Professions: Possibly the most powerful B2B community of decision-makers you’ll encounter

Ali Heppenstall highlights the value of closed influencer groups and the best kept secret in (B2B marketing) town

I recognise the risk I am taking in talking about the value of ‘professions’ and the potential to put readers to sleep, but here goes.

Imagine the highest performing senior management team, or the c-suite of an organisation, sitting around the boardroom table. Now picture your prime B2B decision-making targets, groups of important heads of verticals, leaders of small business or even sole traders and independent professionals. Imagine all these groups engaging, networking and most importantly discussing their challenges and insights. I do this often.

Now visualise sitting behind these individuals in the board room are hundreds, if not thousands, of others just like them. This isn’t just a random thought or exercise, for me, this is a type of obsession. Because now I want you to imagine trying to engage with your target audience in one place. Do you know how you would do this?

This might be stating the obvious, but the professionals that make businesses tick are typically part of a profession, and that profession will have an umbrella body – a professional association. Even more exciting than that, the industry in which they work or sector specialism in which they operate, usually falls part of a trade association. 

Am I boring you yet?

Have you already switched off? If you have, you’re with the majority of other B2B marketers and this is part of the reason why these hard-to-crack groups remain one of the industry’s best kept secrets.

Imagine the target audience or vertical you’re interested in engaging with is part of a closed community group of similar professionals, possibly in the hundreds, thousands, or even tens of thousands (dependent on the profession) operating nationally and/or internationally in the same vertical. 

Consider the value that this entire single industry or profession represents from a third-party B2B perspective. It’s huge. Then, if you consider multiple professional associations and how they interlink or are relevant to your entire business, they become really interesting and valuable.

For instance, have you ever noticed how a facilities manager’s role also links to an HR/people manager’s objectives, which then links to the organisation’s finance department, which is influenced by the procurement and supply chain function, who work closely with energy, environment and buildings, who then link back to the FM, and so on. There are so many sectors and sub-sectors of professions and professional associations that connect – the value of these bodies and the vertical they represent is vast. Some also represent sizes/types of business, such as the small businesses community.

Get the picture?

These closed groups are generally established as independent, not-for-profit entities, set up by members for members. Many are set up with a charter, some with a royal charter to achieve public good, and many of these bodies set the professional and industry standards, governance and ethics for their industry. Many educate and inform, and a rare few are mandatory for a profession to practice. Many advocate, instigate change, drive policy, lobby and push consultation. Most aspire to be ‘the voice’ of the profession or industry they represent. Many are the first to be asked for a quote by the media, referenced in official statistics and grace the pages of national, regional and broadsheet media as the trusted ‘voice’, steeped in evidence, data and insights from the coalface of their profession. 

There are many common elements that tie these groups together but what makes them really interesting from a B2B marketing perspective is:

  • The value of the sector they represent in terms of buying power, GDP, trade, exports etc.
  • The closed groups of decision-makers and influencers within their community.
  • Their data and network which often includes other groups and market segments outside of their membership, e.g. other business stakeholders, government, media, policy makers etc.
  • Their independence and credibility.
  • They all own channels directly into the communities they represent.
  • They push content, message and key communications to engage and inform.
  • The information and knowledge they produce.
  • The insights and research they collate from their industry.
  • Often they are the go-to for industry information, content, learning and guidance for their members.

Members of these bodies are discerning. They engage with interesting, current and relevant content. The bodies themselves are focused on recruiting, retaining, educating and engaging their members. They do this principally by delivering content in different formats, by a variety of platforms, across multiple channels.

Those that run professional independent organisations are focused supporting their membership and protecting and upholding the independence and credibility of the industry. Therefore, the balance around creating effective B2B partnerships within this space is tricky.

Competition for these types of organisations is increasing and certain professions and industries are at risk due to market forces, a shrinking business environment and technology disruption. For example, the finance profession is changing due to innovative technologies, digital services and clever autonomous operations.   

Partnerships and collaboration are at the forefront of most business agendas and diversification of approach and the generation of alternative income is increasingly important. In an ever-changing market the need to build B2B partnerships has never been so important. 

Lately, we’ve been surprised by the number of B2B marketers talking to us about content partnerships with professional industry associations. It’s like a lightbulb moment for many corporates who are looking to engage with a vertical or professional group in a targeted and credible way.

The power, influence, reach and opportunity professional industry bodies represent is very exciting. Professional associations are a fantastic, cost-effective and direct channel for B2B marketers and most opportunities revolve around hard hitting industry specific content. This is why the often overlooked not-for-profits, and their wide-reaching memberships of professionals, should be a priority marketing focus for the B2B marketer.

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