5 questions for your membership CRM supplier pt2

05 July 2018 by Steve Sydee

Last week I gave you two of the five key questions you should be asking your current or potential CRM supplier. This post covers the final three questions so, without further ado, let’s find out what they are...


#3: Do they own their product and what does it cover?

There are few suppliers in the market that have written their whole application from scratch rather than tailored a platform like Dynamics or Salesforce. While this makes ownership clear, this can also pose problems with ongoing enhancement. They will be nowadays be competing with firms like Microsoft that invest billions of dollars in product development of Dynamics CRM. Most suppliers cannot keep up with that level of R&D and so their products will soon fall behind, risking leaving you with a second-rate system over the years of your project life.

Suppliers such as smartimpact have tailored Dynamics CRM to support the specific functionality needed by membership organisations. This means that our customers get the benefits of Microsoft’s R&D as well as the functional fit they need on an ongoing basis. When new features are released by Microsoft, such as integrating social media, mobile support or multichannel member service, we simply tailor those for membership and incorporate them into our solution in a relevant manner.

This means that good membership systems suppliers will have a broad range of applications covering at least the key functionality most membership orgs need:

  • Membership management
  • Subscriptions
  • Marketing
  • Member support and case management
  • Easy integration with other systems
  • Events, conferences and exhibitions management
  • Groups and committees management
  • Training and CIPD

Even if you don’t need all of these, the fact that they exist should demonstrate to you that the supplier is serious about the membership space. If your supplier tells you they are planning to build them for you, review this with great scrutiny – done properly, these are not simple modules so take quite some time, at quite some cost.

#4: How do they charge for their products and support?

Software is supplied in many different ways, with a myriad of charging mechanisms, so it is important to make sure you understand exactly which options fit you best for the software, and the services, that you require.

In general, most suppliers have a subscription-based cloud model, which can work well both for them and for membership firms as it avoids large upfront costs but creates a regular cashflow. Sometimes this subscription can also include some implementation services, support services, upgrades and so on.

Questions to ask include:

  • Can we pay an up-front one-off cost or regular payments?
  • Do you charge by the user, and is this named users or concurrent? If not, is it by the server, module, site, number of contacts or other mechanism?
  • Does the charge include the membership application as well as the underlying technology licence costs?
  • Check what the underlying technology cost includes – for instance full reporting, Business Intelligence/Analytics, Artificial Intelligence, multiple dashboards, integration/APIs for all users, cross-platform licencing so a user can use their phone, tablet and PC/laptop for one cost, and so on. Some suppliers, like Microsoft, tend to bundle all this together; others, like Salesforce, famously tend to modularise and then increase costs as the project progresses and needs further function.
  • How do you charge for upgrades? Remember that upgrades include software but also often services, from merely uploading the new version, through training, to formal redevelopment of integration pieces and data migration. How are the services charged and what costs are there likely to be?
  • How is support charged? Is it included in the price?
  • Can the supplier give you a three- or five-year cost? This should include all areas you and they can think of not only to implement your system and keep it running well, but also to enhance it in line with your expected business strategy. Too often we are invited into projects where there have been substantial ‘unexpected’ licencing costs because a later phase involves more integration or advanced reporting. The customer feels handcuffed to the costs - but these ‘surprises’ should be totally predictable if you understand the pricing model, and the supplier understands your future business plans and needs.
  • If it is an implementation, can the supplier give you a fixed price? Fixed cost is safer for you, protecting you from cost increases due to an increase in time and materials; however, if your supplier knows what they are doing and controls costs well, fixed price can also mean that you pay more than you would under time and materials, as most suppliers will add a 15-30% premium to mitigate their risks on fixed price.
  • Finally, ask about any hidden costs. Good suppliers will value your long term relationship enough to give you a complete insight into expected and unexpected costs

#5: What sort of support can the supplier give?

It goes without saying that excellent ongoing support is vital. But, ideally, your system will be so reliable that you won’t need much. So, don’t focus just on what support could be provided, but also find out about what support, and how much, current customers like you are taking and why.

  • Ask to meet the support team, not just the support manager. Understand who is or would be dealing with your support issues and what knowledge they have about your system. Get a feel for how much they understand organisations like yours.
  • What are the different levels of support on offer?
  • What is the typical amount of support (ie the time spent) given to each existing customer in the first year, second year, and so on? (you would hope it will be reducing, and that this will be reflected in the annual cost)
  • What types of issues are coming up and what is causing them? Are there a lot of technical issues, maybe linked to a new release, or is it a lack of training, or problems with integration or underlying technology? Some of these are much easier to fix than others. Try to get a real feel for what issues you are likely to face or have been facing
  • What is the escalation model? Can you access senior team members easily? Basically, how easy are they going to be to work with when a problem arises
  • Review what reporting and analysis they provide. A good help desk will provide customers with regular reports on what support calls they have made and how they have been resolved. This is how a supplier should be able to give you an insight into the areas covered above
  • Ask what mechanisms are in place for the results of the analysis to feed into the future development lifecycle. For instance, if there are high levels of user error in one module, maybe due to it being more difficult to understand or use than expected, a good supplier would identify this and flag a simplified redevelopment of that part of the system interface into a future release.

There’s quite a lot covered in this article but I hope it has been useful to you. 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.