Tonnis van Dam

Why All Successful Associations Benchmark

The short answer to this question is that benchmarking helps associations give precisely what businesses need to measure, predict and grow. How does a company know that they are relatively successful or not? The only way for them to know is based on how much the industry has grown and how well their nearest competitors are doing. So, business and industry associations are in a unique position to give members this information while not having to reveal otherwise confidential information.

Benchmarking helps businesses formulate a strategy based on how well their old plan is working. Associations that conduct and publish annual benchmarks of essential factors, in essence, helping their members finetune to their business strategy. In the long-term, it helps to contribute to the growth of the industry as a whole. In also works in favour of the association as it helps to draw new members. The more members, the better the benchmarking results.

How Should Associations Start?

As an association, you need to know your place in the industry is to create awareness amongst members and help their businesses grow. While associations are responsible for many different types of business support tasks benchmarking should be one of them. Though in some industries it is up to the association to create awareness of their importance in the benchmarking process.

The mindset of an association matters a great deal when it comes to offering members benchmarking. The right approach will add value, and that value translates to member loyalty and growth. Associations who are trying to get into benchmarking should trust themselves good enough to do it. Sure, it takes some getting used to but believing that you can do it is a significant first step.

Once the mindset is in place, other aspects of the process can start falling inline albeit slowly. For instance, it will take most associations time to:

  • Hire the right staff for the job
  • Decide which aspects of the industry to benchmark
  • Decide on the best benchmarking model
  • Draft a list of questions for the benchmarking
  • Schedule a date for the benchmarks
  • Take in member feedback about the benchmarks

Tip: Creating awareness takes time. An association shouldn’t embark on a one day or two-day long goal of creating awareness amongst member business. Instead, it should be a six months long process. Part of the process should be to show member businesses examples of how benchmarking contributed to the success for others.

Associations Monetizing Benchmarks?

Well, the reason it makes good sense and all the effort worth it is it will help to generate revenue. Nothing is stopping an association for charging members a small fee once they get a taste of how productive the benchmarks can be for their business. Though the more members are on board during the first trial runs the higher your chances being able to monetize the benchmarks.

Some associations may also try their hands at getting a sponsor. Businesses will often be willing to sponsor a benchmark in exchange for something like their advertising being included in the results. Mostly a related industry will benefit from it. For instance, in the car rental industry the benchmarks could be sponsored by an auto manufacturer because these rental companies are such big clients that it makes sense.

However, benchmarking shouldn’t be only about making money, it should also be about giving businesses a way to measure their success. Help the industry grow further, and most of all help increase membership.

Secret to Benchmarking Success

While there is no real secret to benchmarking success except for using the right parameters and benchmarking model. The fact is that despite all of that associations may think they haven’t gotten a very good response. Some associations despite their best efforts may not see members wanting to participate in the process; other members may shy away from providing the required information. When the participation ratio is low, it can have an adverse effect on the benchmarking data.

We have seen from personal experience that benchmarking is only successful if the members ask the association to do it. Also, if the association sees that member businesses are struggling without it and offer the service as a way to help them. Benchmarking like many products was created to solve a problem, but if companies don’t see themselves as having that problem they see no use for benchmarking. That’s why we emphasize so much on creating awareness and how instrumental an association can be in the process.

Define a why? For the Benchmarking

Do your members understand why you are running benchmarks? Do they know why it is essential? If they know this then there is a good chance that you’ll have no problem gathering data, and even getting funding for the project.

Associations, for the most part, do benchmarking because they see it helping members. They want to help the industry improve and to deliver the right information. If anything, this should be the mission and the goal of any association. But there are other reasons worth considering.

Benchmarking when done right can also help show how undeniably significant an association can be to businesses. When members see this, the association rises in value since there are more members who want to join. So, acquiring new members is very easy. Though these are reasons that associations shouldn’t talk about with members. Instead, associations should focus on how businesses can benefit because that’s of the most important to them.

Take the ASAE (Advancing Foundation) for instance, which regularly collects benchmarking data from various areas of the industry. They will collect data about operation costs, benefits, functional area policies, investments, and procedures, etc. While the purpose is to obviously provide high-quality benchmarks for the associations, the reason why the foundation is able to do this is that associations look up to them for this information. That’s because association leaders have found that good decisions can only be made with the results of this data.

