Professional associations tend to have two primary sets of relationships, members and vendors. Members come to you for industry knowledge and insights, something that wouldn't be possible without a working relationship with vendors and suppliers. It's important to put time into your vendor engagement strategy as they create value beyond their services.

Transitioning vendors into thought leaders helps break down the silos that separate information from groups within your industry. Having access to this info means your members are able to learn it directly from you or your vendor, placing both of you in positions of informational authority. But how can vendors make an impact as thought leaders for your association?

1. Bringing Unique Ideas to the Table

Association leaders are turned to in times of change in an industry, but it can be difficult to accurately gauge all aspects of a situation from one side. Vendors you've worked with on thought leadership can use their own personal experience in the industry to give a fresh perspective. This could be anything from a solution that can be modified for a new issue to sharing developments in various parts of the industry.

Cultivating these connections furthers the rapport with vendors to allow for long-term, mutually beneficial relationships.

2. Creating a Consistent Industry Experience

A key reason professional associations exist is to provide support and standards for members operating within a specific industry. When an organization is shopping around for an association to join, the value they receive as members needs to go beyond networking opportunities. As experts in their industry, vendors you work with as thought leaders can be used to give your association more reach and consistency.

If a member attends an event and spends time talking to a vendor that shares your same vision, they'll think of both parties whenever one comes up in discussion. They know they'll receive the same level of support and professionalism whether it's with your association or the vendors you've chosen to become thought leaders.

3. Providing Industry Insights

The fuel behind a vendor's fresh perspective is the insights they gain in their day-to-day work. From production to logistics, vendors have their hands in nearly every step of the process when it comes to industry products and services. Typically this data is only used internally as many assume that's all the value it has. The truth is that an interconnected system, such as a trade industry, can use these insights to create better tools and procedures that elevate the industry as a whole.

A more focused approach takes these insights to create solutions for your members. Perhaps a vendor routinely has excess materials and a member mentions a need they have in production that the materials could satisfy. Because you've worked with this vendor as a thought leader, you can connect them to the member.

Now you've created value for the member and vendor through fulfillment solutions, reduced waste costs for the vendor, and furthered your position as an industry leader and authority your members can count on.

4. Engaging with Members

Another way vendors create value as thought leaders is through member engagement. You'll likely find engagement happening on social media platforms where the vendor uses their following to share industry news and updates. When their page is about relevant, valuable content, their audience will often share their passion for the industry. These are ideal for member recruitment as it attracts new organizations without pushing them into a sales pitch.

Outside of social media are more traditional publications such as white papers and industry blogs. Both attract individuals with similar professional interests who can then discuss the content outside of the webpage or email it was read in.

For those who prefer to share their knowledge out loud, webinars and speaking engagements may be the better starting point. In either case, be sure to tag them in relevant posts or opportunities to ensure they're benefiting from the partnership as well.

5. Becoming Members Themselves

Depending on the industry you're in and your association's guidelines, having vendors join as members can make their role as a thought leader more official. As a member, they'll be able to see what it's like from a new point of view and take that with them when they resume the role of vendor. Even with just one or two reliable thought leaders in your mix, you'll be able to learn more about how the industry views your association and what problems may need addressed.

Association membership with a vendor-turned-thought-leader highlights the commitment both parties are making. A long-term relationship such as this carries more weight compared to partnering with an influencer who has no industry knowledge or authority.

Find What Works Best for You

Every industry and relationship is different, which means thought leadership won't always look the same between associations. Some industries have much more mainstream exposure and therefore a larger audience, but having a smaller crowd to interact with can lead to higher-quality membership inquiries. Regardless of industry size, thought leaders need to be industry experts who are familiar with your associations' mission and share that with their followers.

Remember, consistency is key. Invest time into your thought leaders and work on getting your name spoken with only the utmost respect within your industry.