Trade association v professional body: spot the difference

13 February 2018 by Naresh Raj

I was at an event recently and a fellow attendee questioned why speakers often assume that, when referring to a professional body, it is about individual membership as opposed to a corporate membership. People as opposed to companies.


This led me to wonder how different the two types of bodies are and the challenges they face when trying to build a 360° view of their membership, stakeholders and others they communicate with.

What’s the same?

Okay, so both types of organisation have members and both types of organisation exist to represent those members’ interests and support them professionally. In that sense, there is little difference.

The industries may change and the interests will vary but that doesn’t essentially change how you should approach your member relationships. You should still be aiming to understand what each member is interested in so you can personalise your services and communications to them.

What’s different?

The main difference is that, whilst an individual-membership organisation only needs to relate data to one contact in order to build a 360° view of that member; it’s more complicated for a corporate-membership body.

For the corporate-membership body there are two levels of member engagement that both need to be considered as well as two types of relationship that need to be nurtured in different ways.

The ‘member’ is a company that will have attributes, preferences and interests that you want to collect and collate in order to build that 360° view. The challenge comes when you add in the fact that your database will be made up of not just companies (your members) but also of individuals within those companies.

Essentially, you also need to profile these individuals to build an accurate picture of them in order to build rapport and communicate effectively.

Individuals will be interested in the personal benefits the association has to offer whilst the person making the membership decision will be more interested in the corporate benefits to be had.

We don’t do business with businesses; we do business with individuals. And that’s the challenge for corporate-membership bodies.

There may be times when the interests of the individuals representing your members conflict with the interests of their company. They may be overly negative about your organisation or they may be complete advocates. How do you overcome that conflict?

Also, how do you get your organisation’s messages distributed throughout the member company when you are certain to only be communicating with a handful of people within that company, and they will naturally be selective about what information they distribute.

Does it make any difference to the way you approach your data storage/CRM requirements?

Essentially, no.

It makes it more complicated for corporate-membership organisations but the key thing to do is to make sure you have a CRM system that has the ability to relate and connect data on both organisations AND individuals and allow you to analyse that data either from an organisational level or from an individual contact level.

Corporate-membership associations will take a different approach to segmenting and reporting (you need to understand engagement and drivers at both a corporate level and an individual level) but your CRM should be able to manage this. You also need to ensure that your CRM can facilitate the different financial requirements, e.g. individuals look for direct debit payment options whilst companies will be looking for invoicing options.


Whatever, your type of membership organisation you want to be personalising your communications, services and offering to your members. Data is the key to doing this and so you need to make sure your database is up to the job.