DURING DIFFICULT TIMES
BY BRET KELSEY AND PETER TURNER
ike many association professionals, you probably are
L seeing a growing number of non-U.S. influences on
your business. More and more international customers
are consuming your products, attending your U.S.
meetings and contributing content to your publications. As you
grow increasingly reliant on this international clientele, your
According to the World
Bank, in 2000 the middle
class and the wealthy
exceeded 40 percent of the
members, customers, partners and leaders are likely demanding
that your association be more “present and engaged” with them.
population in only six
Meanwhile, your environmental scanning indicates these developing countries. By
demographic and business trends: 2030, the number of coun-
• Expansion in global trade as a result of freer and newer markets;
• Rapid increase in migration of workers, not only to developed
tries is expected to grow
countries but to emerging markets; fivefold to 30.
• Rapid adoption and diffusion of technology;
• Major expansion in foreign direct investment on a global scale; States. Based on local market research that defined the local
• Increasing demand for a local presence and customized “business value” of the MDRT value proposition, the strategy
local offerings; called for a plan that tailored the opportunity according to the
• 24/7 global project management that necessitates inter- needs of each member prospect while personalizing its delivery.
operable standards and procedures, fueling the demand for The plan hinged on the following:
certification and training; • Hiring an in-region team to build relationships with C-level
• Expectations for “global” customer service, with regional executives, create targeted marketing communications, and
consumers demanding the same quality experience whether provide membership support;
in Chicago or Mumbai. • Using various partners including local chambers of commerce,
So how do we pursue growing a market for products, serv- national entities, and sister organizations;
ices or membership in various regions of the world — even in • Creating local member activities driven by local member needs;
a down economy? • Communicating in local languages to promote local, regional
and international programs and services with calls to action;
International Scope, Local View • Launching an ambassadorship program of regional volunteer
For some associations, the answer might be to lead with prod- leaders to attend local company meetings; and
ucts and services, while for others it remains all about member- • Conducting best practice presentations by MDRT volunteer
ship. But regardless of your approach, if you cannot build local leaders or top regional producers.
relevance and presence you may be less likely to attract and After one year of this program, MDRT realized a six-figure (in
sustain interest among customers, members, partners, sponsors U.S. dollars) increase in revenue from Europe, the Middle East
or endorsers in any market. and Africa through a 20 percent increase in local membership
According to the World Bank, in 2000 the middle class and 33 percent increase in U.S. annual meeting attendance.
and the wealthy exceeded 40 percent of the population in only MDRT is now applying this same model in the Asia Pacific
six developing countries. By 2030, the number of countries is region, where it sees significant growth potential in South Korea,
expected to grow fivefold to 30. As a result, there will be a China, India, Malaysia, the Philippines and Thailand.
massive new income-earning consumer base that will demand
access to standards of living previously known by populations International DB2 Users Group
only in developed countries. Another example of successful global growth strategies is Inter-
What industry or profession wouldn’t want to serve such an national DB2 Users Group, based in Chicago. IDUG, an inde-
untapped demand for living the kind of life many of us take for pendent user group for IBM’s DB2 products (a family of
granted? To do so, an association must find a way to establish a relational database management system products), has moved
presence — directly or indirectly — in the markets in which it hopes beyond its U.S. base by leveraging a strong vendor partnership
to grow. The two following examples help illustrate this point. with IBM to grow its user community. But rather than launching
educational events in such countries as India, Brazil and China
Million Dollar Round Table simply because there were users located there, IDUG did its
The Park Ridge, Ill.-based Million Dollar Roundtable — an inter- homework and truly cultivated a community.
national association of life insurance and financial services IDUG worked collaboratively with IBM to identify local cus-
professionals — developed a successful strategy and implemen- tomers and leverage lists of active online forum contributors
tation plan to target Central and Eastern Europe for member- from India to build a continuity of user group supporters. In
ship and non-dues revenue growth. The solution was not simply addition, the team performed a market research assessment of
opening a regional office, because local operational effective- the local market to determine:
ness does not necessarily result in revenue growth. In addition, • Demographics of the local user base;
the organization knew simply distributing membership brochures • Local education needs;
in a local language would not be sufficient. • The competitive landscape for DB2 education;
MDRT devised a segmented strategy targeting Central and • The value proposition and potential pricing model;
Southeastern Europe and the Commonwealth of Independent • Needs for translation of content;
MARCH 2009 FORUM 47
• Opportunities for local third-party vendor support; 1. Market Analysis and Business Plan: There is no substitute
• Preferences for delivery of educational content. for market research collected directly from your customer
The contacts and data gathered helped IDUG create a three- and member segments in targeted regions.
year plan to cultivate a local user community that would lead 2. Product Management: Make sure local experts are involved
to the eventual launch of a stand-alone educational conference in adapting your product or service to each region, and that
in Bangalore, India. IDUG was able to gain a foothold and begin you have the ability to scale your service delivery inside the
to build a following through a series of measures: region instead of from headquarters.
• Leveraging local IBM customer events to build visibility and 3. Membership: Cultivate participation by giving your local
brand awareness of the independent user group; leaders a say in how to create local activities.
• Gaining an opportunity — with the help of IBM — to win 4. Marketing Communications: Rather than just translating
over attendees of these local events by providing them a your material, make the content relevant to local audiences.
chance to opt in to IDUG membership; and 5. Meetings: Select partners with solid local knowledge and
• Enlisting active local users to: (1) Create and build awareness expertise in areas including marketing and promotion,
of a new IDUG regional user group that would eventually sponsorship development, destination management, hous-
feed into a local IDUG conference planning committee; and ing, currency risk, registration and meeting logistics.
(2) Provide input on hot topics, which led to the creation of Despite economic challenges, meeting the needs and fulfill-
a series of IDUG-branded webinars tailored and marketed to ing the aspirations of members remain critical for the future of
local needs and designed to keep the local community engaged all associations. At the same time, globalization trends point to
between events. opportunities for associations to maximize their growth and rev-
IDUG is now replicating this cooperative process in the enue potential. Five years from now, the organizations that will be
Brazil and China markets. The effort is yielding growth both in its in the best position are those that — despite the challenges —
online user community, and in creating opportunities for expan- have identified those opportunities and pursued them effectively.
sion of both face-to-face and electronic education delivery.
Bret Kelsey is senior director of client services for the SmithBucklin + MCI World-
Strategies for Success wide Partnership. He may be reached at email@example.com.
Based on our experience with these and other clients, here are Peter Turner is MCI’s business development director, U.S. institutional market.
some tips for developing and executing your own global growth He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. For more information, visit
48 FORUM MARCH 2009