it can be pretty difficult to explain to people who aren’t familiar with how these types of organizations work. So here are the basics:

  • We have two types of members which is association speak for customers. Our primary members are owners and managers of apartment communities. Our other class of members are “affiliate” members who are basically vendors who sell products and services to our primary members.
  • Our primary function is to provide education and advocacy services, plus networking opportunities for apartment owners and management companies. Our affiliate members are most interested in those networking opportunities because that’s where they can interact with the primary members and hopefully do some serious selling.

One of the questions we get all the time comes from companies that are interested in becoming affiliate members and it’s this: “When I join will I get a chance to speak in front of the members at the next event?” A lot of them are surprised when we say no and of course they want to know why. Here’s our answer:

We don’t allow new members to stand up and give their sales pitch because we have members who have been with us for years, decades even, who don’t get that opportunity at every meeting. We also have sponsors who pay extra to be recognized at our events. Why would we treat a new member better than a member who’s been with us and supported the industry for years on end, or give a new member the same exposure as sponsors who have paid for the privilege? What we can promise you is that when you become a member we’ll do everything we can to make sure you’re treated as well as every other member, that you have equal opportunity to build relationships with the primary members and that you have access to all the sponsorship and selling opportunities that every other affiliate member has.

There are many associations that disagree with this approach and do allow new members to get up and speak at their meetings. I’m sure it works for some folks, but at our place we just feel like it sends a terrible message to our long-time affiliate members who have supported the industry with their time and treasure if we treat the new kid on the block, who might be their competitor, better than we treat them. The analogy I use is this: how do you feel when you see that your cable company is offering a special deal to new subscribers, but when you call to see if you can get in on the action they tell you that you aren’t eligible? Pretty crappy I’ll bet, and the last thing I want is for our members to think of us like the cable company.

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