I’ve had the opportunity to work on well over 100 AMS selection and implementation projects over the past 16 years. During that time I’ve seen and learned quite a bit about many of the risks that associations face when selecting and implementing a new association management system. Here I highlight some of the key points of risk during the selection phase of the project. (I’ll discuss risk points of implementation in my next article.)
- Not knowing about all the different association management systems that are available. I get calls from associations that have selected and implemented a new association management system, but are struggling to make the system work for them. Too often, after some discussion about the challenges they are having, I discover that the association is using a system that is not well-matched for their needs. But why did they choose a poorly-matched system? Because they weren’t aware of the many different systems that were available to them, and they chose the one they knew about that fit their budget.Depending on how you count, there are anywhere from 40 to over 100 different software packages designed for membership management. It is nearly impossible for anyone to know and understand every product on the market, which means you have to be very careful and thorough about identifying products that are most likely to address your association’s needs.
You can start by reviewing my list of AMS providers, available here. Second, contact colleagues of yours who work in membership organizations similar to yours and ask them about any products they’re aware of. And finally, join ASAE and/or your local SAE and use their community to identify potential products and vendors.
- Overlooking important functionality (or focusing too much on minor functionality). I worked with an association that had switched AMS packages only to discover that a key piece of functionality they were seeking was not available in the package they had selected. They had gone through the entire selection and implementation process (without me) only to discover after go-live that their most important process (in this case, being able to buy membership and register for the annual meeting at the same time) could not be accommodated. And so now they were calling me to help them move to a new system.Too often during the selection process, key processes or key functionality is missed, either because the association failed to raise the issue appropriately or the vendor (possibly willingly) ignored the need, hoping to make a sale. In addition to identifying all of the data your association needs to manage, you also need to be sure you understand how that data needs to be managed. And all of this has to be clearly communicated to the vendors being considered, so that they can give you complete and honest answers to if and how their system can manage the data and processes.I’ve also seen associations choose systems based on needs that weren’t terribly important but were “really cool.” For example, one association I talked to had chosen an AMS package based on its ability to cross-sell and upsell products online, but the association really didn’t have that many products to sell. So even though the system could cross-sell and upsell, that functionality wasn’t really helping the association much, and other more important functionality was missing or substandard.
- Unclear objectives for what the AMS should help the association do (i.e., what you are trying to achieve, from a business perspective, with a new system). The first question you should ask yourself when considering a new AMS is “How will a new system help us advance our mission?” Everything you do and all the data you manage should focus on that. And your technology should support that.Once you understand how using your AMS can advance your mission, then you’re ready to identify data and functionality the AMS should bring in order to make it the most effective tool for your organization. Just like point #2 above, if your objectives are unclear, you’re likely to choose a product that has great and exciting functionality but one that won’t necessarily serve your purposes
These are just three of the risk points you face when selecting a new AMS. But addressing just these three will take you a long way toward selecting the right system for your organization.
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