Association RevUP is a podcast presented by the Professionals for Association Revenue. The following post is based on Episode 4: RevUP Partnerships. Check out the full episode wherever you get your podcast or at the link below.

Building a successful partnership program is a multifaceted endeavor that requires foresight, strategy and collaboration. Recognizing potential challenges early on can save your association significant time and resources to overcome them later.

"If we don't know these challenges and we're not aware of them, we're going to struggle because the challenges aren't going to go away," says Lewis Flax of Flax Associates.

Two of the most common challenges that can derail any partnership program before it even begins are a lack of leadership buy-in and a deficiency in the right kind of sales skills that partnerships require.

Leadership Buy-In

Leadership buy-in ensures that your partnership program is viewed as a priority within the organization, paving the way for smoother implementation and sustained success. To secure buy-in from your board and leadership, it’s crucial to bring them into the conversation early.

Bruce Rosenthal of the Partnership Professionals Network (PPN) recalls a time when he invited the board into a strategy session alongside corporate partners. Initially met with resistance, the session quickly turned productive. "Ten minutes into the discussion, [the board chair] furiously takes notes for the rest of the discussion on strategy," he says, emphasizing that while board members may need some coaching, their engagement is invaluable to the success of the program.

Additionally, Rosenthal recommends creating a comprehensive list of any competitors to your association and its partnership program and then sharing the findings with leadership.

“Doing those interviews, gathering the data, doing the benchmarking with what other associations are doing, can help build that team approach of getting folks involved,” he says.

With an engaged leadership, turn your focus to other departments. Jeremy Figoten, Managing Director of Conferences & Sponsorships at the International City/County Management Association (ICMA), suggests having one-on-one sessions with department heads regarding your program.

"Just ask questions. What do you like in the current program? What are your goals? What initiatives do you have? Just let them talk," he recommends. This approach yields valuable insights and fosters a culture of collaboration, ensuring the program has the opportunity to serve all stakeholders effectively.

Sales Team Dynamics

Another common challenge often overlooked is ensuring you have the right salespeople for your partnership program. Transitioning from transactional sales to partnership sales requires a different skill set, Flax says.

“The sales of booths is transactional. When moving from those types of transactions to a broader partnership, it's a very different sale. So, the question is, ‘Does the person who's responsible for it have the capabilities and the skills to shift from one to the other?’ Sometimes they do, and sometimes they don't.”

Tracie Clemmer of the International Downtown Association reiterates this, saying, “When it comes to partnerships, that is so time-intensive. There's so much research and information that goes into that." Salespeople must be equipped to build and nurture long-term relationships rather than just closing quick deals.

Successfully launching and maintaining a partnership program requires recognizing and addressing potential challenges before they become problematic. By securing board and leadership buy-in, highlighting competitors, fostering cross-departmental collaboration, and equipping the right salespeople, your association can set the foundation for a thriving partnership program. Early recognition and proactive solutions are key to overcoming these challenges and driving long-term success for your organization.

Association RevUP: The Podcast That Will Get Everyone Talking about Revenue Health!

In this entertaining and educational series, association leaders and team members become active learners on a path to building an association that prioritizes the transformative impact of revenue at all levels.

Episode 4: RevUP Partnerships | Lewis Flax, Tracie Clemmer, Bruce Rosenthal, Jeremy Figoten
In this episode, hear how to transform your sponsors into partners - and how to ensure your entire association is in on the process.