Why an increasing number of Association Executives are viewing CRM as an industry game changer.
Since the dawn of databases, companies have created AMS (Association Management Software) to serve the unique needs of the association world. Over the years, many AMS solutions have grown into large complex and heavy systems attempting to accommodate every association need there is. Basically, if an association has a task or business process, there is probably an AMS module for it.
Because of this trend, many AMS systems have become overly complex, challenging to use, difficult to maintain, expensive to buy, and expensive to keep. Increasingly, association executives are searching for alternatives to this traditional AMS technology path. There is a strong desire to break out of the never-ending cycle of having to get a new updated AMS system every few years and the inevitable AMS vendor demo parade that follows. Associations are looking for cleaner, easier, lighter, and more cost effective options.
It turns out that CRM (Customer Relationship Management) is filling this new role. It is an excellent non-AMS choice for a growing number of associations. It is understood that some CRM software right out of the box is not for every association, but if the association focuses on their core and high priority needs and extends CRM to meet their unique needs (such as committees, events, membership), then the out of the box offering is quite compelling.
You might ask, “Why would an association look at a CRM solution in the first place?” After all, CRM stands for Customer Relationship Management and CRM systems have traditionally been used for tracking prospects and sales. The answer lies in the ability to easily extend the base CRM to meet the specific needs of the association. Extending CRM is a strategy called xRM. Before I get too deep in the weeds with CRM and xRM, let me provide some highlights for Microsoft Dynamics CRM:
- Clean and easy to use interface. If you like Outlook, then it looks and feels like Outlook.
- Microsoft Office business productivity built in. Microsoft to Microsoft integration for Outlook, Word, and Excel.
- Industry’s Best Outlook Integration. The Microsoft Outlook team created the Outlook integration (not a 3rd party add-on).
- Mobile connectivity for using CRM across many devices and screen sizes.
- Easy to deploy in the cloud or on-premise.
- Supported by a vast number of Microsoft Dynamics partners.
Microsoft Outlook – If an association already uses Microsoft Outlook, then Microsoft Dynamics CRM provides the ability for all staff to access one ‘database of truth’ across the entire organization through Microsoft Outlook. You don’t have to “get into the AMS to try and find an email”. CRM is one of the best ways to collect and manage data and communications throughout the organization.
Game Changer – CRM is certainly positioned to be a game changer in the association industry. To help illustrate, here are a handful of other examples of industry game changers.
- Accounting Systems separated from the AMS – At one point, most AMS systems included an accounting system with a general ledger, accounts payable, etc. Associations started demanding integration to their existing best of breed accounting packages like Great Plains (now called Microsoft Dynamics GP). As a result, most AMS vendors removed their own accounting systems from the AMS. That was a game changer for accounting systems as well as accounting departments that didn’t want all the staff having access to vital accounting data.
- Microsoft .NET. Back in the 2002-2003 timeframe, associations were introduced to the concept of .NET with its promise of better system interoperability. Databases and applications could now easily talk to other systems with this new technology. Who remembers the AMS vendor panel discussion on .NET at ASAE hosted by DelCor and designData? Talk about a game changer. Seemingly overnight, associations started to include the requirement that their AMS solution be 100% .NET. The AMS vendors that had solutions that were not 100% .NET certainly struggled.
- Google. The increasing size and complexity of the AMS reminds me of how the basic home page of a website has evolved. At first, the home page was basically a fancy business card. Over time though, each department wanted to stake claim to their piece of the home page real estate and before you knew it, the website home page looked very cluttered. It was difficult to find anything. Then along came Google. All it had was a search box and submit button with a whole lot of white space going on. It clearly and succinctly cut to the purpose of that website and made it easy to use. Google was a game changer. It inspired cleaner and more efficient design. It required people to think differently about the true purpose of their design. I think that is what we have here with CRM. CRM can finally inspire cleaner and more efficient use of the membership data.
- xRM. The “x” in xRM stands for “Anything” – Anything Relationship Management or eXtended Relationship Management. xRM is not a product, it is a strategy that takes CRM one step further, focusing on managing all connections, transactions, communications, interactions. Specifically with Microsoft’s CRM, Microsoft has provided a rich foundation of powerful functionality. An association can then easily add to their system. If you need to track meeting attendance or committee management, Microsoft provides the ability to create that functionality. You don’t have to be a developer to add functionality to CRM. You use CRM to extend CRM. The tools Microsoft provides are straight forward with lots of free resources for “how to” and learning.
CRM with the xRM approach is the game changer. Now an association can have a clean and easy to use membership system that is robust for their unique needs.
Association executives can now take a look at a standard Microsoft product to see if there is a fit at their association. Who knows – your next AMS might not be an AMS after all.
Author’s note on this particular post – I first wrote this post in September of 2010. I posted it on the Microsoft Dynamics for NFP’s community blog. Since that time, this post has been published with different titles by the various companies that employed me. To gain better control and ownership of the content, I published this post to my own blog in 2011, here.