Why associate with associations?

Strategic marketing is built upon the quantity and quality of names written down in that “little black book”. To coin an overused cliché, it’s all about who you know. That means it’s important to fill up your database file (Rolodex, Microsoft Outlook address book, ACT or SalesForce) with as many prospective clients, industry professionals, mentors and business partners as possible.

And gathering contacts is all about three things: networking, networking and networking. However, you cannot simply go to a Web site and sign up for a contact subscription list. Building relationships takes time. And most movers and shakers or designated sales/marketing targets don’t hang out at the same place.

Or do they?

It’s a good bet that many – if not most – are members of some kind of professional association. An association serves as a meeting place where professionals who share a common interest can connect and discuss their mutual ambitions.

It’s also a great way to meet new clients.

For example, let’s say Do-It-Yourself Inc., a fictitious company that manufactures software for self-service food ordering deli kiosks, joins the Self-Service & Kiosk Association. That association accepts two types of members: self-service vendors (companies that manufacture the kiosk hardware and software) and self-service deployers (companies that purchase self-service kiosks to deploy in their stores.)

The membership advantages to Do-It-Yourself are numerous. Representatives of the software company might interact with reps from a kiosk hardware company and a new partnership might be born.

But most importantly, membership would drop them into the middle of a beehive of deployer members – prospective clients – who are all looking to meet the key players in the industry in the hopes of finding a technology vendor to help them with their project.

There are associations for practically every profession out there. Restaurants have the National Restaurant Association. Food and nutrition experts have the American Dietetic Association. The International Air Transport Association serves professionals who work in the aviation industry.

Most of these associations have a modest membership fee. In addition to networking, they can lend credence to your company’s professional credentials. Many provide certifications, and most have association logos you can add to your company’s Web site to show off your membership.

Wherever you join, get involved. Attend association functions. Serve on a committee. If the association has a blog, ask if you can contribute columns. The exposure will raise your visibility – and that means you may have to buy another Rolodex.