Worried because people always ask you “What does a chamber of commerce do?”
Here’s why you shouldn’t be concerned and what you should focus on instead.
Sales trainers tell us it’s an easier sale when you concentrate on telling people how you help instead of educating them on the daily tasks, events and activities that you and your chamber staff do.
Imagine that you approach a business who has either never heard of you or they have no idea what a chamber of commerce is or does (“Aren’t you a government agency, or something?”). How long does the membership sale take versus someone who knew what the chamber does but was simply unclear on how it could help?
They will have to know, like, and trust you to join.
If they don’t know who (or what) you are, even if the benefits sound good, they won’t jump to join.
There is always some education necessary but that is easier if it is not on the general knowledge level and instead focuses on uncovering the intricacies of how you help.
Most sales training teaches us to illustrate that our offerings can:
- fix something that’s broken or
- solve a business challenge or
- keep something bad from happening
When it comes to the chamber, most membership people focus on solving a business challenge. It’s less gloomy than the last idea of keeping something bad from happening. But you can’t jump into any of these opportunities without talking about what a chamber of commerce does.
The Chamber Elevator Pitch
Often at chamber mixers, we talk about elevator pitches for business. They’re micro “commercials” that speak to who a business serves and how they help.
Elevator pitches are great because they cut through marketing language to get at the heart of an issue and get people interested. They’re a “hook” to business.
However, if you don’t know who you’re speaking to and what they need, you may be missing the mark when you give yours. When it comes to the chamber, you’re serving many businesses that are looking for many things. A Fortune 500 tech company that has moved its headquarters to your area wants something vastly different from the needs of a mom and pop bakery that has been in your area for a century.
The chamber elevator pitch for a large company moving into the area might go something like this:
The chamber of commerce can help strengthen your reputation in our town by giving you excellent photo opportunities and ways to interact with diverse groups within Smallville. While many people know your company as a large brand, they may question your connections and commitment. We can help you get involved and give, cultivating good will. Plus, we have a workforce development program that ensures you have the types of employees that will help make you successful. Would you like to come to one of our workforce need planning sessions for 2025? We’re working with the community to implement a program to ensure the skills that are most in demand are represented here in Smallville.
Now, imagine giving that same pitch to the mom and pop that had been there for a generation. It doesn’t fit, does it?
In fact, they’d wonder what you were talking about and probably say a firm “No thank you. We don’t need you.”
That’s why Frank Kenny suggests a different approach to the chamber elevator pitch. He advises, turn the question “What does a chamber of commerce do?” around and answer, “That depends on what our members need from us. Tell me a little about your business and I will share benefits we provide or problems we solve for businesses like yours.”
He suggests you gather information on their specific need before you jump in with an answer.
Chambers do way too many things to have just one answer to the question or just one elevator pitch for what it does. Chambers also do way too much to list everything they do. Your audience will zone out before you get to what can help their business.
However, you don’t want to retire your elevator pitch. You simply need to tailor the pitch around the business’ needs and you need to train your staff, your board, and your ambassadors to do the same.
Does Your Board Know What the Chamber of Commerce Does?
That’s a funny question. Your board is part of drafting your strategic plan and shaping the direction of the chamber. Board members are a visible extension of the chamber as leaders within the community. And yet, you may be surprised by the number of them who don’t quite exactly know what the chamber does.
The board’s “chamber education” is critical because without it, they may only understand the part of the chamber they use or have experience with. If your board is largely homogenous in the size of businesses it represents, what the board thinks your chamber does and what you actually do can be far removed.
Have you seen those memes that have the six boxes with captions reading “What I do,” “What my mom thinks I do,” “What my friends think I do”…?
Your board’s view of the chamber can be a lot like this and they may have a very limited view of what you do.
A good way to ensure your board knows what the chamber does is to cover one elevator pitch per board meeting. Again, the chamber should have multiple types of pitches based on the needs of the business. Each board meeting you can cover a new need. For instance, in one meeting you may cover how the chamber helps a new business build a reputation. The next meeting you may talk about the chamber addressing hiring needs or workforce development.
It’s essential you understand what your board knows about you. While it may be surprising that someone would volunteer for the chamber board without knowing what the chamber does, it happens more often than you would think.
After all, the chamber has a stellar reputation in the business community and some board members want to be associated with that without fully understanding everything it is that you do.
Keep these strategies in mind and you’ll be perfectly prepared the next time someone says “What does a chamber of commerce do anyway?”