Monday, November 28, 2016

Tell True Stories About Your Members

I've been doing site visits for as long as I've been in association management--23 years at last count. If you're not familiar with the term, a site visit is when you visit a destination and/or conference site to help determine if you would like to book a conference in said destination and/or conference site. I just completed another one, and I was asked a question I'm often asked on these trips.

So, what are your members like?

Generally, the sales manager asking this question wants some insight into the preferred activities and habits of the people attending the conference I'm booking. And lately, when asked this question, I find myself telling the following story.

"Well, I'll tell you, their habits are really changing. When I started with this association, nine years ago, the five people on the Executive Committee who hired me were all men near the end of their careers. Indeed, the first three Board chairs I worked with all retired from the industry within a year of their serving as chair. That was our average member at the time, men in their sixties, with their spouses tagging along, enjoying fine food and fine wine, playing golf and going shopping.

"Today, the situation is very different. The five people on my Executive Committee are all in the middle of their careers, men and women, in their forties and fifties, with kids in high school or college. Our past chairs stay very much engaged in the industry and our association. The average member that they reflect sometimes brings a spouse and sometimes doesn't (depending on the demands of professional careers, youth sports leagues and child care), and with their spouse they sometimes bring the kids for a family vacation and sometimes don't for a romantic getaway. They still enjoy fine food and fine wine, but they are less into golf and shopping and more into mountain biking and spa visits."

I've probably told that story a dozen or more times to a dozen or more sales managers. I told it again on this latest trip. And each time I tell it, I can't help but wonder.

Is it true?

Leadership is passing from one generation to the next. That's an obvious fact. In my industry, that generational shift means Boomers are giving way to Xers. The Millennials are there, but not yet in positions of leadership and influence.

And the story I tell is a nice little package--something I can easily relay while walking around the grounds of the latest luxury resort, checking off the sizes of ballrooms and the number of sinks in the bathrooms of the standard sleeping room.

And there are certainly people in my membership I could point to that typify the generational archetypes on which my story depends. The golfing Boomer with his shopping wife. The mountain-biking Xer with his spa-visiting spouse and three kids.

But, if you look at our members without the frame I've imposed on them, you quickly realize that very few of these archetypes actually exist. Millennials sign up for the golf tournament. Boomers go mountain biking. Men and women of all generations relax by the pool or get up early to go running or do yoga. They all like to go shopping--sometimes for jewelry and shoes, other times for craft beer and artisan cheese.

Chalking up the preferred activities and habits of our attendees to their generational proclivities oversimplifies and obscures what is really going on. Like all of us, they are much more products of their culture and socioeconomics than of their generation.

Telling that story takes longer, but it better helps you understand who I am talking about.

+ + +

This post first appeared on Eric Lanke's blog, an association executive and author. You can follow him on Twitter @ericlanke or contact him at

Image Source

No comments:

Post a Comment