5 questions for your membership CRM supplier pt1

05 July 2018 by Steve Sydee

At smartimpact we are often called in by organisations who, for a wide range of reasons, have become disappointed with their current membership solution and are looking for someone to rescue the project. This means we have a good insight into what often goes wrong, and what is needed to make a successful system.


One key area is supplier relationship and skill, so, over the next two weeks, this blog will list some of the questions you should be asking your supplier or potential supplier – we hope you are happy with the answers you get, but if you would like some more insight, or just a casual chat about your situation or concerns, please contact us and we will try to help you out without any obligation.

This two-part post will look at one of the fundamentals – supplier experience and how their culture maps to yours. Most membership organisations wouldn’t hire staff who know little about the membership space, or don’t share the same cultural values as their organisation, yet still many select suppliers who fall into these categories. Remember, this is probably a 5-10 year relationship – longer than most employee relationships – so why make this mistake?

Ignore the supplier’s software for the moment. What you really need to know is:

  • Is the supplier or potential supplier’s business really focused on helping organisations like yours?
  • What ethics and beliefs do you share?
  • What additional advice and experience will they bring you?
  • At what cost?

You shouldn’t be looking for a supplier that can automate what you currently do; you should find an experienced membership firm that can challenge your current thinking and show you the way to become more efficient and effective. Technology alone does not do that.

Your membership system should be the heartbeat of your organisation. It helps you run, grow and change to meet your members’ needs. So it is key that the system and its supplier are focused on you and specifically what you need. Whether you’re using a system that has been in place for some time or contemplating looking for a new one, it will serve you well to quickly review your situation every six months or so. Spend no more than a couple of hours but try to get a handle on:

  • How well are you being served?
  • How well are you planning for the future?

Here are some key questions you should be asking.

#1: How long has your supplier been focused on membership organisations?

There used to be just a few, focused firms supplying systems into membership organisations. They generally were specialised only in this area and built up a wealth of knowledge and experience over time. However, many of them found that their (often bespoke) technology had aged and had been superseded by advanced CRM solutions tailored for membership. Some moved to the new CRMs, others are still clinging on or dwindled or disappeared.

On one hand, this is a good thing as the newer systems are far more powerful, far more flexible, and thus can really help you drive your organisation forwards. But on the other hand, it means there are a number of new entrants into the market, many of whom specialise in other areas, and thus do not have a long track record of membership experience that you can benefit from. You need membership business value-add as well as technology.

In our view, the ideal partner will have been focused on membership for at least five years; have successfully delivered at least 20 projects (at smartimpact, we rank 10 years and over 50 projects); and have a good mix of membership functional knowledge and technical innovation.

This means you and they should be able to speak the same language, and misunderstandings will be at a minimum. Dealing with CRM suppliers who are not membership specialists very often leads to unclear communication (for instance each side having a different perspective on what was meant in a design workshop, only discovered after the expensive customisations have been made and submitted for testing, which can cost you a lot of extra money to put right). Using membership CRM expert suppliers also means you will gain from their knowledge and experience and your project is more likely to succeed first time.

#2: Are they a good fit with your organisation?

Even if a supplier focuses on membership organisations, are they focused on organisations like yours? Your organisation will be defined by many things, including:

  • Whether your members are organisations or individuals
  • Number of members you have
  • Number of staff you have
  • Levels of IT literacy among your staff and members
  • How you support your IT infrastructure
  • Your project budget and timescale
  • Whether you want integrated CMS or not

Ask your supplier for insight into their ideal customer profile. Where do you fit into that?  What example customers can they give you that are similar to yours? Can you talk to them?

Get a feel for whether you will appear important enough to them long term, not just in the sales cycle or early stages of the project – for instance, if there is an issue in your system and one of their key customers, will you get the focus you need?

There’s quite a lot covered in this article but I hope it has been useful to you. Next week, I will cover the other three questions but, in the meantime, if you’d like to know more about what good membership CRM can do for you download our concise guide to the Benefits of CRM systems for membership organisations »

We’d also love to see you at one of our events »

And of course, if you would like an informal chat about your current systems and the options available to you, please reach out to us at info@smartimpact.co.uk or call on 0845 544 2043.