Who's Your Competition for Professional Development Products?

Elkins-Competition for PD Products February 22, 2024 By: Diane Elkins

Your association has expertise—and lots of it! When planning PD initiatives, you can’t just focus on expertise and instructional design—you have to consider product design. And part of product design is understanding who your competition is.

Well guess what? Other groups have those same motivations (especially the financial ones), and they might be coming after your learners.

LinkedIn Learning, colleges and universities, and even state-level associations might all be creating professional development (PD) products targeting your members. How do you compete?

When planning PD initiatives, you can’t just focus on expertise and instructional design—you have to consider product design. And part of product design is understanding who your competition is, why your customers might be drawn to those competitors, and how you can provide more value.

Who Are Your Competitors?

I posed this question to the PD Professionals group on Collaborate, and here are some of the answers they gave:

  •       Large, commercial, off-the-shelf education providers, such as LinkedIn Learning or Udemy
  •       Overlapping associations (those in a similar field with a slightly different focus)
  •       Consultants (companies or individuals)
  •       Publishers
  •       Manufacturers and other suppliers
  •       State associations
  •       Internal training at large organizations
  •       Academic institutions
  •       Vendor partners/sponsors
  •       Other departments within your own association (conferences vs. education)
  •       Other for-profit or non-profit groups

If you want to create a competitive product, you’ll need to know who your competition is and why your learners might be drawn to them.

Why Might Your Learners Be Drawn to Them?

Why would your members turn to one of these other organizations instead of you? Here are some of the top reasons from the ASAE PD community.


Your competitors may have lower price points—sometimes much lower. The difference can be exacerbated when you consider the total cost of attending. For out-of-town events, there are costs around travel, child care, elder care and pet care.

Jennifer Weed, Vice President of Learning Innovation and Brand Strategy for the California Society of CPAs said their biggest competitor is non-association training providers specializing in their industry. Many of those other courses are low cost—and low quality.

Jack Coursen, Senior Director, ASHA Professional Development at the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association has competitors who offer their content for free. This group includes manufacturers of commonly used products in the industry, and the free training is part of the value they provide when selling their equipment.


Building quality professional development products isn’t always easy, fast, or cheap. Some of these organizations may be spending more time and effort into developing great products than you can. Associations might win the game of having the best experts, but if that expertise is packaged up in a droning talking head video or hundreds of bullet point slides, learners are going to look elsewhere for something more engaging.


Your competitors might have offerings that are easier to find, buy, and/or attend. That might mean being local, being virtual, being at a more convenient time.

Breadth of Offerings

Your members might be going somewhere else because you don’t offer what they need. Perhaps you don’t offer it at all or you don’t offer it where and when they need it. (See convenience.)


According to a 2023 report from the Boston Consulting Group, 25% of employees surveyed stated they have a disability or health condition that limits activities of daily life. They surveyed 28,000 employees across 16 countries. These are learners who might need closed captioning, good color contrast, and other accessibility features in live and online events. If your PD offerings don’t have these features baked in, they’ll go somewhere else.

So How Do You Compete?

Don’t Compete on Price

Jeff Cobb, Managing Director at Tagoras and co-host of the Leading Learning Podcast, says don’t do it—it’s a losing battle. “Someone else will always be willing to offer something cheaper.” For some of your competitors, training might even be a loss leader, warns Debra Zabloudil, Chief Product Officer at ASAE.

Amy Morrisey, President of Artisan E-Learning, says the price/quality conversation has gotten more important in the last year. “It’s now quicker and easier than ever to create bad training. Just fire up AI, plug in a topic, and BAM! You get mediocre content in seconds.” If a competitor is willing to take that output as-is and sell it, you don’t have a hope of competing on price.

Instead, look for ways to differentiate and maximize the value you provide. “Don’t let the competition control your pricing,” says Jeff Cobb.

Work With Other Departments

Jeff Cobb cites ASAE’s Decision to Learn report that says one of the biggest indicators as to whether someone decides to participate in professional development opportunities is the strength of their affiliation with the association. High member engagement drives sales of educational products. Look for ways to partner with other departments at your organization to to elevate overall engagement.

Make Frenemies

As the saying goes, if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em? Could you partner with an overlapping association where you have shared content and interests? Instead of splitting the market, you can combine resources to create something great that both parties can use. If there’s high-quality third-party content already out there, can you license it? These approaches can be especially helpful when the content is important to your members but somewhat tangential to your association’s core focus.

Leverage Your Strengths

Your competition might be willing to work cheaper. They might have deeper pockets and can create something really slick. They might be nimble and can get to market faster than you. (Volunteer task-force anyone?) But you likely have the best access to the top voices in the field. According to Debra Zabloudil, “associations are the unbiased source of the best information and content available in any profession.”

Lean in to how you can bring the best minds together to provide real value. Jeff Cobb suggests having a dedicated role at your organization responsible for managing subject-matter expert relationships. “If you are THE association, then you have THE people.”

Solve Their Problems

Expertise is not enough. As Amy Morrisey puts it, “Your learners aren’t looking to sound smarter at a cocktail party. They aren’t trying to win at trivia night. And they don’t want to drink from your fire hose.” Your learners want help dealing with the situations they are likely to face on the job. If you solve people’s problems, if you ease their pain, they will come to rely on you for their professional development.

You can learn more from Diane, Debra, and Jeff, along with many other industry leaders at ASAE’s special one-day event, Learning by Association: Launching Successful Professional Development Initiatives on April 18, 2024 in Washington, DC. Register today!


Diane Elkins

Diane Elkins is Co-Founder of Artisan E-Learning and Chair of the ASAE Professional Development Advisory Council