Blog

Our blog is just another place where we can connect with you. Join the discussion, so we can learn, share, and grow together. Because knowledge is power!

Home

The DelCor Connection

The end of the website as we know it

(Web, Usability, CMS) Permanent link

Association Palooza III header image

On Tuesday, I attended Association Palooza III, a gathering of some 100 association executives confronting the future of digital. The event included 3 sessions about the digital landscape (websites/mobile/social), but I’d like to focus on just one: The End of the Website as We Know It.

Sure, it’s a provocative title – and the debate was too. Conversation and questions were inspired by session speakers Reggie Henry (CIO, ASAE), Dave Coriale (President, DelCor), Russ Magnuson (CEO/CTO, Results Direct), and facilitator Katie Atkinson (President, Results Direct).

This post is not a summary of the entire session – the conversations were intense! – just a few of my key takeaways.

First, a quick polling of the audience, to set the stage:

  • Less than 10% think websites are on the way out.
  • Less than 10% – albeit a different contingent – think members want more mobile services.
  • Less than 10% use personas.
  • Less than 10% have a content strategy (way less, actually).
  • Less than 10% think their association’s value proposition is clear.
  • Less than 10% – again, a different audience segment – think the value prop is too broad.

Evolution of the digital landscape

Reggie, long a proponent of mobile, observed that the world is [constantly] changing how it communicates. It’s imperative that associations right-size the communication channel for their specific member audiences.

Today’s website is a far cry from what it looked like in the early 90s. Russ described that evolution as brochure > gadgets > forms > kiosk. Just take a tour through the Wayback Machine and you’ll see for yourself!

Russ further noted that if you could cut open a website, like a tree, you’d see rings of investment. Investments like staff, CMS upgrades, integrations, and so on. But the website isn’t growing like a healthy tree, despite that investment. What’s preventing growth – in usefulness and revenue and member satisfaction?

Perhaps what’s missing is a content strategy. Noted Dave, early websites weren’t accompanied by content strategy plans. Even now, when associations go through CMS selection, they don’t develop a content strategy to support the CMS. Associations must match business goals to content, or the content is just there taking up valuable space, likely preventing members from finding what they really need.

Without a content strategy, right-sized communications, and accessibility that empowers members to do what they came to do, digital properties can flat-out wreck the customer experience.

A market of one

Perhaps the question of the day was this one from Reggie: what does a market of one look like? Because that’s who associations are marketing to now – the individual member, not some nebulous group of blue suits.

Reggie recommended personas as one way to help you narrow your focus, so you can clarify your website’s purpose and audience. Personas can help identify your audience segments, their behaviors, and their needs.

Russ emphasized that behavior trumps profiling [through surveys] any day. By analyzing behavior, you don’t need to survey members on their wants and needs (which they may not be able to explicitly detail anyway). Rather, behavior provides evidence for decision making, and can help your association earn the right to more directly market to that member. You can use that behavioral evidence to further clarify the individual member’s needs and desires, providing a truly personalized experience.

To develop personas of your user groups, Dave suggested drilling into what a day in the life of your users looks like. Are they on the road or behind a desk? Do they take 5 minutes for lunch, or an hour? Reggie went even further; sit in on their meetings and watch them in action, in their offices. What do they struggle with? What do they need that they don’t have?

Another tool for developing for personas is a focus group. Sure, it’s a time commitment to conduct and analyze a focus group, but it’s direct input from your membership that’s difficult to acquire in depth in any other way.

Once you’ve developed personas, you can (and should) use them to inform your content strategy, said Dave.

Ultimately, said Reggie, the association’s task is to build digital properties that help the user do what they came to do, and nothing more. If they came to your desktop or mobile site to join, it has to work simply, on any platform. Let them join, and don’t immediately start cross-selling them into conferences or books. 

The age of Easy Pass

One audience member described the Easy Pass lifestyle. You can drive the Eastern seaboard with one device. You set it up, and you don’t have to think about it. Why can’t association websites provide that same experience, without misdirecting or overloading members?

Then there’s the opposite of easy: Amazon. Yep, it came up as an example more than once. But Dave revealed that Amazon’s ease-of-use is actually horrible, particularly for new users. Yet, Amazon delivers value, and so people learn the system over time; they forget how hard it was to use in the beginning.

