Monday, March 31, 2014

Following Market Drivers To New Destinations

By Steven Worth
President, Plexus Consulting Group

Associations are finding success in adapting business practices from the for-profit sector for their own use, and this includes the discipline of detecting and targeting market trends. One nascent trend is the concept of creating a market focused organization – an organization that defines itself by being active in detecting and positioning itself to serve new needs in a rapidly changing environment, rather than simply responding to member requests.

Such organizations not only identify market trends but their own competitive advantages – those areas in which they are uniquely positioned to address what might be either opportunities or threats.

In this regard, one little known fact according to the US Department of Commerce is that the greatest growth in international business transactions lies within the small –and medium-sized business communities. To a certain extent it makes sense that smaller enterprises are best suited to take advantage of the quickly evolving needs of a global marketplace in a quick and cost-effective way. But unlike the slower-moving, large, multinational corporations, the smaller entities do not have the infrastructure to easily gather the information needed to do that. For these services, they must rely on outside providers, including government resources, chambers of commerce and -most importantly- business and professional associations. Market-driven U.S. associations have recognized the advantage of positioning themselves to provide such services to this fast-growing segment of the U.S. economy, including:

  • Gathering market statistics,
  • Researching potential partners
  • Finding and training staff, and
  • Informing member of the legislative and regulatory environment in potential markets.

In addition the smart trade associations have either anticipated or followed their members’ emerging needs in foreign markets by setting up chapters abroad or establishing strategic alliances with sister organizations.

Roles for professional societies

Professional societies can also position themselves to take advantage of these trends. Societies such as the Institute of Internal Auditors, Orlando; the Project Management Institute, Newton Square, Pennsylvania; and the American Society of Mechanical Engineers, New York City; have recognized that both U.S. and multinational organizations that employ their members have serious education, training, and quality-evaluation needs as they enter foreign markets. While these organizations remain single-member societies, they have identified and formed mutual help alliances with their particular market drivers-those organizations (including both corporations and governmental entities) that emply the professionals the societies are intended to serve.

Turning challenge into opportunity

As we read, hear, and see more evidence of the outsourcing of U.S. jobs, the professional societies that serve those segments of the employment picture that are vulnerable to outsourcing have found themselves with fewer and fewer U.S. members-not necessarily because they are doing a poor job of serving their members but because the total pool of potential members in the U.S. is actually declining. For some organizations, this situation heralds a bleak future. But for others-such as the associations noted earlier-that remain focused on recognizing these trends and identifying the market drivers behind them, the situation can turn into a tremendous opportunity for growth. Therein lies the principal distinction between the winners and losers among nonprofit organization functioning in the global economy.

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