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Sales tales: Sales Training highlights

Sarah Melby and Ben Goldstein on Friday, April 21, 2017 at 12:00:00 am 
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ACCE’s annual Sales Training Conference is an opportunity for chamber professionals to learn the latest membership development tips, trends and techniques from some of the best in the biz. This year’s event, hosted in St. Louis with the gracious support of the St. Louis Regional Chamber, brought together about 60 members from far and wide for a little March membership madness.

Here are a few takeaways from the gathering:

Chamber on the Go

Andrew Hoan, president and CEO of the Brooklyn Chamber of Commerce, likes his staff to get out into the community for member interaction. Last August, the chamber launched its #BCC Visits initiative, during which chamber staff visited more than 500 local businesses. To get around, the chamber traveled by subway, bus, ferry and foot and used geocoding tools to target areas with the highest concentration of businesses.

“This was a way to deepen our understanding of what our members need and to put a face on the chamber,” says Hoan. “Instead of just getting emails and telephone calls, members actually see a real human being.”

One story stands out for Hoan. When the chamber visited a spin studio, its owner complained about a pothole on the street. The chamber contacted the appropriate agency and the pothole was filled soon after. The chamber would have never known about the pothole, and its member’s frustration, had it not ventured out into the community.

“People won’t open up to you through mass email or over the phone,” shares Hoan. “When you visit them and see for yourself what their issues are, you have clearly demonstrated the value-add of chamber membership.”

Content is king

The content-to-sales ratio should be 3:1, says Kyle Sexton, a marketing strategist and Sales Training Conference presenter. Instead of selling tickets and asking for money, chambers have an opportunity to produce – and lead members to – more engaging and valuable content.

“This economy rewards brands that put value in front of the transaction, not behind it,” Sexton says. “We need to add more value to the conversation and stop asking for money all the time.”

Sexton’s suggestions for chambers? Teach members about business; stop educating them about the chamber. One way for chambers to better engage members is to help them learn how to share their stories with the community.

“We can do a better job carrying on the conversations they care about,” says Sexton. "In order to do that, we need to think like an editor and act like a journalist.”

How you buy is how you sell

When it comes to selling membership, “how you buy is how you sell,” says Duane Weber, Indy Chamber’s director of membership and sponsorship sales. Take car buying, for example; some people spend months shopping around and test-drive six or seven cars, while others do a little research and make their purchase quickly. The key to selling, Weber says, is to tailor the pitch to the buyer’s preferred style of decision-making.

“Some people like to read the fine print,” says Weber. “I’m not one of those people. I’m a strategic, big-picture kind of guy. Just show me a summary.”

Weber says that when the seller’s style is mismatched with the buyer’s style, an uncomfortable experience can result. “As a big-picture buyer, it drives me crazy when a detail-oriented person sells to me. I’m thinking, ‘C’mon! You had me 10 minutes ago!”

Weber’s tip for connecting with prospects that have gone dark: try something unconventional. Give them an opportunity to say no. Send a message asking if they’re still interested; and offer to close their file if they’re not. “It’s okay to say you’re not interested!”

It’s about mission and community, not golf

Dues and sponsorship figures are essentially arbitrary sums, argues Doug Holman, a consultant with Holman Brothers, a firm that specializes in chamber membership. Chamber membership staff treat these numbers like they “came down from the mountain,” endlessly justifying how members will earn a return on their investment.

“We have to sell community,” says Holman. Too often, chambers err by selling events to prospective members, instead of their missions—which is what business leaders really care about. “They’re not paying you because they want to attend your annual dinner or your golf tournament,” continues Holman. “They’re paying you because they believe in what you do.”

Chamber pros are passionate about serving their communities, and this is what business leaders want to support. “There’s simply no way to guarantee results from attending chamber networking events,” says Holman. Instead, the goal is to help business leaders “recognize that without the work of the chamber, the community would be a very different place.”

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Chamber pros tackle education pipeline, celebrate graduation

Michelle Vegliante on Thursday, April 6, 2017 at 12:00:00 am 
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A group of 20 chamber of commerce professionals is celebrating this week because they’ve just completed ACCE’s year-long Fellowship for Education Attainment, which wrapped up Wednesday with an event in Indianapolis.

