Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Talking to Members Counts as Research, Too

This post from Scott Anthony got me thinking. Especially this piece about the drive to gather data through research before deciding on a course of action.

It's not that the research wouldn't provide insight. It's just that most of these efforts are resource constrained, and it's clear that teams will get more bang for their buck talking to customers, developing prototypes, sharing those prototypes with customers, filling key leadership team gaps and so on, than they will from rigorous data.

I thought it was an awesome perspective--and an important push-back against the de facto data-driven strategies that seem to overwhelm so many association experiments. Acting with a knowledge of what your members need and want is important to innovation. Gathering endless data or, as is more often the case, expending tremendous resources in the pursuit of what turns out to be very little data, is an impediment. Think of Seth Godin, who is always stressing the need to ship.

Just last week I had an experience that stressed this point. We were talking about the launch of a new association program. It would be targeted to a certain subset of our members, but we had next to no information from that subset about how they would respond to the new program, or whether it was even needed.

"Let's get some feedback from those members," I said. "No promises, but introduce them to the idea and see what they think. How would they design it if they had the chance?"

The next day a draft of a survey appeared in my inbox. Two of my program managers had put their heads together and come up with a list of questions to ask. "Looks good," I replied. "But I doubt any one will take the time to complete it." It was too long. Trying to put myself in the shoes of our typical association member, a realized that a thoughtful response--the kind on which we would like to base our action--would require them to gather information from different parts of their organization and give some thought as to how to compose that information into the format we were seeking.

Confronted with this, the program managers had a great response. "Why don't we just call a few of the members we know would be willing to talk about the idea and see what they think?"

Great idea. Pick up the phone and talk to someone. Especially at the early planning stages of a new program, that can be some of the best research there is.

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Bill Conerly said...

Great observation. I learn a lot at the association receptions, nearly as much as from studying economic statistics.

One caution: be sure to talk to a variety of members. At some associations, it seems to me the board of directors are old-timers focused on the golf tournament and poker game, while some of the other members just want to get in, get some insights, and get out. Make sure you're talking to the latter group as well as the former.

Eric Lanke said...

Good point, Bill. I like to advocate that when situations like the one I describe above arise, we specifically call members that we DON'T usually talk to. It's a great way to ensure you're having positive touches with a broader cross section of your membership.

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