However, they may not be invested in taking the time to figure out how to use your website if it gives them too much trouble or too little value. You have to deliver enough value to make them want to learn your system – or simply design a better user experience from the start.

Oh, and stop comparing your site to Amazon.

It’s not just your website that should be easy; it’s also your mobile website, your mobile app, and your social communities. Katie observed that it can be intimidating to engage across all of these platforms, but those platforms – at least in the user’s mind – are melding. Declared Russ, there’s only one platform: the one the person is using right now.

While you’re designing easy-to-use experiences across all these platforms, said Dave, pay special attention to business rules. They’re usually what get in the way of having happy users. For example, if you want a visitor to fill out a form, don’t ask for everything you could possibly put in your database; get only what you need, and get the rest later. The visitor will be happier, and you’ll have a good starting point for building that relationship (and analyzing behavior). 

Coincidentally, Taco Bell is pushing the envelope on this topic, as reported in Associations Now. Is it the end of the website as we know it, or should we all just run for the border?

Association Palooza III was presented and sponsored by Results Direct and DelCor.

 

When should you reevaluate your AMS and other enterprise-wide systems?

(AMS, Association Management) Permanent link

dollar signs in hourglass

Recently in ASAE’s Collaborate community, an association executive asked about best practices or recommended timelines for reevaluating association management systems (AMS). In case you missed that discussion, here’s the advice I shared. 

Although I don’t have any hard data on the average timeframe for associations reevaluating their AMS, 5 years seems to be the magic number based on anecdotal evidence.

However, there are other times when it’s important to evaluate the current state of the market in light of your organization’s IT governance and management plan and your existing enterprise-wide systems – your AMS, customer relationship management system (CRM), content management system (CMS), and other mission-critical systems. Here are a few.

Change in business objectives.

If your organization embarks on a new business adventure, is your technology capable of supporting your new business objectives? For example, what if your organization creates a for-profit subsidiary or shifts its focus from events to education – is your existing technology up to the job?

Change in technology.

You’ll want to evaluate your existing technology in the context of today’s technology market. Are there new options available that will substantially increase your organization’s capability to fulfill your mission, vision, and business objectives? Is your existing technology holding you back from reaching your potential?

Change in your data management and related needs.

It’s time to look at new technology if your organization’s business intelligence and data analysis needs can’t be met effectively by your current platform. 

Substantial change in business processes.

Are you working inefficiently – for example, using workarounds and adopting redundant practices – because you’re trying to make an old system fit new business processes? 

Acquisition or merger.

Can your existing technology handle new demands resulting from an acquisition or merger?

Unavoidable system upgrade.

If your current platform is no longer supported by the vendor, that’s a good reason to look at alternatives. 

In addition to regularly scheduled reviews – for example, every 5 years – these event- and industry-based catalysts should prompt a comprehensive evaluation of your IT governance and management model. Don’t let your technology hold your organization back from fulfilling its mission.

Flickr photo by Bill Brooks

Expert tips: how to live happily ever after with your new AMS

(AMS, Association Management) Permanent link

pathway and sign: happily ever after starts here

If you’ve stuck around since the first in this series of posts inspired by the ASAE Membership Section virtual brown bag, Think like the Experts: Experienced Tips for a Hassle Free AMS, then you’ve already read my advice on:

  • Knowing why you want a new AMS
  • Knowing what you want in a new AMS
  • Understanding requirements
  • Making sure you and your team survive the project
  • Getting your money’s worth
  • Finding the best AMS vendor for your needs

I have two final thoughts.

 

1. You thought you were finished – but the best part of the project is just beginning.

To ensure a positive outcome for your AMS implementation, think of its launch as the first day of a new phase of the project. What I mean is: your project doesn’t end at launch; it transitions into another phase after you get to know your new AMS. I know you thought it was over, but this is when it gets really interesting.

Try to launch with as much baseline functionality and process as possible, that is, with the least amount of additional configuration and customization on top of the baseline system. Save 20-30% of your budget to further refine and configure the system after you have used it for 3-6 months.

