The Five Myths of System Selection

One of the most important services I provide my clients is helping them select a new association management system (AMS). Over the past 15 years I’ve helped hundreds of associations select new systems, and over that time I’ve heard a lot of claims made by both my clients and vendors about the process, and what the result of a new system selection process should be.

Here are five myths that every association executive should be aware of as they move through the selection process:

  1. You should consider as many systems as possible – There is a tendency to believe that if you cast a wide enough net, you’ll find the right system for your needs. So more is better, right? Actually, no. I advise my clients to consider no more than five different AMS systems when going through the selection process. There are many reasons for this, but the most important ones are:
    • Too many choices leads to analysis paralysis. There are scientific experiments that strongly suggest when humans are faced with too many choices, they typically choose to do nothing.
    • Each system is designed for a specific market segment, so there really aren’t 40 different potential solutions for your organization. (More about this below.)
    • Because not every system is a potential solution for your organization, it’s a tremendous waste of time to consider 40 different products.
  2. “All AMSes are the same” – I’ve heard association executives say words to this effect many times. After all, they all manage membership and events and committees, right? What more does an association need? Of course, nothing could be further from the truth. I keep tabs on more than 50 products designed for the association market and their functionality varies widely. Every system is NOT the same. Some systems are designed for specific market segments or specific sizes of organizations.
  3. Functionality is what matters, not user interface – This is one I hear from the vendors: “We’ve got all the functionality you need, why does it matter if the UI is ugly?” The reality is that a system is only as good as the staff that uses and manages it. And if the staff finds the user interface ugly or, worse, difficult to navigate, they will use the system little or not at all. Yes, functionality matters; but if your system takes 17 steps to add someone to a committee, I can guarantee staff won’t use it for committee management; they’ll use spreadsheets instead.
  4. A higher price means a better system – While there is some relationship between higher price and more functionality/configurability, price alone does not ensure a better system. There are several relatively low cost systems that provide quite a bit of functionality. At the same time there are some very expensive systems that would not be appropriate for some organizations.
  5. The perfect system will solve all of our problems – I like to call this “The Holy Grail” effect. Some organizations believe that if they just buy the right AMS, all of their problems will be solved; they will have found the Holy Grail. But the reality is, even the best technology cannot resolve bad business processes or poorly thought-through business rules. For example, if during your membership join process you ask a hundred questions unrelated to joining, no amount of technology will improve this process; you’re still asking too many questions. The fact is, many associations have problems with their database not because of which database they are using, but because of how they are using it (or not using it).
The selection process is a critical step in selecting a new AMS for your organization. Avoiding these myths will help you have a smoother and more successful system selection.


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