Fun Fact: According to Simon Sinek, starting out with a why is essential. Businesses know that there are two ways of influencing a human being or in particular their behaviour. You can either inspire or manipulate it. Most manipulation is done via pricing, by creating peer pressure, fears and focusing on how the features address those concerns. Though manipulation can’t lead to loyal buyers or clients, just one-timers at most. That’s where influencing works best for which associations are in the best position to do in most industries.

Helps to Inspire and Motivate

A successful association will use the results from recent benchmarking projects to implement the findings within the core of the association’s policies. The new ideas will help the association inspire their own team and give people an opportunity to reflect, get excited about planning something new and clarify what wasn’t already clear. Not only does it give the association a chance for self-reflection but also engage in coming up with best practices that work. If anything, that will give rise to further opportunities which can be used to help grow the association and consequently the businesses too.

Successful associations will benchmark each year as a means to continuously improve. New research, ideas, improved partner expectations, and evolving members help to provide a proper context for growth. That growth is by no means limited to just the association, its members and the industry they belong to but also those related to it. Which means a far-reaching influence.

Helps to Track Trends

Benchmarking figures are often used to support the industry in making key decisions. Take compensation benchmarking for instance, which compares things like benefits, insurance, net salary commission, etc. into consideration. The resulting data helps business owners and CEOs make critical decisions in terms of who to hire and what to offer them. It may also influence their decision as to what steps to take in order to retain the present staff and how to reward them Obviously if the mean salary across the industry is shown to rise, employees may feel motivated to jump ship. That, in turn, makes retaining them a challenge as much as it is an expense.

Another compensation study, for instance, found that the costs associated with healthcare has risen by 8% percent from 2016 to 2018, and around 7.5% percent from 2019 to 2021. Associations can use this data to keep an eye and track these trends. Following the trends will help to build projection models for the industry.

Note: The one crucial thing to keep in mind is that there will be fluctuations in terms of benefits and compensation which can be because of various factors. These factors can include the changing profile of those being surveyed. So, some aspects of the benchmarking KPIs may be harder to nail down and thus aren’t definitive. Perhaps the most effective use of benchmarking is for associations to compare data sourced from multiple sources. In the case of industry compensation, that data can be read in a larger context like the median income increase year on year in a state, city or country. Also the influence of inflation on the need to increase compensation.

Because it is Easy!

Sure, many associations will have to work pretty hard to pull all the resources together to start running benchmarks. It also takes a fair amount of time and money to get things started depending on the industry. However, collecting the data and crunching the numbers are best suited at the association level of the industry. Individual businesses don’t have the time, money or competence to conduct such benchmarks. Also, even if they did, other companies wouldn’t trust them with their data. Why in the world would one business share their compensation information for instance with the competition?

Member businesses for the most part trust associations. Also, associations may already be gathering all the key data but not using it for benchmarking. So, they are already set up to succeed. That’s why this type of information gathering and benchmarking is something only associations are best suited for in the industry. But there is an exception!

Associations who are in an industry where member businesses are not interested in benchmarking can’t offer much. The same goes for industries where the association itself isn’t trusted because there are larger competitors. Many times, member businesses would have their differences with the association. Even in that case conducting benchmarks can become impossible.

Tip: Associations that are made up of upwards of 50% of the industry as their members are best suited for benchmarking. Any fewer and there will not be enough data. Though more is always good.


Successful associations know what their members want. They also know how to create awareness and influence member businesses. Also, the associations know the industry as good if not better than their members. So, their wisdom has been trusted and tested which makes them indispensable to businesses. In most cases, these associations should be able to provide an excellent benchmarking service which benefits everyone.

Speaking of running successful benchmarks associations shouldn’t overlook the delivery of the results. Delivering the benchmarking stats and results to members can be done in many different ways like via the internet. Also, thorough reports and analysis can be appended to the results which help businesses use that data more efficiently. Training member businesses in using the data can also go a pretty long way. The more an association does the more value it adds to members. All of which directly contributes to the association’s success.  

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