The 20 Fellows were invited to participate in the immersive fellowship program based on a handful of qualifications. Fellows must demonstrate a commitment to improving the birth-to-career education pipeline in the communities they serve. And, a community’s education attainment goals must be already defined by the chamber of commerce for applicants to be considered for the Fellowship.

“My favorite part of the Fellowship program is seeing how relationships are built amongst the Fellows,” says Michelle Vegliante, senior manager for community advancement at ACCE. “By the final session, they each leave with nineteen close-knit colleagues that they can call on for guidance and support. The transformation from peer acquaintance to lifelong friend is extremely rewarding to see.”

During the year-long program, Fellows study best practices in education attainment through interaction with national experts and inclusion in an unmatched peer-to-peer network that includes former Fellows. Each Fellow develops a Regional Action Plan that identifies and addresses specific education attainment and workforce development issues that impact the community they represent. Work conducted throughout the year-long program is compiled and included in a final summary report.

“There is no greater way to serve your members than by establishing a workforce that will economically sustain your community,” comments Pat Patrick, president and CEO of the Lodi Chamber of Commerce. “Postsecondary education is the answer, and ACCE’s Educational Attainment Fellowship is the best way to prepare for this critical challenge.”

The Fellowship for Education Attainment was launched in 2014 to provide chamber professionals with guidance and resources to mobilize efforts that improve education outcomes U.S. communities. As the Fellowship grows, ACCE tasks Fellows with helping chamber peers around the country build replicable programs in their communities.

“It’s nearly impossible to condense the superlatives about this Fellowship experience into a small space,” says Ann Kisting, executive director at the Chicagoland Chamber Foundation. “The sharing of insights, ideas and resources made this an inspiring, energizing and truly invaluable experience.”

You can meet the 2016–17 Fellows and check out their Regional Action Plan Summaries here.

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Cultivating leaders in the City of Brotherly Love

Molly Blankenship on Wednesday, April 5, 2017 at 8:39:00 am 
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When the Chamber of Commerce for Greater Philadelphia asked employers in the region what issues they were most concerned about, the answers it received were nearly unanimous: retention of emerging mid-career professionals.

In partnership with its Young Professionals Council, the chamber’s Education and Talent Action Team crafted a questionnaire aimed at investigating mid-career professionals’ motivators in the workplace and at home. The final product was a survey focused on three key areas of motivation — professional, personal and civic — that was widely circulated throughout the community.

The survey, which received impressive levels of engagement, was designed to help business leaders understand what young professionals value, what they look for in a region and what factors cause them to view work as “just a job,” as opposed to a lifelong career.

The chamber’s survey data yielded some thought-provoking insight on what makes emerging mid-career professionals tick. When asked about workplace motivators, 44 percent said professional advancement was the primary motivator, compared to 34 percent who chose personal fulfillment and 19 percent who selected civic engagement. 

The data also shows that income and salary often take a backseat to the possibility of career advancement. When asked about what factors come into play when considering employers, opportunity to grow was listed as the top choice, followed by company culture and income.

The respondents listed safety as their top concern when choosing a region to live in, followed by affordability and rent. (This order was reversed for respondents age 25–29 years old). When asked what factors would cause them to consider leaving a region, public education was the most popular response, again followed by affordability and rent.    

Responses to the survey totaled 1,188 participants. Of these, 830 were 25 to 39 years old — the target age range of the study.

The Chamber of Commerce for Greater Philadelphia hopes to continue its efforts at engaging emerging mid-career professionals by collaborating with chambers in peer cities, who would follow its lead by producing similar surveys and participating in peer-benchmarking.

The chamber will also continue to facilitate dialogue between emerging professionals and area employers to help craft the narrative about what it means to live and work in Philadelphia.

View an impressive infographic and full survey results here.

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Self-driving cars driving the community forward

Ben Goldstein on Thursday, March 16, 2017 at 12:00:00 am 
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Few emerging technologies have the potential to be truly revolutionary. But if you ask the people of Howell, Michigan, the future looks promising for autonomous vehicle technology.

A recent event hosted by the Howell Area Chamber of Commerce provided expert speakers from Ford Motor Co. and the American Center for Mobility with an opportunity to discuss the future of self-driving vehicles and how the Howell community can best prepare for its impending arrival.

 “There are so many businesses here that support the auto industry, from interior and exterior components to engine parts,” says Jessica Wicks, communications manager at the chamber of commerce.

