Maybe it was a Friday afternoon and you were just counting down the minutes until the weekend. Then the board, your boss, or maybe a staff member uttered those dreaded words, “I think we need new membership management software.”While new software can be exciting, the idea of sitting through countless hours of demos and sales presentations is enough to take the joy out of anything. But it doesn’t have to be that way.
It really can be fun and it doesn’t even have to be hard. There are just a few things you need to know.
4 Steps to Evaluating Membership Management Software
Step #1) Ask the Right Questions
To determine which AMS platform is right for your organization, you need to ask yourself and your vendor the right questions. Several key questions on your end that will shape what you ask a software vendor include:
- Why do you want new software? What are your goals for it?
- How will it be used? Is this just a tool for your staff or do you want a system that will engage members as well?
- How will you judge implementation success?
These questions will help you sort out and rank systems as you’re comparing them based on features. When things get confusing, you can return to the question, does this fit our needs and can we succeed with it? If you need clarification, ask the vendor directly. How will this feature help us meet our goals?
Next, ensure that people from different areas of your organization are either directly involved (beware of too many cooks in the kitchen, though) or that they provide buy-in ahead of time. This includes answering and approving your association’s responses to the questions above. This is important because often IT specialists will look at the needs of the software in a very different way than the membership director, and so on. Everyone should be comfortable with what you’re looking for.
Keep your members in mind as well. While it’s not necessary to have a member on your software review team, you should have someone involved who is very familiar with what members want and need. Your membership coordinator, for instance.
Step #2) Get the Most from the Demo
Vendors generally follow the same scripted process for showcasing their product, showing you the strongest features. Instead of going through another demo like a zombie, take charge at the beginning by presenting them with a list of your most relevant needs. Request to see how the software works in those areas. During the demonstration, discuss how your team works and how the software would work with you.
Not only will this help you clearly see how you will use the software, it also ensures that you’re seeing how you will complete the same tasks in the demos from different vendors. If you can see how each handles invoicing, for instance, you have a much stronger understanding of which software best fits the way you work and addresses your needs. If you let the vendor lead the demo, you may end up with a disjointed comparison between membership platforms.
Step #3) Stay Awake (Yes, Seriously)
It’s okay to admit that some software demos are real snoozers. Watching numerous demos can be taxing on the mental decision process, especially if you stack demos back to back, several days in a row. Active participation will help you stay awake and differentiate the systems clearly. Here are three ways you can encourage your entire team to actively participate in demos.
Create a scorecard based around your needs and the key performance indicators of success for your organization. Use a standard rating system like 1-5 to grade considerations like ease of use for each feature and whether or not it meets your needs, and accomplishes your goals. Make sure every member of your team has a copy to fill out for each demo.
Your scorecards will help focus your post-demo conversations. If your group simply takes notes, there’s a good chance your conversations will go something like this: “I liked Vendor A.” “I liked Vendor B.” With a scorecard you have a strong basis of comparison that takes emotions out of the decision as much as possible. It also helps ensure the vendor addresses every area that you’re interested in.
Take a Test Drive
Whenever possible, ask if you can “drive” the software yourself. If the presenter gives you the ability to navigate the system, they will still need to tell you where to go, but you’ll receive a hands-on experience. Instead of a couple of quick clicks that the presenter flies through with lightning speed, they’ll slow down to give you instructions on how perform the task. Often, this gives you a clearer view of what it takes to accomplish your daily tasks this way.
Get a Good Night’s Sleep
Another important part of staying awake during these demos is to ensure you get adequate sleep the night before. Not only does a lack of sleep mean you’ll be tired, but studies have shown it affects decision making. A Washington State University study showed participants were unable to process critical information and changing information. With a purchasing decision as large as membership management software, you can’t risk going into demos with anything less than your best.
Step #4) Discuss Your Options
Once you end the demo and your team is still together, take at least 20 minutes to share your scorecards and impressions while they are still fresh in your team’s mind. Have someone take notes on the discussion or record it. Write down any questions you may have thought of or those that arise when the group is talking.
When you’re finished with the initial discussion, have someone compile a list of additional questions and reach out to the vendor. If the questions require in-depth conversations, set up another question-and-answer session for the group. Vendors should be a partner in your success and readily available to answer these questions. If you sense any hesitancy in them wanting to discuss something with you further, make a note of that.
When all your questions have been answered and you have the information you need on each of your software options, sit down for an in-depth discussion. Compare each membership platform, it’s pros and cons, and determine which one will be fit your needs. That’s the option you should take to your board.
Membership Management Software Evaluation Takeaway
Remember that to effectively evaluate AMS software, you need to determine your association’s goals and feature needs before you ever sit down with a vendor. That includes creating a list of questions you want to ask during demos.
Don’t demo every product on the market, however. There are a lot of players in the membership management software field, and you’ll only eat up more of your valuable time. Instead, narrow your list to three or four vendors and then watch how their software would work for your organization.
Schedule 20 minutes or longer immediately afterward demos to share impressions. If possible, don’t review more than two demos a day and try to space them out so they don’t run together. Pay attention, and get as much information out of each demonstration as possible.
When you’ve completed these steps and discussed your options with your team, then use the information you’ve compiled to create a proposal for your board.