We all know what happens when we go grocery shopping with an empty stomach instead of a list. You have a definite need, you have a general concept of what you’ll buy, and you end up wandering the aisles and leaving with a bag full of random snacks (yes, I do need that chocolate tuxedo cake for lunch!).
That same danger of the undefined list can—and will—impact the buying process for new membership software. In order to start the shopping process, you need to know exactly what you’re shopping for and it needs to fit within your shopping budget. You need to have a list. And in the case of association management software, your list is a needs assessment.
As you build your list, you’ll need to clearly articulate every business process and every system need. Each of the requirements you’ll have has an effect on membership software pricing: some of those could drive cost up, and some of those could drive costs down.
Saving (and Spending) Dollars Are in the Details
This is why it’s so important to be specific. Let’s say you’re a trade organization, and you put a requirement down for membership that says, “Must support trade membership.” Well, nearly every system out there probably supports trade memberships, so the vendors you’re talking with will all mark that as stock functionality.
But let’s say we dig deeper and find out that the actual requirement is that your trade organization has memberships that trickle down from the parent organization to every employee of every child organization. And, in addition, the trade organization’s dues are based on annual revenue and renew on an annual basis. Now, that might be supported out of the box by some systems (like Aptify) but others might require configuration or customization to get this to work, which would drive an additional cost. This is why being specific is crucial to defining your requirements.
To dig into the details, you may want to enlist the help of a trusted advisor, like a selection consultant. Or, if you feel comfortable with some of the vendors you’re considering, you may want to seek their advice on building an RFP, as they can meet with you early on in the sales process and can share best practices with you. There are also RFP toolkits you can consult to start building a full proposal.
How Pot Roast Can Keep You Focused on Your Requirements
There’s a story I like to tell people before they start creating their software shopping list:
After watching his mother make pot roast for their usual Sunday dinner, a teenaged boy asked his mom, “Hey, mom, how do you make pot roast?” And she said, “Well, the first step in creating pot roast is you cut off each end of the pot roast before you put it in the pan.” The boy asked her why she would do this and she responded that that’s how her mother had taught her.
So the boy later asked his grandmother the same question, “Why would you cut off the side of a pot roast before putting it in the pan?” And grandma said, “Well, I don’t know, that’s how my mom taught me.”
The teenager was determined to find out why that process was happening. So off he went to great-grandma’s house and asked again, “Great-grandma, why is the first step in making your awesome pot roast to cut off the left side and the right side of the meat before putting it in the pan?” And great-grandma said, “Well, back in the day, ovens were really small. So the only way to fit the pot roast in the oven was to make the pot roast smaller.”
The workaround to the pot roast problem had ingrained itself in the recipe, regardless of the problem even existing anymore. This is important to consider when defining requirements. Are you so used to workarounds that they’ve become standard procedure? Are you defining something that’s required that is part of an old habit?
Keep an open mind. If a new system can meet the need and get you to your end result in a different way, you may stand to save both time and money in the long-term. Stay focused on the end goal, that’s ultimately going to drive your requirements and give you a shopping list that will result in exactly what you need.