Because of its proximity – about an hour’s drive – to Ford headquarters in Detroit and its share of automotive support industry manufacturers, Howell stands to gain from the mainstream adoption of autonomous vehicles.

Wicks, a self-admitted car-lover, says that Michigan’s deep love for cars and trucks aside, “The idea of not driving a car had always kind of freaked us out.”

The speakers from Ford and American Center for Mobility wanted to address apprehension about the new technology and assure event attendees – mostly business executives and elected leaders – that self-driving cars and trucks could yield huge benefits for businesses, people and the community at large.

An analogy shared by a panelist at the event, and passed along by Wicks, explains how the emerging technology could benefit all of us. “Your kids go to school, let’s say they leave the house at 7:15 a.m. A self-driving car takes the kids to school and comes back to the house to take you to work.” Wicks says, “That same car could drop you off at the front door at work, then go park or refuel. The car is working the whole time you’re working, which makes life easier.”

As for the business case for self-driving vehicles, the concept is simple. The new technology has the potential to provide huge efficiency gains to trade and global supply chains. Michigan companies, already experienced in the various parts of vehicle manufacturing, have the expertise and know-how to advance the technology.

And the chamber’s motive for hosting the event is crystal clear, too. “We need new talent. We need engineers. And we need forward thinkers who are comfortable with this concept,” said Wicks. “We know it’s coming, so it’s time to get comfortable with it and determine how to best seize the opportunities that new technology presents.”

Tags: Autonomous Vehicles, Howell Area Chamber of Commerce, Technology, Automation

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This holiday season, "Take It Easy"

Mick Fleming on Monday, December 26, 2016 at 9:00:00 am 
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I used to say that the biggest fictions in "Chamberworld" were a staffer’s job description and a CEO’s calendar, but here’s an even bigger myth: a chamber professional’s holiday.

I know you’re probably taking some days off at this time of year, BUT you event planners and communicators will keep on worrying about deadlines. Chamber public affairs pros will scan state news websites and bosses will worry about everything, including 100 problems facing your members, the economy and the mayor.

BUT, in the immortal words of Glenn Frey and his neighbor Jackson Browne: “Don’t let the sound of your own wheels make you crazy.” Your set of wheels is the drive to deliver, know, anticipate, assist, sell, please, build, articulate and show up. They hum and occasionally thump under you, even when you’re standing on a corner in Winslow, or next to an electrified tree resting in a bowl of water on your living room floor.

Just for a couple of days, "Take It Easy." I don’t want you crazy in 2017! Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah! Onward to an exciting New Year!

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Chamber Public Policy Leaders Meet in Cleveland

Will Burns on Friday, December 9, 2016 at 12:00:00 am 
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Senior government relations leaders from 21 metro regional chambers recently met to discuss priority issues, political activity, and advocacy best practices. The meeting was hosted by the Greater Cleveland Partnership, who also provided an update on how hosting the 2016 Republican National Convention impacted the city’s ongoing growth.

Highlights of the discussion include:

Transportation: Chambers across the country supported regional ballot measures to increase funding for critical transportation and transit projects. Nationwide, voters approved referendum that raised more than $200 billion in revenue, including chamber-backed initiatives Atlanta, Ga.; Austin, Texas; Charleston, S.C.; Indianapolis, Ind.; Los Angeles Calif.; Raleigh, N.C.; San Francisco, Calif.; and Spokane Wash.

Education & Workforce: Improving education at all levels to address workforce needs is crucial to economic vitality. Participants discussed chamber efforts all along the cradle-to-career spectrum, including an early childhood education funding ballot initiative in Cincinnati, K-12 reform in Milwaukee, apprenticeship programs in Denver and Charleston, scholarship programs in Detroit, efforts to upskill workers in Grand Rapids, and efforts to align talent supply with employer demand in Atlanta.

Political Action: Chambers are relying more on Super PACs, organized as 527 or 501(c)4 organizations, to promote key issues and influence elections. Participants also expressed an interest in increasing the scope and effectiveness of candidate development activities. From candidate identification and recruitment to policy education and campaign consulting support, ACCE will develop resources over the coming months to share best practices from around the country. 

