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The Ripple Effect

Dip your toes into the

affinity marketing waters, and you could see a wave of business turn into a large pool of opportunities. In other words, the more organizations a company partners with to provide telecom services, the more referrals and income that company is likely to net.

Anysia Kiel, PAETEC’s national director of affinity sales, describes the process best, using the New Jersey Hotel and Lodging Association - which contracts exclusively with PAETEC, as do eight other state affiliates of the parent program - as an example. PAETEC is branded at the association’s events, so all sales representatives have to do is gather members’ business cards and follow up with proposals. PAETEC gets in front of a number of nonprofit groups through organizations Kiel won’t disclose. The approach has yielded a cluster of exclusive contracts, including four with state affiliates of the American Hospital Association; two with state affiliates of the American Banking Association; and another two with state affiliates of the National Association of Community Health Centers.

Above all, Kiel advises, have an affinity contract that spells out requirements for both the associations and the service provider, and insist the association use only your company for its telecom services. “For the association, it’s a way to retain members and, in some cases, a way to attract new members,” Kiel says. “For the PAETEC side, it’s a way for us to gain market share and brand awareness.”

The biggest obstacle to getting in the door with a member-oriented association is just that - getting in the door and being heard. With its own inherent challenges, cold calling is not always the best approach, but it’s not to be ruled out, either.

“People buy from people,” says Lee Wilson, vice president of affinity sales for PowerNet Global Communications. “I’m not saying cold calling doesn’t work, but it’s very important that you make that a personal relationship. [Make sure] they have a partner and a friend on the other end of that telephone, not just a business relationship.”

Wilson adds that companies and agents need to come to organizations prepared - bring “a good staple” of references, so directors of the associations feel assured of your credibility. Most importantly, Wilson says, telecom providers must understand the groups they want to partner with; providers, he says, must deliver value.

Brooke Marlow, vice president of marketing for CIMCO Communications Inc., echoes the same thought. “An association is looking for an affinity partner that can service all of its members,” she says, recommending that providers approach affinity organizations from a consulting frame of mind, rather than a selling one. Once a provider gets in the door, the hard work has only just begun.

Marlow notes that companies and individual agents must take care not to underestimate “the amount of effort it takes to sustain and maintain a relationship, because it is an ongoing effort.”

For example, to ensure its service quality, CIMCO, at the end of each year, compiles a marketing plan and analyzes what worked and what didn’t during the past 12 months. “Part of the value is really getting involved with the organization,” Marlow adds. “We support their events, conferences and business meetings. We market to partners through direct mail… We have a program manager that speaks daily with our affinity program partners.”

Dennis Patti, US LEC’s vice president of product marketing and sales support, agrees about providing value. “Do joint marketing with the owner of the affinity,” he says. “Be part of their literature and their overall program. Actually be a partner.” US LEC also offers a 100 percent guarantee for the life of its contracts.

It also is paramount for the affinity to do its part in marketing the provider. Doni Padeletti, director, major accounts and telesales for Covad Communications Group Inc., says the success it has had with some affinity markets shows some important steps need to be taken. For example, it is the broadband provider for the National Association of Realtors. Padeletti says affinity organizations must “actively endorse and promote the product or service offering to their membership through newsletters and other forms of communication. Then it is critical that they provide the partner with mailing lists, membership lists for outbound calling, and a link on their intranet site to the partner Web site.”

Keep in mind there are some legal aspects of working with nonprofits. Probably the biggest, sources say, is that nonprofit organizations must abide by strict regulations governing commissions.

The nonprofits partner with telecom providers partly to make residual money off their members’ use of those services. But, they have to label the income in a way that legally allows them to count it as revenue. That means associations may have to refer to the extra money as something other than commission.


Cast a Wider Net

Agents, it’s time to broaden your pool of prospective customers. Here are some tips on finding non-profit organizations and associations. The rest is up to you.

  • Concept Marketing Group Inc. sells lists by state or by the entire country. The directory of more than 35,000 associations comes on CD-ROM, online or by-the-slice. One year’s subscription costs $620 with shipping, a drop in the bucket compared the revenue agents can bring in by targeting these organizations. Contact Concept at + 1 800 575 5369 or via e-mail at concept@marketingsource.com.
  • The Better Business Bureau maintains a slew of links to charities. One need only spend some time sleuthing through the files to find money-generating ideas. State affiliates of the BBB also maintain their own data. As always, make sure an organization is legit before getting involved in its business decisions. www.give.org/reports/index.asp
  • The Internal Revenue Service details charities’ names, although you will have to search independently for each association’s contact information. www.irs.gov/charities
  • Get specific! Think of various careers and pursue their associations and charities. Try law, real estate and financial services and health care associations. Go after charities that help sick kids or rescue animals. And don’t forget, there often are associations embedded within associations. For example, The American Bar Association (http://w3.abanet.org) is merely the umbrella for dozens of affiliates. Nursingworld.org contains information on the American Nurses Associations state divisions.


Take the Plunge

It’s easy to read about working with the lucrative affinity group market; take things a step further at this month’s Channel Partners Conference & Expo in Chicago. PHONE+ is sponsoring a track, “On Target: Vertical and Affinity Marketing,” 11-11:50 a.m. Tuesday, Aug. 31. Having specialized knowledge of the communications needs in the health care, construction, government, education and other industries, positions you as a trusted adviser for clients, opening up opportunities for references throughout a given community. Affinity marketing also can grant you exclusive access to prospects by virtue of their affiliations with a club, association or other group. Come and learn to use these effective techniques for hitting your sales mark.

Links

CIMCO Communications Inc. www.cimco.net
Covad Communications Group Inc. www.covad.com
PAETEC www.paetec.com
PowerNet Global Communications http://ecare.pngcom.com
US LEC www.uslec.com


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