Case Study:
Greater Westside Board Of Trade

Sector: Non-Profit Association

Create a new service to provide unique value to the members of a Chamber Of Commerce to reduce churn and increase membership without increasing strain on the Chamber’s maxed out resources.
The creation of the Ask The Expert series, a members-only service where participants engage in a “speed-dating” version of a mentor program, getting personal access to a diverse group of local business leaders in a single evening.
1 year ago, Leslie and Justin left their careers in the big city (Leslie was a sales manager for a large tech company and Justin was a freelance software developer). They packed everything up, including their young son, sold their condo and moved to West Kelowna to open their dream business, a small craft cidery.

A year later and their business is growing steadily. They are meeting their initial revenue targets but are admittedly losing sleep at night worrying about how and where to invest their limited time, money, and energy in the local community to continue to grow their business. With so many unfamiliar options for support, from business consultants, coaches, associations and other business support organizations, they find it a real challenge knowing who to trust and what to do.

Leslie and Justin’s experience is typical of small to mid-size business owners across Canada. With the unprecedented change in customer expectations over the last decade, the explosion of mobile devices and other digital technologies, and oversaturation of business development vendors, business owners are overwhelmed with choices. It is in this confusing and crowded landscape that the local Chamber of Commerce struggles to maintain relevancy and provide value to its membership.

Recognizing the need to do something different in this new business climate, the Chamber of Commerce for West Kelowna, the Greater Westside Board Of Trade, approached Nucleus Strategies with a question:

Can design thinking be used to help increase membership numbers?

To ensure the work was human-centred, the collaboration began with extensive research into the needs, challenges, and perceptions of current and past members, and other non-member businesses in the area. Nucleus Strategies hosted a number of focus groups, feedback sessions, surveys, interviews, and collected feedback at the popular networking events offered by the Board Of Trade.

This exploration revealed a few important themes:

  • Businesses new to the area, especially those less than 3 years old, were the most vulnerable to leaving the GWBOT after only 1-2 years of membership.
  • The #1 challenge for all members, and non-members, was the overwhelming amount of options for business development.
  • The GWBOT was universally held as a trustworthy source of information on quality, local vendors, partners, and supporting organizations.

However, it was also clear that most members often felt they were too busy to reach out for advice. Even more important, they felt the advice they needed was multi-faceted, requiring a diverse set of resources to answer.

Given the information uncovered during our exploration, the GWBOT and Nucleus Strategies redefined the problem:

Can we use design thinking to connect local business owners with the proper resources for business development, while respecting the scarcity of time of all involved and the need for a diverse knowledge base?

Building on the insights and feedback from the research, Nucleus Strategies led a team of members, GWBOT staff and Directors to brainstorm different approaches to solving the problem. After a number of different ideation, prioritizing, and vetting workshops the team settled on two prototypes.

The first idea was a simple Mentor Program where members could apply to be paired with more experienced local business owners to ask advice, etc. The second idea was an Ask The Expert event based around the idea of “speed dating”, where attendees would have access to a number of different experts in one evening. Nucleus Strategies prepared simple landing pages and infographics for each prototype to test the concepts.

After testing the two prototype concepts in a number of different feedback sessions, the results were clear: the Ask The Expert event was the winner by a large margin. Member feedback was skeptical of the process of the traditional Mentor Program, feeling it would be too hard to match people with any degree of usefulness. Many members felt it would require too much commitment from both the mentor and mentee. Furthermore, a number of members pointed out that limiting the connection to only one mentor would result in a limited range of advice, which was contrary to the needs identified in the exploratory phases of the engagement.

Conversely, the Ask The Expert event was viewed very positively. Feedback was optimistic, as members generally felt this type of event would both respect their lack of time and ability to commit, while offering access to a diverse set of knowledge. It was nearly unanimous: the Ask The Expert event was the best solution to the problem.

Taking the feedback from the prototype sessions, Nucleus Strategies and the team from the GWBOT set out to design and implement a complete experience for the Ask The Expert event. After first developing a unique set of Design Principles, the team created a comprehensive Service Blueprint for event, identifying and organizing the assets and resources required to execute the concept.

The event itself was designed to keep an intimate feel and provide personal access to each expert by grouping members together in small numbers, no more than 4, and sitting them at a table with an expert for 10 mins. Each member had 10 mins to ask 1 question each of the expert. Once the time expired, the group moved to the next expert table, and so on until the group had met every single expert (we capped the number of experts at 10, and members at 40). Once the question period was complete, the event had 30 mins of networking time for members to exchange contact information with experts with whom they wanted to follow up.

The initial response from our call for local experts and members was so overwhelming that before the first event happened we had enough interest to organize a second event to follow. The first event was a massive success and the team collected feedback from both experts and attendees alike, incorporating key insights into the second iteration. The Ask The Expert event has become a key value driver for GWBOT members, especially ones new to the area.

Whether it’s a heads-down sprint or a year-long partnership, let's figure out a custom program to achieve your goals.

Let's Talk Options