2. Your AMS vendor is your partner – treat them like one.

Think of your AMS vendor as a partner. They have a stake in your success too. Consider them an extension of your staff. Beyond having a deep knowledge of their product and its capabilities, they’ve helped all kinds of associations use their AMS for all types of business processes.

Their AMS has been implemented to solve a wide range of business problems, integrate with a number of different systems, and produce all kinds of reports. Seek their advice. They may have new approaches to solving some of your association’s old problems.

Now you’re ready to roll.

So is your new AMS. You’ve planned thoroughly for launch, your staff are trained up (and management has an ongoing training plan), and your AMS vendor has your back. Good luck, and keep moving forward – that’s progress!

In case you missed something in this series…

Here are all of my “expert tips” posts, in chronological order: 

  1. What you need to know before selecting an AMS (10/3/14)
  2. The why and what of AMS selection (10/6/14)
  3. How to get your staff ready for a new AMS (10/7/14)
  4. Project team survival begins with change management (10/8/14)
  5. How to get your money’s worth from your AMS investment (10/9/14)
  6. How to find the best AMS vendor for your needs (10/10/14)
  7. How to live happily ever after with your new AMS (10/13/14)

 

Flickr photo by Leah Jones

Expert tips: how to find the best AMS vendor for your needs

(AMS, Association Management) Permanent link

vintage Baskin-Robbins 31 flavors sign

After you’ve identified and documented requirements for a new AMS, it’s time to find out which vendors offer the best solution for your needs. The most common practice in the association world is to send out a document describing your association’s selection process and your requirements for an AMS. Vendors then respond to this document by providing information about how their solution would address the needs you’ve outlined. Two versions of this type of document are used on a regular basis by associations.

RFP

One option is the request for proposals (RFP). Typically, an RFP provides a detailed description of the project, including background information about the association, organizational goals, and core business functionality. System requirements are described, as well as a summary of supporting requirements, such as software licensing, training, timeline, and directions for the vendor’s proposal. 

You should allow up to a month to produce a thorough RFP that includes detailed requirements in addition to information about business process flows, integration needs, and governance for the selection process.

RFI

The other option is a request for information (RFI), a more compressed version of a RFP. An RFI is typically used to narrow down the field of potential vendors before sending out an RFP to request formal proposals. It contains high-level information and less detail about business processes and individual requirements. Based on the initial information provided by vendors, the association decides which solutions are worthy of a more in-depth review. 

An RFI takes only a few weeks to prepare since much of the background information about the association and high-level requirements are readily available. 

Choosing between an RFP and RFI

Regardless of the size and scope of the project, an RFI is often the best option for starting initial conversations with vendors. Then, follow up with personalized demonstrations of the solutions that pass muster. The knowledge gained from these conversations and demonstrations will help your association develop a focused RFP for the final 2 or 3 vendors that you want to seriously consider. But, if you’re still not sure, use our cheat sheet to determine whether an RFI or RFP is the right choice for your next step in AMS selection (PDF).

Tune in next week for some final thoughts on AMS selection. If you have questions about any posts in this series, please post them in the comments.

Other posts in this series:

Additional reading:

 

Flickr photo by Lori Rielly

Expert tips: how to get your money’s worth from your AMS investment

(AMS, Association Management) Permanent link

marquis: every Monday all u can eat bacon!

Many associations don’t dig deep enough into their AMS, says Teri Carden (ReviewMyAMS.com). One key symptom? They never pursue additional training after the initial launch. You need to keep up on training if you want to take full advantage of your system’s functionality. 

Listen up, because this is critical: the investment in your AMS doesn’t end at launch.

Your annual budget should include funds to support additional training, including user conferences where staff can learn more about your existing system and prepare for new releases. Enable ways for your staff to share their experiences and education on the software with colleagues throughout the organization, so all of your system’s users remain knowledgeable on the latest updates, tricks, and nuances. And, yes, ensure the funding is there to support these activities.

Finally, remember your AMS does not stand alone – at least it shouldn’t. You have to keep tabs on partners and peripheral systems that are linked to your AMS. 

Your new system will meet expectations if you do your homework before selection (requirements analysis) and make the commitment to sharpen your AMS skills after launch (fully funded training for your staff). Start your AMS journey on the right foot and keep investing in that journey to achieve long-term success.

