Back to basics: tips on working with your Membership CRM supplier

13 September 2018 by Steve Sydee

As part of our ‘back to basics’ series, we’ve looked at what good Membership CRM systems can do for your organisation, and some of the things you can do to drive internal adoption through good planning and management. Today, we’ll have a look at effective working with suppliers, so you can get a productive and long-term relationship from which everyone benefits.


How to find the right supplier in the first place:

I won’t spend much time on this as we have already covered it in various articles such as five questions for your membership CRM supplier. But there are a couple of additional areas I think you should consider:
1)    Simple question – do you need to work with a firm that does CRM, CMS, or both?
Some membership associations follow what they call a ‘Best of Breed’ policy and look for separate suppliers. In my view, unless those suppliers haven’t worked together many times this adds complication which far outweighs any potential gains that a slightly more functional product might bring.  
2)    Your supplier should add value – not just technical expertise. 
They should understand your organisation, and your business strategy, and be able to demonstrate how they will use features of their software to help drive change in your organisation in line with the business strategy.  They should question some of your plans and perhaps help you re-think or fine tune certain elements.
3)    This means your supplier should be more of a partner, and they should view IT as a means to underpinning business improvement, and not see IT as an end in itself. 
A sure sign of following the latter is when suppliers try to seduce prospective clients through using flashy sales demos. Beware of any suppliers who ask you to come to smart offices for the full demo experience.  I’d even go as far as saying that if you walk out of a demo thinking it’s too good to be true, it probably is.  And it probably won’t work for you or deliver your business strategy.
4)    Culture match is vital.
Check out their aims and beliefs, as well as their customers.  Are the customers like you?  Insist on meeting the actual project delivery team that will be working on your system, and ideally spend a few days with the project delivery team working on a couple of workshops (paid for) prior to your final selection.  Also, find out if they run a customer user group, and ask to attend a meeting.

Working with your supplier for the long term:

Once you’ve found a supplier who looks like they could be your long-term business partner, how do you build a relationship and a project that plays to both your strengths?
1)    The first area to understand is what drives CRM suppliers.
Ultimately, they provide expertise (hopefully) in return for money.  But good suppliers will also strive for high quality solutions, low support call volumes, and lots of repeat business by multi-phase projects.  
2)    It’s thus important to set correct expectations in your organisation at user and executive level.
If you feel you don’t have staff with the available time or expertise to work effectively with your supplier and stakeholders, consider hiring an engagement manager.  This role is focussed on making sure the various participants are communicating effectively and working well together. 
3)    Understand that project success is your responsibility – don’t make the mistake of thinking a supplier will make it all happen for you.
If your team isn’t up to the job, blaming a supplier when a project goes wrong still means you have a failed project.
4)    We talked about multi-phase projects earlier.
No system should be “a one hit and it’s done”.  The idea is that the current phase helps you transform your organisation. Once the transformation has happened, you’ll want to build on that transformation, so you’ll need to improve areas of your system.  Make sure there are ongoing budgets for that, as no system will survive neglect for a long time.

Want to know more about this subject?  We’re running a free to attend event on Thursday 20th September that specifically addresses how to prepare your organisation for a new system and select the most appropriate supplier. If you’d like to attend or get a copy of the learning outcomes, please get in touch with us at smartimpact. We specialise in helping NFP organisations get the very best from their membership CRM systems, at whatever stage they are in their project lifecycle.