Recent ASAE Foundation research identified critical steps for setting up and growing operations in new markets. One key finding: Gathering data and customizing for local markets are significant but necessary challenges.
What steps do association leaders need to take to create success in foreign markets? The new ASAE Foundation report Association Global Maturity: Critical Actions for Successful International Growth identifies key elements of global success. The report draws on quantitative research conducted by the foundation and Rockbridge Associates to create the Global Maturity Assessment, a new online tool that allows association leaders to evaluate their organization's global readiness.
The research, supported by and conducted in collaboration with MCI Group, examined the global maturity of associations that are either operating globally or making plans to go global. Global maturity is simply the readiness of an organization—culturally, managerially, and operationally—to grow and thrive internationally. Researchers examined the strengths and weaknesses of the association sector by assessing seven key areas of global operations that contribute to an organization's success abroad.
When the data were analyzed, two areas—first, market insight, and second, local operations and service delivery capacity—stood out as particular challenges for associations.
Market insight captures how well associations collect data related to new or potential markets—learning about what their potential members need, understanding the demands of the market, and identifying what drives customer satisfaction.
Leaders should create an operations plan that gives the local operation enough autonomy to serve its customers, rather than adopt a top-down approach entirely governed by the U.S. office.
The associations that contributed to the research study averaged a rating of 40 out of 100 in their market insight maturity. Associations were most successful in developing informed product strategies—creating plans for entering markets by collecting information from local leaders, customers, and other in-market sources. On the other hand, ongoing data-collection efforts—a must for the long-term success of any global endeavor—remain a challenge. Smaller organizations (defined as those with less than 5,000 members) had markedly low scores in this area, likely because the commitment to continual intelligence-gathering requires significant resources.
Local Operations and Service Delivery Capacity
Local operations and service capacity captures how well associations apply the information they gather to establish a local delivery strategy. Success in this area often comes down to finding the right partners. Associations need partners that can help staff navigate issues related to local government, communications, and business. Leaders should also create an operations plan that gives the local operation enough autonomy to serve its customers, rather than adopt a top-down approach entirely governed by the U.S. office.
Out of the seven areas assessed, associations had the lowest scores in local operations and service delivery capacity, earning an average of 37 out of 100. Within this area, associations were most mature in their ability to establish market access through partnerships, but leaders struggled with communicating to local populations.
This is not surprising—market-specific communications are often developed after an organization is established in a market. Associations just starting to grow globally often create a single messaging strategy for all markets rather than customize strategies for each market. However, this approach can prevent organizations from effectively reaching their audiences, and missteps in communication can alienate potential members or customers. Globally mature associations delegate local communications to staff or partners working in each market, or they work closely with leaders who have the knowledge and ability to tailor communications to each market.
Association Global Maturity examines other essential hurdles to global growth, including leadership buy-in and strategic planning, but global-minded associations must develop real connections in foreign markets to achieve global maturity. Getting a foothold in new markets requires ongoing research, adjusting products and communications to fit the market, and establishing operations that ensure local staff and partners are aligned with, not hampered by, the association's leaders.
It's no wonder many associations find these activities challenging—local investments cost more and take longer—but they're essential to long-term success.