At the recent ASAE Tech Conference, I spoke about the process of selecting a new association management system (AMS). One of the points I emphasized during this presentation was that associations need to understand that when they purchase a new AMS, they are not simply buying a product; they are also buying a relationship with the vendor that supports the AMS.
Buying an AMS is not like buying a car; it’s like getting married. In fact, if you want to be like my most successful clients, you’ll treat your relationship with your AMS vendor much like you (should) treat your marriage. The most successful marriages, and the most successful vendor relationships, have these things in common:
Trust that each has the other’s best interest in mind
In a truly successful marriage, there is no suspicion about the other’s motives. Each believes the other has in mind the best interests of both parties. The same is true for your relationship with your vendor. Your vendor wants you to be a long-term client, because we all know long-term customers are more valuable and profitable. You have to believe that the vendor isn’t out to gouge you or trick you into buying things you don’t need.
Example: A very smart AMS vendor approached one of our mutual clients and explained how their new email delivery system could replace the association’s current email program, thus saving them money and providing a much more direct link between email delivery and the AMS. The association reviewed the tool and agreed it would serve quite well as a replacement. The result was a savings of several thousand dollars annually.
Honesty, openness, and transparency
Ask any counselor what’s most important in a marriage, and they’ll tell you it’s honesty and openness, what is popularly called “transparency” these days. To have a really successful relationship with your AMS vendor, you need to be honest, open, and transparent. That means telling them what your expectations are and also telling them when they’ve failed to meet your expectations. One of the most common traps associations fall into is not speaking up quickly enough to their AMS vendor about unresolved issues. The longer these issues go unresolved, the more they fester and create resentment, which leads to mistrust and less transparency.
Example: A client was having trouble with the project manager assigned by the AMS vendor. After weeks of trying to correct the issues, the client asked the AMS vendor to assign a new project manager. This led to some delays in the project, but the result is a much better project manager and a much happier staff at the association. By speaking up, they gave the vendor an opportunity to address the problem.
We’re more successful together than apart
A good marriage works because 1 + 1 is greater than 2. The synergy of two like-minded people can create amazing results that the two people working alone could not achieve. And so it is with your organization and your AMS vendor. If you work with your vendor, keeping them informed of your needs, and understanding what they’re working on moving forward, together you can achieve remarkable things.
Example: One of my clients schedules quarterly luncheons with the executives from their AMS vendor to discuss what is going on at the association as well as understand what the AMS vendor is up to. These luncheons are intentionally NOT focused on past problems or current projects, but rather what new initiatives each is working on.
A willingness to forgive
In any marriage, both individuals are going to make mistakes along the way. Some mistakes will be bigger than others, but the key to long-term success is a willingness to forgive the other for the mistakes they’ve made. The same holds true when working with your AMS vendor. At some point along the way, your vendor is going to make mistakes (probably more than one!). But assuming they own up to the mistake, and make amends for it, you have to be willing to forgive them for that mistake.
Example: One of my clients had an AMS vendor make a serious mistake on the rollout of their website. The result was a lot of embarrassment to the association. The AMS vendor took ownership of the mistake and offered my client a year’s worth of support for free, as a show of good faith. My client accepted the offer and continues to work with successfully with the vendor.
“Work” the Marriage
The purchase of an AMS is not like buying a used car or new computer. You’re buying the company behind the software. And like a good marriage, if you want the relationship to last, you have to put effort into that relationship. Keeping these four points in mind will help you have a successful and very long relationship with your AMS vendor.
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