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Is your customer relationship software meeting your needs?

3 min read

When looking for a new relationship management system, associations and NFPs need to take into account the systems origin and the development work that may be required to ‘fit’ the system to their business imperatives.

Most customer relationship systems started life as software for companies that sell products and have short sales cycles. CRMs from these origins are arguably not sufficient for associations and NFPs which have different business structure and requirements.

In 2000, companies like Seibel, Onyx and Saleslogix set their sights on the large telecommunications and product distributors. They built software on top of what is essentially a contact database. Through press exposure and consultants, the term customer relationship management system was coined.

The resulting software from this origin is tailored for companies who:

  • sell physical stock items
  • have short and finite sales cycles
  • employ sales staff with minimal knowledge of the product
  • sell stock items with minimal communication with purchaser
  • have competitors where product differences can be easily compared.

Organisations in the NFP sector by comparison:

  • sell services as a membership package
  • foster an ongoing relationship not a re-sale
  • encourage members to participate in activities and events
  • have staff with knowledge of the complete services offering
  • sell some products but in smaller volumes
  • vary the value of services depending on the buyers’ circumstances
  • need systems for managing a larger number of disparate departmental activities such as events and training.

Generic CRMs can be altered to satisfy NFP requirements however, this can be costly in terms of resources, price and time.

Today there are comprehensive systems in the market specifically designed to satisfy the NFP business requirements. They recognise the unique challenges and differences between a sales tool and relationship management tool.

So what are NFPs looking for?
The 2007 Coresoft survey of prominent organisations in the sector stated overwhelmingly that NFPs needed an integrated, complete business solution. This goes beyond the basic database requirements and includes coordination of website management, events, training, communications and financial functionality.

Minimum systems requirements:

  • collect demographic and other information that will help service member needs
  • integrate to other software modules such as financial, website and events
  • able to link services to individuals
  • able to extract data for analysis
  • update data automatically where possible
  • link with self service areas on a website.

Business requirements – do your homework
There are many horror stories from NFPs that have opted for software not designed for their type of organisation and it ends up costing them a lot of money to get it customised.

The key to avoiding this mistake is ‘do your homework’.

It is critical to do an internal audit of your requirements and it is the people at the frontline that are an important source – the people that use the system everyday for processing member related information.

Some organisations offer a service that will go into your business, observe the day-to-day operations and advise on minimum requirements. For time and resource short organisations, this can be an advantage – just ensure that these organisations have experience in the sector and understand how associations operate.

Considerations and tips

  • Future proofing – Where will your organisation be in five years and what types of services will you be offering? A CRM is an investment and some thought into future endeavours can save headaches later.
  • Legal – Are there compliance and legal considerations that need to be satisfied? For example, privacy issues and registered training organisation fundamentals
  • The devil is in the detail – Seemingly insignificant functions, such as being able to click a button to create and send individualised invoices, can save staff a lot of time and effort. Catalogue these basic requirements before going to tender.
  • Measurement – Are reporting requirements built into the core software? Will you need to export to another software program for real analysis? What analysis are you currently doing that will need to be continued?
  • The software in action – Ask to visit a customer using the system and interview them on the advantages and disadvantages encountered in the practical application
  • Website integration – What self-service tools are required on the website? For example, online registrations, member details updating, e-recruitment, services directory, document library, opt-in/opt-out communication profile, CPD facilities, events calendar and assessment submissions.
  • Hosting – Will you be hosting your software and website locally or require the supplier to host?
  • Hardware – What hardware will be required for the server and individual workstations or terminals? How many licensed users will you need?
  • Compatibility – Is the software compatible with other business software such as MS Office and Excel?
  • Access – Can staff access the software remotely from the road or home?

The Coresoft website ( contains several checklists of business requirements that can assist in assessing your needs when selecting a software package.

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