Wes Trochlil is the most published author and expert on data management in the association management profession. We recently checked in with the founder of Effective Database Management to get his advice on what organizations should be doing to wrangle their data. Here’s what he had to say:
Get more insight from Wes Trochlil:
Tell us about your background and interest in database management.
For nearly a decade, I worked in trade associations as director of membership, marketing, and communications. Due to the nature of my work, the data, and by extension, management of the database, was critical to my success.
So I steeped myself in learning how to keep my database clean, how to query for data, and how to use data most effectively for membership promotion, marketing my associations’ programs and services, and communicating effectively with my members and customers.
What are the most common database frustrations your clients come to you with?
The three most common issues I see are:
1. Data is all over the place. Almost every organization I’ve ever worked with had data in several different places, either by accident or by design. There is data in the primary AMS, data in third-party systems (e.g., separate online registration tools, advocacy platforms, etc.), and data in spreadsheets and email systems. They’re frustrated because with data spread all over the organization they can’t easily (if at all) determine who their best members and customers are or how members are engaging with the association.
2. Data is difficult to access. This is a corollary to No. 1 above. Because the data is spread throughout the organization, and/or because the primary AMS doesn’t make it easy to query, access to the data is difficult or impossible. I often hear from my clients, “We have the data, we just can’t get it out of the database!”
3. Data is not clean. Because multiple hands are managing the data, and because standard operating procedures and processes have not been clearly documented, associations have a very difficult time keeping their data clean and accurate. The result is the data is not trusted, and pretty soon staff members start keeping their own lists and databases (see No. 1 above!).
What are the most common mistakes or oversights you see clients making when it comes to managing their databases?
1. Not knowing what data they actually have within the organization (i.e., data is all over the place).
2. Believing that software will solve a process issue.
3. Over-collecting data. Just because you can collect data doesn’t mean you should.
What considerations should organizations make when picking a database management system?
The system needs to be able to manage the data you have to manage on a day-to-day basis. So, for example, if you manage committees and the system does not have a committee management module, that won’t be a good match.
Also, don’t overlook financial management functionality. Just because a system can manage receipts (i.e., payments) does not mean it can manage all aspects of financial management (e.g., refunds, transfers, underpayments, credits, etc.). A good system should be able to serve as a complete accounts receivable subledger.
What should organizations do to prepare for the transition to a new system?
They should identify where all their data currently resides and which of that data really needs to be converted to the new system (hint: it’s usually much less than you think!).
They should identify what processes they have now can be modified to take advantage of the new system’s functionality.
They should document ALL of their processes so that everyone is on the same page as a new system is brought online.
What are some best practices for securing databases?
Do not share logins. Every staff person should have his or her own login.
How do you coach organizations on leveraging their databases for marketing and communication?
1. You have to know what data you have.
2. You have to know which data is useful to you (and which data you can ignore and stop collecting).
3. You have to track more than transactions; you must also track interactions.
4. Shotgun marketing is counter-productive. The more focused your marketing efforts, the more effective they will be. Counter-intuitively, sending FEWER email messages (but more focused) will be more effective than sending more.
What database management innovations or trends are you interested in or excited about right now?
The trend I’m most excited about is that associations are finally starting to realize that, at their core, they are sales organizations. “Sales” has always been a dirty word in association management, but more associations understand that everything they do, from membership to events to exhibits and sponsorships, is really a sales process. And as a result, associations are finally starting to use their database systems as sales management tools.
Tracking interactions, and not just transactions, is really helping associations understand who their customers are and what their customers want. As a result they’ll be able to better serve their members and advance their mission.
Many thanks to Wes Trochlil for his time and insight. Wes and other industry experts recently gave insights on what they believe 2017 holds for association management – you can download the free eBook here!