Will Chambers become relevant again?

I’m here sitting at the airport in Louisville, KY waiting to head back home to Chicago.

Earlier today I had the opportunity to spend time with a group of Chamber execs attending the ACCE (American Chamber of Commerce Executives) Annual Convention. For years, I have been warning chamber execs that they need to reinvent or become obsolete.

During our session this morning, I taught the execs about the BOSI Quadrant – and what I had learned through my research about entrepreneurial behavior – especially as it relates to chambers.

Here was my main point to chambers (which would be the same point I make to any business-to-entrepreneur organization).

“If you continue to treat all business owners as the same – and feed them one-size-fits-all marketing, sales, products and services, you won’t meet their real needs  – and you’ll become obsolete over time”

The fact is, how an entrepreneur is wired has everything to do with their needs, wants and frustrations. When b-2-b ventures (like chambers) understand that core behavior – and learn how to decode each entrepreneur’s behavior during the prospecting phase, several good things happen.

  1. They end up targeting their “ideal” customer better – rather than trying to be all things to all people
  2. They end up messaging themselves to their ideal customer in more effective ways
  3. They are able to deploy sales processes that speak to the buying style of their ideal customer
  4. They build products/services to meet the very specific needs of their ideal customer

Here was another key point I made to the chamber execs…

To be relevant as a service provider today, you have to discover who your real customer is – and build your chamber around them.

After all…

  • Opportunists join chambers with the intent to get a ton of leads fast (and they expect for the chamber to be a never-ending source of warm bodies)
  • Specialists join chambers to network, get referrals and learn about how to better market their business
  • Builders will only see value in a chamber if the chamber can help their employees dramatically boost performance
  • Innovators only see value in a chamber that can help them get their IP to market
The question to the group this morning was – Who is your customer? Which of these four groups can you deliver outstanding value to over and over again. Every chamber should have a different answer depending on their community, culture and own capacity.

I was very encouraged to see so many chamber execs from across the country show a genuine interest in learning more about their customer, the entrepreneur. I was even more encouraged to see many of them step forward to ask for help in further defining who their customer was – and how to message to that customer in more meaningful ways.

As brands get more sophisticated and focused on segmentation and messaging, chambers must follow suit. If not, entrepreneurs will hear chambers talk – but all they’ll hear is – blah, blah, waa, wa, blah, join our chamber, blah, blah, waa wa.

Will chambers become relevant again?

I have hope that the ones that change with these rapidly changing times – and rapidly changing customer needs will.

But it is time for some pruning of the ones that expect us entrepreneurs to keep paying them an annual fee for providing what we perceive as meaningless and “available elsewhere”.