Membership May Have Its Privileges, but Multiple Memberships Are Better

By Kenneth Hooper, President/CEO, NEMRA

When a sales representative looks across the landscape of professional associations they will see a near-boundless variety of choices. Some choices are defined by vertical representation and industry-specific expertise. Other choices provide diverse representation focusing on the needs of a role within the sales process. And then there are mixed professional organizations offering an amalgam of industry- and role-specific expertise.

When confronted with these opportunities, the natural question is not, Which association is right for me?, but rather, Is membership in one association or many associations right for my business goals?

As the president of a vertically focused professional organization, I can definitively say sales representatives are best served by joining, participating in and leveraging the benefits of multiple professional organizations. If sales representatives view associations as resources, or “supermarkets” of desired products, they will be in a good place.

My organization, the National Electrical Manufacturers Representatives Association (NEMRA), is an association of independent sales representatives in the electrical industry. With 450 representative firm members and 200 manufacturing partners, we are organized with one specific goal in mind: to increase our level of professionalism and enhance the independent rep-manufacturer sales model.

At NEMRA we face the same issues as other professional organizations, and we endeavor to assist our members in the best possible way. However, each organization has its own take, its own sets of services, its unique expertise and voice. Also, because each association provides differing professional products, membership in multiple professional organizations makes an impact on a sales professional’s business and success.

To explain the value membership in multiple associations provides, I’d like to start with the services a vertical association like NEMRA does, and does not, offer.

NEMRA focuses its efforts singularly on strengthening its member companies’ sales, marketing, and management skills. Through these efforts, NEMRA consistently demonstrates to the electrical industry in general, as well as to customers and suppliers, the advantages of doing business with an independent sales representative.

A few of the many services we offer to our members:

  • The NEMRA Financial Operating Report, an annual study which collects financial data and operating statistics from a large segment of our electrical industry membership. The report provides easy-to-understand guidelines for identifying areas of business performance improvement.
  • Access to RepFiles, a marketing material distribution system for mobile devices. The system allows company marketing managers to easily distribute marketing materials to multiline agents’ mobile devices quickly and efficiently.
  • The NEMRA Network, an online resource giving representatives and manufacturers a more powerful way to conduct business. This industry-specific customer relationship management system was designed specifically by NEMRA for representatives and manufacturers.

The list goes on, but due to our vertical focus there are services we do not offer, such as legal representation, lobbying and legislation drafting. This necessary and useful expertise, though, is offered by organizations such as the Manufacturers’ Agents National Association (MANA).

  • MANA offers its members legal telephone counseling, where they can easily and quickly access an attorney with legal questions.
  • MANA also represents its members at the state and federal levels. MANA belongs to the National Federation of Independent Business (NFIB), which tracks and influences what happens in Washington, D.C.
  • And, of course, MANA publishes Agency Sales, its monthly 84-page, full-color business magazine focused on manufacturers’ representatives and manufacturers who sell through representatives.

Like the list of NEMRA services, MANA’s offerings extend beyond these limited examples.

The point is, no organization can, or should, offer every type of service. We all have specialized expertise and resources. To access the whole breadth of opportunities, sales representatives should consider joining multiple organizations. They, their businesses and our collective industries will be better for it.

Ken Hooper began his electrical industry career with General Electric, starting on their marketing training program and then progressing through a number of sales management positions. Following GE, in 1984, he joined Pass & Seymour/Legrand and served as their vice president of sales. In 1992 Hooper returned to the New England area and joined Ferraz Shawmut as the vice president-marketing and sales. When he left Ferraz at the end of 2008, Hooper was the senior vice president of sales and marketing with global responsibility for the Americas, Europe and Asia. In January 2009, Hooper took the reins at NEMRA, serving as only the third president/CEO in the history of the association.