Launching a B2B membership proposition

launch B2B membership

How do you launch a successful B2B membership proposition?

At The Publishing Show we heard from three B2B media businesses who have launched membership propositions in a global pandemic. FT Forums, the Central Banking Institute from Info Pro, and Propolis from B2B Marketing. What have they learned along the way that can be applied to other B2B markets?

How FT Forums evolved their digital membership

FT Forums started as a CEO community in 2013 and developed into a series of 40 events a year in Europe and Asia. The Forums provide leaders, women in business, and due diligence professionals with top speakers and senior networking. The global pandemic halted in-person events, but virtual events attracted a much larger audience.

Simon Robbie, Operations Director at FT Forums, adapted formats to suit each audience. They include a mix of virtual panels, Q&As and weekly newsletters, and creating articles from online interviews. Member companies went from buying 10 tickets a year to buying 50 virtual licences. Some forums are now returning to smaller in-person formats, but others are staying virtual as members like the international reach. Simon is avoiding hybrid events, instead offering a range of in-person and digital options throughout the year, adapted for each community.

The Forums support the FT’s paid subscription drive, as they build engagement, and introduce new subscribers. The subscriber base in turn provides prospective new Forum members and encourages renewals. The Forums team have launched a new group, Climate Capital Council, designed for FT readers interested in climate content, and has recruited 4000 members in a matter of weeks. To date they have resisted sponsorship, with this new group funded by a premium membership package.

How InfoPro launched the Central Banking Institute

InfoPro’s central banking team provided content subscriptions, events, and training to central bank staff in 189 countries. The pandemic suspended all their in-person events as international travel became impossible. But it transformed their training business as customers became accustomed to on-demand virtual courses.

Ben Wood, MD, explained how they created a new membership proposition, the Central Banking Institute, including a new benchmarking service that allowed members to measure their performance against comparable peer central banks. The other key elements of the package were insights and training.

The membership package is in three tiers: Associate, Core and Governing, to cater for central banks with different budgets. The premium tiers gave members tools to customise the benchmarking service and access to the subject matter experts who compiled it. Previously a subscription was $10k pa, but the new tiers ranged from $45k to $130k pa for up to 100 users.

Launching in a pandemic was a challenge. Internal sales teams had to acquire the skills of pitching to large groups of decision makers over zoom and invest time in onboarding new users. But it has paid off. Revenue is up on 2019 levels, two-thirds is now on a recurring basis and margins have grown from >20% to >40%. The wider participation in virtual training is allowing more users per member to see the value of the package.

How B2B Marketing launched an expert community, Propolis

B2B Marketing is an independent publisher serving B2B Marketers. Their original business model included a magazine, digital subscriptions, training, and events, providing learning and connection for B2B marketers in multiple sectors. The pandemic forced events and training to go virtual, which broadened participation levels.

Susanna Kempe, Chair, explained how they researched pain points among their audience. B2B marketers found remote working made it harder to acquire knowledge and best practice, missed the support of their peer group and needed to prove the value of marketing to sceptical Boards.

They launched Propolis, an expert digital community providing real-time solutions from practitioners, consultants, and trainers. Articles, case studies, checklists and guides were created by the editorial team and categorised into topics for easy access. Propolis comprises eight “hives” covering topics like brand and content, CX and execution, appealing to different job roles and disciplines. Members can access both practical content and real time expertise in each hive.

Propolis replaces the magazine “wrapper” with all archive content housed in the platform, provided by community platform Zapnito. Individual subscriptions ranging from £395 to £1995 have been replaced by enterprise packages ranging from £12k to £36k. Currently it is purely for B2B marketers but exploring commercial options such as an agency directory or limited access for vendors.

Lessons in launching a B2B membership proposition

If you are considering launching a B2B membership proposition, what can you learn from these case studies?

  • Covid has changed behaviour for good. Virtual and on demand training is now the norm. International audiences are comfortable with learning and networking on virtual platforms, and more selective about travelling to in-person events
  • Every market is different; be aware that a membership proposition isn’t always the answer. There is no substitute for in-depth user research to understand pain points
  • Virtual events and training allow a wider range of users per company to attend. This supports higher value enterprise packages as more people can experience the value.
  • Audiences are receptive to paying for bundles of content, peer insights, networking, and training if they match their key pain points and solve problems.
  • Enterprise membership packages can create a virtuous feedback loop with subscriptions, as the FT has discovered
  • Involve the audience in product design, allow them to determine topics and categories and how they want to use tools like benchmarking
  • Consider tiers of membership to allow organisations of different sizes to participate. Plan the key benefits to persuade them to trade up to the next tier
  • Use off the shelf software if it does the job – custom builds are hard and slow
  • A strong membership proposition can replace the “wrapper” of a magazine, but quality content is still essential
  • Your internal team will need to develop new skills in selling enterprise membership and new customers may be high maintenance.

If you are planning to develop a membership proposition in your B2B market, do get in touch for an initial discussion about how these case studies can be applied to your business.

About the author

Carolyn Morgan has bought, sold, launched and grown specialist media businesses across print, digital and live events.  A founder of the Specialist Media Show (sold in 2014) she now advises media businesses large and small on their digital strategy through her consultancy Speciall Media.

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