Advocacy Communications: Email newsletters remain the primary form of communicating policy priorities to members, but policy blogs, video updates and social media are more important than ever. The frequent updates help to raise awareness of chamber priorities and drive additional traffic to chamber websites. In fact, some policy blogs receive more web traffic than the main chamber websites. Examples discussed during the meeting include the Metro Atlanta Chamber’s Policy Blog, Greater Cleveland Partnership’s Insights video series and the Indy Chamber’s Team 317 social media ambassadors program.

Special thanks to the Greater Cleveland Partnership President and CEO Joe Roman and Senior Vice President Marty McGann for hosting the event. Additional thanks to the Metro Atlanta Chamber for sponsoring the meeting and MAC’s Chief Policy Officer Katie Kirkpatrick for facilitating the discussion.

For more information about how you can get involved in ACCE’s Government Affairs Division, contact Will Burns at wburns@acce.org.

 

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Close Finish for Orlando’s WCF Bid

Mick Fleming on Thursday, December 8, 2016 at 12:00:00 am 
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Orlando, Inc. (Orlando Regional Chamber of Commerce) put together a powerful bid to host the 2019 World Chambers Congress, but in the end, voters from around the world gave a slight edge to Rio de Janeiro. Executive Director Jim Thomas, who crafted and presented the bid on behalf of the Orlando, Inc., the Central Florida Partnership and Visit Orlando expressed both pride in the team’s work and disappointment. Mick Fleming, who serves as vice chairman of World Chambers Federation was also saddened by the news, in part because the Association of Chamber of Commerce Executives planned to combine its annual convention with the World Chamber Congress, producing the largest chamber gathering in the history of the world. In the end, issues like U.S. visa access provided a slim measure of victory for Brazil.

The World Chambers Federation Congress in 2017 will be in Sydney, Australia in September. ACCE will provide registration “scholarships” (rebates) for the first ten North American chambers that enroll in the Sydney Congress. Two different airlines have agreed to reduce fares 40 percent.

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Hewlett Foundation Grant to Boost ACCE Diversity, Equity & Inclusion Work

Will Burns on Wednesday, December 7, 2016 at 12:00:00 am 
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Increasing diversity, equity and inclusion throughout the chamber movement is a major priority for the Association of Chamber of Commerce Executives (ACCE). We believe that communities with a local chamber fully committed to diversity and economic inclusion are better equipped to improve community, civic, and economic vitality.

ACCE’s diversity and inclusion efforts received a boost earlier this year when the Community Growth Education Foundation was selected to participate in a William and Flora Hewlett Foundation pilot project. The Hewlett Foundation selected 10 of its deeper learning grantees to receive a planning grant to help build capacity and strengthen organizational effectiveness in the areas of diversity, equity and inclusion.

As part of the project, ACCE will better articulate the business case for chamber-led efforts to promote diversity, equity and inclusion in communities across the country. We will also arm chamber leaders with the resources they need to make the case to their boards of directors, business members, and other community stakeholders.

One element of our efforts over the next year will be to develop a chamber-specific business case for economic inclusion. We have commissioned professors Chris Benner Ph.D., of the University of California, Santa Cruz and Manual Pastor, Ph.D., of the University of Southern California to lead the research effort. The goal for the publication is to spark a dialogue around economic inclusion and diversity issues throughout the chamber industry.

ACCE’s focus on D&I began with the 2011 launch of the Diversity & Inclusion Division to provide chamber professionals a forum to discuss workforce, workplace and marketplace diversity and inclusion initiatives. Through D&I Division programming and peer sharing, ACCE advances equity issues throughout the chamber profession and encourages chamber leaders to pursue efforts to build more economically and socially inclusive regions.

You can learn more about ACCE’s D&I Division online here.

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Smoky Mountains communities unite to support area tourism

Courtesy of Brenda McCroskey, CEO, Sevierville Chamber of Commerce (Tenn.) on Wednesday, December 7, 2016 at 12:00:00 am 
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As the Smoky Mountains of East Tennessee begin the recovery process following the Nov. 28 wildfires, Sevierville, Pigeon Forge, Gatlinburg and Sevier County (Tennessee) tourism officials have united to reinforce a strong message delivered by Gatlinburg Mayor Mike Werner.

