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How to Create Your Association Technology Vendor Shortlist (by Cutting Through the Sales Speak)

Posted by Christina Green on Wed, Nov 30, 2016 @ 08:30 AM

Don't let sales jargon confuse you when you're talking to association technology vendors.

Buying a car can be a frustrating process. Why? Because too often, the salesperson and the buyer are speaking in different terms.

The salesperson aims to figure out what the buyer wants to pay monthly, while the buyer is looking at the total price. It seems like they’re on the same page because they’re both talking about money. But they’re not. The buyer assumes the monthly payment works out to be the final price of the car but often they’re worlds apart.

The same can be true when you are auditioning membership management software. If you’re not speaking the same language as the software vendor, you run the risk of paying too much for features that don’t fully suit your association and its goals.

To avoid this, you need to make sure you and the vendor are speaking in the same terms, as well as ensure you’re able to boil all of the vendors on your shortlist down to the same feature comparisons.

Vendors don’t sell their product the same way. You’ll need to do a little translating to ensure you have the software that best fits your needs. Here are six steps that will help you cut through the sales jargon to find the membership software you need.

Download Your Free Membership Management Software Buyer's Guide

6 Steps to Compiling a Membership Management Software Shortlist

Step #1) Ask Around

If this is your first experience with membership management software, you may be unfamiliar with the players. If you already have software and are looking to switch vendors, don’t rely solely on past experience in auditioning the software. Many platforms have changed. Regardless of your experience level, word-of-mouth referrals are a great way to learn about vendors and platforms you may not be familiar with.

Find an organization of similar size and ask them what they use, try searching on Google, or visit one of the many review sites to get a taste for what people like and don’t like about the systems. Remember, one person’s user-friendly technology is another’s nightmare, so look for trends and common themes in the reviews. If you see repeated negative remarks about the vendor, there may be reason to be concerned.

Later, when you have a shortlist of vendors, you can ask them for client referrals. Just remember that this is often like asking a job candidate for references. They will likely only pick the really great ones. 

Step #2) Research the Vendors on Your Own

There has been a lot of consolidation (and growth) in the membership management software realm over the past several years. Larger companies have gobbled up smaller ones and new companies have emerged.

Before you begin matching the features of what you want versus what the vendor has, research the vendors mark off any that you have concerns about. These concerns my stem from things like:

An outdated website.

A technology company should have an up-to-date web presence. Failing to do so may indicate a lack of resources or a takeover on the horizon. Either way, that could leave you in limbo.

Outdated customer references.

Most companies will have quotes, testimonials, and case studies from happy customers. Note the name of the customers and go directly to their site to get some ideas of how the platform appears to an outsider. Does the site look professional? Is it up to date? While vendors aren’t responsible for clients maintaining their website, this does give an indication of the type of organizations the vendor works with.

When you visit client sites, see if you can find out if they’re still using the same software vendor. If they’re not, what happened to make them switch? It’s possible you’ll run into the same problem. Worse, if the software provider you’re researching is still showcasing clients that have switched vendors, then their own website is outdated. You could have incomplete information on software features and pricing.

A lack of information.

Don’t discount an AMS software vendor just because their site doesn’t contain all the detailed information you want, but make sure you ask them about anything that’s unclear. If a vendor is consistently vague about something they offer on their site, it may not be as developed as you might hope.  

Step #3) Compare What You Want with What the Software Offers

This is not as easy as taking your must-have feature list and comparing it to what the vendor has on its website. Often if membership software has one feature in an area, they’ll only list the broad term for it, giving the impression that the feature is more robust than it actually is.

For instance, a vendor may post “eCommerce capabilities.” You want the ability to sell event tickets, virtual materials, and physical products, but the software’s e-Commerce capabilities extend only to event tickets with a “bill me” option. They can’t even collect money online. Yet, they do have “eCommerce capabilities,” albeit limited ones.

Download Your Free Membership Management Software Buyer's Guide

Based on your vendor research and your word-of-mouth referrals, pick a few (early) top contenders and view their online demos. Most companies have them on their websites and you can watch them for free by entering in your name and email. If you can’t find one, search on YouTube. Just make sure the videos you watch there are recent. Software changes quickly.

Expert Tip: Keep in mind some vendors limit the list of software features on their site to avoid overwhelming potential clients. That’s why viewing websites doesn’t provide an apples-to-apples comparison and you shouldn’t base your entire decision based solely on website content.

Step #4) Have a Conversation (Not a Yes/No Session)

Up until this point, you likely haven’t even spoken to a software vendor. The research has been on your own. It’s time to change that. Start a conversation with your list of membership software providers to dig into whether they’re a good fit for your association.

During your conversations, try not to rattle off a list of requirements, asking “do you have this?”  The yes and no answers you’ll receive will only tell you basic software functions, not whether or not they’ll work for your association’s business processes. It’s much more effective to talk about your goals and how you work. When the vendor understands how  you want to use the software, the conversations are more meaningful.

Expert Tip: Your membership management software company will be a partner in your success so make sure you share your idea of what success means and how you measure it. There should be ways to measure these “key performance indicators” of what you consider a success in the software you choose.

Step #5) Make Sure the Vendor’s Idea of “User-friendly” Software Matches Yours

Every vendor will tell you their software is easy to use. It is for them. They designed it. But their definition and yours might not be the same. Whenever possible, ask if you can “test-drive” it by playing in what technology vendors call a “sandbox.” If this is not possible, make them show you a step-by-step process for completing your daily tasks.

The goal of this step is to determine how intuitive the system will be for your end users, including members and staff. While you may be willing to invest the time in robust software that has a learning curve, your members probably aren’t. Simple is best and will make both member and staff adoption much easier.

Step #6) Discuss Pricing

AMS software pricing can be complex and you usually won’t find detailed information on websites. Instead, discuss pricing with your vendor shortlist to determine what’s included and what isn’t. Every membership management company has their own way of handling the peripherals and they can add quite a bit to your price tag. These things include:

  • Seat licenses
  • Set-up fees
  • Maintenance and upgrade fees
  • Data charges for the size of your database
  • Data export and cancellation charges if you terminate your contract
  • Training
  • Customer service
  • Payment options
  • Credit card processing fees for your e-Commerce platform
  • Limits on email sends

Make sure you understand what you will be paying in upfront fees as well as monthly fees before you make your final decision.

Creating an AMS software Vendor Shortlist Takeaway

Software selection is a personal choice and with the number of options, it can be overwhelming. Make the process easier by breaking it into individual steps, starting with professional referrals and feature research. Whittle down your options to between 3-5 vendors, then have conversations with each of them.

Ultimately, try to find a vendor who is willing to be a partner in your success, not someone who just wants to talk monthly payment.

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Tags: Association, Association Executives, Membership Management Software

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