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What Does the Customer Value?

Management consultant Peter Drucker posed the question 40+ years ago and it is more important now than ever. What does the customer (or member) value? As association leaders wrestle with budgeting for the next year in an economy that rivals that of the Great Depression, this is the critical question. Association resources - human, capital, physical, everything - must be aligned in response to the answer.     

Products & Services

What products and services will members need to weather this storm? Key questions include:

 - What should the association continue to provide?What should the association double down on?

 - What should the association stop doing? 

 - What should the association start doing?

Associations can no longer afford to pay the high cost of opportunity that is lost when time and resources are wasted on products/services that are not valuable to the customer/member. Now is the time to sunset legacy programs that don’t provide value to current and prospective customers. Association data and member evaluations/surveys can provide insight on current utilization and satisfaction. 

Association leaders cannot necessarily rely on members to provide the answer to these questions. By the time a critical mass of members articulate a specific need and the association develops a response, it is often too late to get a product to market in time to maximize the financial return. (Speed matters!) Environmental scanning with practitioners and industry experts as well as member job shadowing can be important tactics to gather reliable intelligence on potential disruptors, imminent trends and latent member needs. 


As association leaders and staff teams build out product and service portfolios, it’s important to consider how competition may impact their success. Who or what will your association need to compete with to deliver a given product or service? Consider Porter’s Five Forces related to competition: 

How many and who will your rivals be to deliver this product/service?

How might suppliers impact your ability to deliver this product/service? At the target price point? In the necessary timeframe? 

How many prospective buyers will you have and how will sales/use be impacted by volume of demand?

Is a cheaper substitute available? 

Are other entities likely to begin offering a similar product/service?  

The Answer

Members and customers hold the ultimate power - their choices make or break an association. As such, association leaders must be relentless in our quest to seek an answer and also be open to receiving it. It can be tempting to disregard an answer that seems far fetched or irrational. Drucker was clear in his guidance on this, “Almost without exception, customers behave rationally in terms of their own realities and their own situation.” It is not the leader’s role to second guess the answer but rather to make it a reality.    

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