"If you really want to do something for Gatlinburg, come back and visit us,” Werner said in a Nov. 30 press conference, encouraging visitation as a show of support to the popular vacation destination located next door to Great Smoky Mountains National Park, the nation’s most visited. Werner lost his home and business in the fire.

The area has received an overwhelming outpouring of donations, phone calls and support from community members. First responders from across the country helped battle the blaze.

“The generosity and concern shown to our community is a blessing beyond words,” said Mark Adams, Chief Executive Officer of the Gatlinburg Convention and Visitors Bureau. “But it has also reinforced to us that our community is not just here at home. Our community is all the folks who have visited with us through the years, who feel a very special connection to our cities and these mountains. They continue to ask us how they can best help us because they, too, want to see this area rebuild.”  

According to Smoky Mountain Tourism Development Council Director Mary Hope Maples, tourism is the county’s largest industry. “Tourism is the lifeblood of Sevier County and its three gateway cities—Sevierville, Pigeon Forge and Gatlinburg. Our tourism officials have an obligation to our residents to sustain our tourism industry to ensure that employees have jobs to support themselves and their families.”

A Community Resource Center opened on Dec. 1 to assist residents with insurance claims, unemployment filings, building permits for both residential and commercial structures, driver’s license replacement and other processes necessary during the rebuilding process. In addition, several employment agencies are on site to help displaced workers find jobs.

Sevier County tourism officials are reinforcing the message that the vacation destination’s many attractions, theatres, restaurants and lodging properties are operating as usual after recent wildfires in the area. In Gatlinburg, the area surrounding downtown Gatlinburg experienced significant losses this week; however, the heart of the city’s town is intact. The structures along Gatlinburg’s main strip still stand, including Ripley's Aquarium of the Smokies, Ole Smoky Distillery, the Gatlinburg Space Needle, and the Convention Center.

Businesses in Pigeon Forge and Sevierville suffered no damages, and are operating as usual. Dollywood, the state’s most-visited ticketed attraction is open. Also, Smoky Mountain Winterfest festival, which spans all three cities, continues through Feb. 28. Restaurants and lodging properties in Pigeon Forge are operating on normal schedules.

“Many people have asked us how to help. One of the best ways to help the Smoky Mountains recover from the wildfire’s impact is to come visit us and help keep our community strong and working,” said Brenda McCroskey, Chief Executive Officer of the Sevierville Chamber of Commerce.

“We are happy to report that businesses along the Parkway in Sevierville, including Tanger Outlets and Apple Barn and Cider Mill, are open as usual and ready to help you enjoy your Smoky Mountain vacation,” McCroskey added.

“As we strive to keep our folks working so that they can support themselves and their families, our greater community can help us in several ways,” said Leon Downey, Executive Director of the Pigeon Forge Department of Tourism. “If you have reservations, don’t cancel; come and see us during Winterfest. Consider us as you make your plans for spring break and next summer’s vacation. This will help us sustain our businesses and jobs.”

For more information about Smoky Mountain Winterfest as well as other information about visiting Sevierville, Pigeon Forge, Gatlinburg and Sevier County, please visit www.SmokiesFun.com.

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How can I not love this job!?

Mick Fleming on Monday, December 5, 2016 at 12:00:00 am 
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In late November, I had the pleasure of visiting three very different communities: Greenville, S.C.; Carmel, Ind.; and Madrid, Spain.

The first features a stunningly beautiful downtown in a region that has attracted major international manufacturers. The second embodies the best of suburban/exurban living, with prosperous neighborhoods, vibrant retail, abundant high quality health care and vibrant small employers. And Madrid is a major world capital struggling successfully to recover from a deep, long recession.

In these places, I met with chamber board members determined to drive their organizations and regions to new heights, largely through bolstering private business success. The Greenville Chamber is a mature, well-resourced operation, led by a new CEO—a proven professional with the skills and wisdom to kick things up several notches. OneZone—in Hamilton County, Ind.—is a recently merged entity serving multiple communities, with daring volunteer and staff leaders. Everyone involved is determined to plan the future they want, rather than stumbling forward on hopes alone. And the Madrid and Spanish chambers are navigating the transition from a government funded, public-law chamber into a privately funded, service focused advocacy organization.

If we can help these organizations—and we do; if we can learn lessons from them to share with others—and we can; if we can be inspired by their energy—and we are, ACCE and the chamber movement will be vibrant for years to come.

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