Use Data to Boost Your Professional Development Programs

professional viewing data charts on a tablet March 6, 2017 By: Chris Urena

Associations need to provide great learning opportunities for members, but professional development programs also need to be viable from a business perspective. PD teams can use data and market segmentation to achieve both goals.

Many professional development units within associations are charged with a difficult task—offering a robust learning portfolio and, at the same time, generating nondues revenue. It's a challenge that many associations face, but it can be overcome through a business framework that ensures long-term viability.

To increase the likelihood of achieving lasting value, PD teams can look to the following business considerations to steer them toward success.

Start with Data

Did you know that organizations with data-driven decision making are on average 5 percent more productive and 6 percent more profitable than their competitors? According to a recent study from the MIT Center for Digital Business, organizations that leverage data can identify and serve their target markets better. If you're just getting started with using data, here's a checklist of key steps to help you embark on the process:

Determine data availability. Talk to data stewards inside your organization and figure out where data is stored. Find out what data the PD team has access to. In all likelihood, it will be scattered across different systems, including your association management software, registration system, and learning management system.

You're looking for trends that show you how your PD program reached specific people in specific ways.

Prioritize and organize existing data. Leverage data that you currently have access to and start organizing and giving it structure. For example, let's say you want to know what the most common job role or title was for attendees of previous programs. Using registration information, sort by the quantity of job roles or titles and convert those quantities into percentages of total attendance. Now, you'll be able to see attendee segments by percentage, which should guide future programming and marketing efforts.

Understand consumer purchasing behaviors. Take a close look at data related to your core-consumer base. How does it compare to your membership at large? Analyze how individuals are engaging with your current learning portfolio, including history and buying habits. You're looking for trends that show you how your PD program reached specific people in specific ways.

Conduct a competitive analysis. An environmental scan can reveal a lot, including valuable insight about your competitors. For instance, a competitive analysis can show competitors' strengths and core competencies and expose their weaknesses. Use this information to gain insight into what sets your PD offerings apart from others, so you know where to focus for continued growth.

Don't be afraid to ask for help. Not everyone is a seasoned data or business analyst. If this is new territory for you, collaborate with someone who is skilled in data crunching. Don't place data-driven decision making on the back burner because it's not in your current wheelhouse.

Use Market Segmentation

Typically, associations have not been frontrunners in segmenting their consumers. Market segmentation takes time but is valuable for demonstrating increased engagement, revenue, and member satisfaction rates. Segmentation, by its true definition, can be complex. Before you dive in, here are a few tips:

Identify consumers of your programs. Start by segmenting your known universe into groups that have meaning. For example, you might consider placing participants into three categories: (1) loyal consumers, (2) occasional shoppers, and (3) one-and-done visitors. Now, think about how you're going to keep a "1" happy, or how you can convert a "2" into a "1."

Use data to create segments. Segmentation might be based on age range, position, areas of expertise, travel tolerance, and preferred learning modality. Once you categorize your data, direct your education and marketing efforts to these specific groups.

Don't forget the 80/20 rule. Ask yourself: Who are the 20 percent of users who make up 80 percent of your sales and course completions? Thinking with this 80/20 principle helps PD teams to realize that they can't be all things to all people.

With this checklist in mind, your association can begin to design PD programs that are targeted to common needs, interests, and purchasing behaviors. Start by thinking about your business considerations first. Then, your team can reevaluate existing products and offerings. With data-driven decision making and market segmentation in place, your association can attract the right people to the right PD programs.

Chris Urena

Chris Urena is director of professional development for the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association in Rockville, Maryland.