Whether change is intended or forced, it’s almost always difficult. In the association world, we like consistency and reliability. Change disrupts that. We operate with consistent models for years, even decades, that allow us to create repeatable operations and sales cycles. It can be easy to fall into a “Why Change?” mindset, pointing to past performance as a measure of success.

But change is — and has been — happening all around us. Before COVID-19, change came in the form of increased digital offerings and membership needs. Now, our associations are reacting rapidly to outside changes that have forced us to pivot from in-person conferences to virtual events.

Implementing successful changes within an association takes time, planning, communication and a willingness to accept feedback. All of which can be difficult for companies- according to a McKinsey research study, just 26% of respondents said their change initiatives successfully improved their company.


The Challenge: As our association landscape changes, association professionals are seeking ways to meet the evolving needs of both their members and customers.

Why it’s Important: Developing and defining our ideas is the first step to making meaningful changes to the way we sell.

Topic Mentor: Sean Soth, Founder & Leadership Advisory Board Chair, Professionals for Association Revenue (PAR). Sean can be reached at Sean.Soth@MyPar.org

So where do we begin? Perhaps the philosopher Socrates was the initial leader in change management when he stated: “The secret of change is to focus all your energy not on fighting the old, but on building the new.”

The Professionals for Association Revenue (PAR) is all about building the new. We believe in ideas that inspire revenue growth for association professionals through knowledge, resources and community. Everything we do is about developing and sharing new ideas to make our members more successful. We interviewed the President of PAR, Sean Soth, to find out how to develop strong business development ideas in a landscape that’s ever-changing.

What’s Your Why? 

We use all kinds of metrics to measure our association’s success, and the same should apply to measuring our new ideas. Before developing any idea, start with a “why” metric. Customers can be as uncomfortable with change as you are. Bring them, and yourself, some clarity by finding a way to inform them about your change.

“Create a value proposition to get in the door with customers,” says Soth. For example, if you’re transitioning from a live event to a virtual one, start with a why metric to find out why a customer would accept the change. Whether it’s through research and statistics, or simply a conversation on customer feedback, find a way to support your action.

“I enjoy being able to get on the phone with customers and talk with them about what they are doing,” says Soth. “It might feel uncomfortable at times to reach out to customers, but it is OK to simply say, ‘I wanted to connect with you, we are dealing with transitions and changes and I want to learn about what you are doing.’”

Connect to Customer Value from the Start

Before you implement change around a new idea, connect it to customer value from the start — tie it to something the customer has always wanted or desired for their future.

“Define what the value is. Quantify it and show your customers how they are benefitting. If being a part of a particular program means they are going to be a market leader, tell them how. If it means they are going to be a thought leader, tell them how,” Soth says.

Show your customers that the idea you are producing connects them to something they both need and value.

Be True to Your Story

Associations have strong missions of connecting their members through a common cause and objective. They play a vital role in advancing the goals of industries. Your association has a story to tell, so be true to that and connect your ideas to that purpose.

“It is important to connect your new idea to where you are right now, and where you are going. Use your idea to celebrate the role your customers will have in the future of your industry,” Soth says.

Make (and Keep) a Promise

Successfully implementing a new idea, and ultimately delivering on a promise to your customers, requires a team-wide effort.

“Be certain everyone understands their role and how their contributions will enhance or hinder the business development efforts,” says Soth. “Be agile in your program launch, and set appropriate feedback points and deadlines so teams can adjust as needed. Did your team miss their goal? Spend time evaluating how you need to adjust so you are meeting the expectations of your customer.”

In times of sudden and forced change (think COVID-19), be nimble and get creative to meet customer expectations — despite unpredicted changes to the sales landscape. “If you were planning on hosting an in-person event with 2,000 attendees, ask yourself, ‘Can a change to a virtual event meet those same expectations?’ If not, get creative with your existing options and package them in new ways,” Soth says.

One final tip — before integrating a new idea, understand the role revenue plays. “Is your idea revenue producing, revenue neutral or do you expect a loss? This clear definition will help your team evaluate the best practices for the work that lies ahead,” Soth says.

It’s important for the whole team to understand how the new idea relates to the bottom line. And a clear revenue goal allows your business development team to meet customer expectations from the start.