Buyers' Guide 2.0

By: Eric Hill

Learn more about the Enterprise Wireless Alliance's newest nondues generator and membership recruitment and retention strategy: an online buyers' guide that's more than listings.

What's a trade association supposed to do to generate additional nondues revenue when it's already providing exhibit and advertising opportunities for its vendor members? That's the issue we were tasked with solving at the Enterprise Wireless Alliance a few years ago.

As background, EWA is a 501(c)(6) comprised of both a nonprofit trade association and a for-profit business. The for-profit side helps companies obtain commercial wireless service licenses from the Federal Communications Commission, while the trade association (with our staff of four) champions the needs of businesses large and small using wireless communications.

As we were brainstorming ways to generate revenue, we kept coming back to a service predicament. We thought about how many phone calls we received over the years from members asking us who to buy equipment from, who we would recommend for a particular service, or how to deploy a certain technology solution. Our members trusted us to give them good advice, but we wanted to stay as impartial as possible. Recommending one vendor over another put us in a tricky position, but we had to find a way to provide members and companies with the tools to help them.

We wanted to build what I like to call a buyers' guide on steroids.

The idea of an online-only buyers' guide was tossed around. While we liked the prospect of vendors paying for listings to be part of it, we didn't think that was enough. Plus, there were enough buyers' guides that did this already. We wanted to give our members something extra, something that allowed them to do research and learn about technologies and the vendors that provided such solutions. We wanted to build what I like to call a "buyers' guide on steroids," or as we've called it, the Enterprise Wireless Solutions Center.

What this will be is a research library that allows members to search for information about wireless technologies and then find the vendors who would help them achieve the results. For example, we've been asked how to deploy wireless monitoring systems on school and metropolitan buses, how to configure industrial-grade wireless LANs in campus and multi-building settings, and how to track rescue workers in disaster settings. Why not offer answers to these and other kinds of questions through our Solutions Center?

To get the ball rolling, we solicited feedback from members about what they would like to see, and I spoke to vendors at the 2009 Association Technology Conference. After that, I talked to a few of the larger buyers' guide and virtual exhibit-show providers. In the end, we determined that our needs were too unique for off-the-shelf software, so we decided to custom build our own website. The advantage was that we would have more control.

Small-Staff Stats

Name: Enterprise Wireless Alliance
Location: McLean, VA, and Gettysburg, PA
Staff size: 4 (in the trade association arm)
Members: 1,200

The Solutions Center concept is pretty straightforward: Vendors purchase one of three listings, and in return, they get leads from users registering under a particular solution category. Users can search by topic and can make a wiser decision about a vendor thanks to the different types of vendor-supplied content. The Solutions Center content will include things like industry best practices, archived webinars, news articles, and product guides. The system is flexible enough that we are able to add as many categories of content and types of solutions as we need in the future. For users that need a little extra help, they can contact EWA and engage us to help them with developing cost-benefit analyses, requests for proposals, and other services to help them choose the right vendor.

When we launch the Solutions Center this summer, we expect an initial 50 vendors to take part and then grow to a few hundred. We are confident that it will be well received not only by our current members but also by prospective members, because so many businesses are using and looking to wireless technologies for their particular needs. We want the Solutions Center to be the seven-by-24 resource members can use to get help.

Using the Solutions Center, we will also be able to bundle other advertising opportunities in with the listings, such as the ability to place ads in our newsletter or on our website, and prospect for new exhibitors for our annual conference. We estimate that this buyers' guide on steroids and its related services will have a net income of more than $200,000, thanks to what differentiates it from ordinary guides: content.

Eric Hill is vice president of business solutions at the Enterprise Wireless Alliance. Email: [email protected]