Successful Association Sales: Selling Value Instead of Products

Written by Robert Silverstein on February 12, 2018

What is the difference between cost and value? Cost is the price your customers pay and value is what your customers receive in exchange for their money. Let me give you an example. Suppose you are in the market to buy a new car. You look at a Toyota and a Mercedes and note that for the price of one Mercedes you could buy two Toyotas. You also know that both cars have the same basic functionality: they use the same type of fuel, can comfortably seat the same number of passengers, meet all of the federal safety and environmental regulations, offer similar warranties, can travel faster than most of the posted speed limits you will encounter, and have many of the same features and accessories. So why do some consumers buy the Toyota and others purchase the Mercedes? The answer is simple: the purchasing decision is made not based on the cost of the product, but on the value that product is perceived to deliver. Some consumers are willing to pay more in exchange for receiving more perceived value (Mercedes); others want to pay less for what they perceive as receiving the same value (Toyota Camry); and yet others will pay less but are willing to receive less value in exchange (Toyota Yaris). These auto manufacturers understand the range of needs represented by their customers and offer solutions that meet those needs.

The sale of advertising, exhibits and sponsorships can be modeled after the way the auto industry positions their products—not by cost but by value to the consumer. Let’s look at some of the value points association products offer:

Audience quality

Who are the members of your association? They are the professionals who are actively involved in the profession or industry your association serves. If they didn’t have a direct interest and need for the offerings of your organization, they wouldn’t have joined and retained their memberships. Your association should have a concise understanding of the job titles of its members, the involvement those members have in the purchasing processes for their employers, the size of their procurement budgets, and the overall size of the market served by your members. Also, underscore the importance of your members when compared to the circulation or attendance numbers of products offered by your competition. Do this by acquiring as much data and knowledge as you can about the buying power and purchasing decision-making responsibilities of your members. Only an association can state that its membership is built exclusively from the most responsive and involved people from the industry or profession it serves. That is the essential part of the value you deliver.

Product Mix

One sure way to deliver value to your customers is by not selling them what you want to sell them but, rather, by selling them what they need. Be a problem solver rather than a product seller. A good menu of offerings that includes print, digital, and face-to-face products assures that you offer a product or combination of products that can be packaged in a way that meets each of your customer’s unique marketing and budgetary goals. One size no longer fits all, and delivering value can only be achieved through listening and understanding your customers’ needs and offering solutions that meet and exceed those needs.


The stories in your association’s magazine, the articles on your website, and the presentations given at your convention are the content that attracts audiences to these products and keeps them coming back. The content must be relevant to the specific interests and information needs of your members. Stories that show best practices, innovations, case studies, and other subjects show your members how they can more efficiently and effectively excel in their careers and run their businesses and organizations successfully. The value of your content comes from delivering something that is highly credible and that every member relates to and benefits from.

Remember, you are not selling advertising or exhibit space; you are selling access. Your organization’s products are providing a meeting place for your members and your industry suppliers to meet each other. It is the value of the relationships that come from this that represents the greatest value for your association, its members, and the industry or profession it serves.