What goes through an Executive Director’s mind when you talk about the need for new member management software?
“Now the membership department wants new software, geez, what department doesn’t want new software?”
“What’s wrong with the membership database we have now? I haven’t heard any real complaints.”
“Get in line. What do you think, money grows on trees?”
(Mom? Is that you?)
New technology is never an easy sell, especially when your department is perennially overlooked during budget time. Before you even think about approaching the C-suite, spend some time building your case for new membership management software—and make sure your case includes metrics that demonstrate not only the membership department’s need, but also the association’s need for new software.
It will be difficult for anyone—the CEO, CFO, IT staff, or really anyone else—to dispute the merits of your case for new technology if you can buttress it with:
- Metrics that illustrate the weaknesses of the existing technology,
- Metrics that show the amount of time staff wastes using that software,
- And, metrics that show the detrimental financial impact of the current system.
Once you have your metrics in hand, it’s time to build a case for change. Find out how with the guide: How to Subtly Push for Change when It’s Obviously Time for an Upgrade.
Illustrate the Weaknesses of the Existing Technology
Every association has them: the complainers. They complain about the AC, the heat, the smell from the kitchen, and the database. After a while no one really listens to them, even if their complaints are valid. That’s why, if you have valid complaints about your existing membership management software, you need to prove it with metrics that illustrate the software’s inefficiencies. Start your research with the IT department.
The IT staff hears about problems with the existing system, for example, when users can’t pull the data they need or run the report they want. If your association uses a ticket management system for your IT helpdesk, you can find out how many database-related support requests they get and how much time on average they spend on each one.
Talk to IT about any security, backup, or compliance concerns they have with the current database. Find out if customizations have pushed you off the upgrade path—i.e., you can’t take advantage of upgrades without spending time and money on rewriting code.
Another inefficiency you’ll want to uncover is the existence of “rogue” or siloed databases. Departments use their own database when they don’t trust or don’t want to rely on the official membership database. You need to find out who has these databases and why. Let them know you understand their situation and need their advice on choosing better technology for the association.
Document the consequences of having multiple databases with multiple records for members, for example, the lack of a 360° view of an individual or company member, and therefore, not having a complete understanding of their association experience. What’s the impact on decisions? Staff time? The member’s experience?
To what extent does your existing software integrate with other association software, such as your financial management or accounting system, email software, content management system (CMS), learning management system (LMS), or event management software? Without integration, your ability to understand member behavior and make smart decisions is limited. Get examples of what staff can’t know or do because of this lack of integration.
Is your database accessible from mobile devices? Identify the situations when staff cannot access the database away from the office. Find out about missed opportunities, limited productivity, and other consequences of not having a mobile-friendly AMS.
Spend time talking with users (and should-be users) about the challenges they’ve encountered and what they wish they could do but can’t, for example:
- Personalize newsletter content according to member position, interests, or past behavior.
- Identify how much money an individual or company member spends at the association in a year.
- Identify the most active member volunteers.
- Identify and reach out to members who aren’t opening your emails.
- Identify members who are responsible for the most new member referrals.
Don’t forget about your own complaints.
- What if your association wants to revamp the membership model in response to changing market needs, could your system handle it?
- Can members go online to update their demographic and interest information? To renew their membership? Change communication preferences?
- Are members asking for something you can’t provide because of the existing system’s limitations?
Document the consequences of all system inefficiencies—how they impact both departmental performance and your association’s strategic goals.
Document the Staff Time Wasted
If you want to get people talking, commiserate with them about the time they waste on “the stupid database’’—but take notes while you’re doing it. Don’t forget to talk to department heads. Find out what database-related tasks are consuming too much of their staff’s time. What would they like to see improved, streamlined, or automated?
Sometimes department heads don’t realize the extent of time their staff is spending on manual data entry or crazy workarounds. Talk to users too. Don’t just talk, watch them. Ask them if you can document how they do things so you can see how much time it takes. Note any workarounds and the number of staff involved. When are they spending time on data entry? For example, watch and/or ask them about:
- Processing new members.
- Processing renewals.
- Processing refunds.
- Creating monthly or quarterly reports for supervisors or leadership.
- Creating event registration reports or event badges.
Once you get a handle on these processes, talk to AMS vendors about how comparable processes are done at client associations like yours. See if you can talk to someone at those associations to find out how long these processes take them. While you’re at it, tell them about your dilemma—trying to make a case for new membership management software—and see if they can provide more selling points about the benefits of switching to a new system.
There’s no excuse for a poor user experience, but that’s often what you get with older software. How user-friendly is your existing software? Talk to new users about the learning curve, how much time they wasted by making mistakes, and how long it took them to get proficient.
Beware of one issue: people can get attached to the system they know and might go out of their way to make excuses for it, especially if they were part of the team that selected it. Or, their ego may be attached to the system if they’re a super-user that others on staff rely upon to pull information and reports.
Be fair when compiling your list of system inefficiencies. Don’t only list the “cons,” list the “pros” too as evidence that you’re not completely biased against the existing system. You’re doing your due diligence by pointing out areas for improvement.
Show the Financial Impact of Sticking with the Existing Software
Rarely will leadership immediately approve a request for new software. Why? It always comes down to money—it’s not in the budget. Well, it can be in the budget if your case is so good—and supported by facts and figures—that they see no other alternative than to invest in a new system. You have to make your idea their idea.
You must focus your argument on the ROI of a new system. Show them how much time and money is squandered because of the inefficiencies of the existing system. Point out the technical risks of sticking with an old system. Tell them about all the things your association can’t do if you stick with the status quo.
Remind them about the hidden costs of your existing system, for example:
- Inability to leverage data for email marketing to prospects.
- Inability to segment and personalize communications based on member data.
- Inability to get a 360° view of members or customers due to lack of integration or departments using rogue, siloed databases.
And, point out the plainly visible costs to:
- Keep the system in working order, beyond the standard license or subscription costs.
- Modify the system so you can take advantage of upgrades.
- Adapt the system to your association’s and your members’ changing needs. (Can you even adapt the system?)
Will your existing system limit the type of value you can deliver in the future? Will staff time be tied to laborious processes instead of dedicated to new, more strategic responsibilities?
Contrast these problems with examples of how a new system can help staff deliver more value and provide better service to members. How will it allow the association to pursue new opportunities? How will new software help staff and leaders better leverage data and, therefore, make better decisions? How will it improve staff productivity? Use examples that align with your association’s strategic and departmental goals.
Know your audience and what’s most important to them. Study the strategic plan. Talk to colleagues who understand the board’s and the C-suite’s concerns. Prioritize your metrics and arguments according to your audience’s priorities.
You must back up your argument with facts and figures. It takes time to collect this data but it’s worth it. It’s tough for anyone to argue against a convincing case for change, especially when the costs of staying with an old system and the benefits of moving to a new one are made plain. If you need more help, download our guide, How to Subtly Push for Change When It’s Obviously Time for an Upgrade.