Other posts in this series:

Additional reading:

 

Flickr photo by bourgeolsbee

Expert tips: project team survival begins with change management

(AMS, Association Management) Permanent link

There's no such thing as small change.

If you haven’t been through one yourself, let me break the news to you: any system implementation is a change management experience. Your organization better have a culture that’s ready. It starts at the top. According to Teri Carden (ReviewMyAMS.com), the mindset of your association’s executive and senior staff about change will determine the ultimate success of your AMS. So what’s an organization to do?

Embrace the change.

Take advantage of this opportunity to review and improve existing processes. However, be aware of and sensitive to any resistance to change among your colleagues. Don’t stereotype people by their age. Risk aversion knows no age limits, nor does tech aversion. 

Sometimes people will come around if you can find a replacement for their “safety blanket” – a report or a process they’re attached to, maybe that membership form they designed 10 years ago. Help them find the next generation of that same form, and you’re likely to ease their discomfort with change. 

Make sure the people on the project team don’t think it’s a horrible, overwhelming chore. Break the process down into manageable chunks for those who have to do the work. And don’t forget to celebrate each milestone and make time for fun – a key aspect to any successful organizational change.

I’m not the expert on transformative change, but I’ve helped facilitate many change management experiences in associations, particularly in their adoption of a new AMS. (Even system upgrades can be traumatic to some people – change management to the rescue!) Here’s some further reading to help you understand the impact of change – and to guide your organization through it. Check them out, then give us your feedback or share your own favorite resources in the comments.

Also, from The DelCor Connection blog:

Finally, be sure to review my other posts in this series:

Tune in tomorrow for advice on getting your money’s worth – a topic near and dear to all our hearts and wallets.

 

Flickr photo by chintermeyer

Expert tips: how to get your staff ready for a new AMS

(AMS, Association Management) Permanent link

inspecting the line

How should you prepare staff for a new AMS selection and implementation? Let’s start with homework. No grumbling, please.

Selection homework: understanding requirements 

AMS selection and implementation require an investment of resources – not just money, but staff time, too. You can’t expect staff to fit this into their packed schedule along with their regular work. You must allocate real time for staff to work on the project.

Addy Kujawa, CAE, (AAOE) advises including the right staff – those who are working with the system or who need information from the system. Their knowledge of your existing system and processes – both the pros and cons – is extremely valuable during requirements gathering. She also emphasizes the need to dedicate time at the beginning of the selection process to understanding and documenting system requirements and business processes related to the system.

Too often, staff doesn’t sufficiently prepare for this type of project. They don’t go through a comprehensive requirements analysis. Instead, they expect vendors to ask the right questions and show them exactly what is needed.

Remember: the association should be driving the requirements and selection process, not the vendor. It’s the association’s job to educate vendors about goals, requirements, and processes – not the reverse.

Tomorrow, we’ll take a look at survival tips for your project team. In the meantime, here’s further reading on requirements analysis – the foundation for your whole project!


Other posts in this series:

 

Flickr photo by Dave Verwer

Expert tips: the why and what of AMS selection

(AMS, Association Management) Permanent link

waving the checkered flag at a race

Last month’s ASAE Membership Section virtual brown bag on AMS selection got my wheels turning on the topic. Today’s post marks my first in a series of lessons learned from the session, augmented by my years of experience as both an association executive and a consultant who’s seen a lot happen in selection, implementation, and maintenance. You might say that it’s a topic I’m passionate about!

Let’s begin with the focus of today’s blog: there are 2 key things you need to know before you embark on an AMS selection:

  1. Why you want a new AMS
  2. What you want in a new AMS

Let’s start with the why first.

Why is your organization considering a new AMS? Do you need new functionality? Is your association starting a new line of business? Is staff bored? 

You need to identify the reason for change, and make sure it’s legit. A common pitfall I see is an organization deciding to invest in a new AMS simply because they think it’s time, or they fall for some new cool technology, or they see someone else doing it. Not good enough!

Instead, you need to answer this question:

  • How will a new AMS better support your organization’s goals?

If you can’t answer that question, legitimately, you need to press pause and carve out some time for internal, organizational reflection before you go any further.

Now for the what. 

What do you want in a new AMS? Addy Kujawa, CAE (Executive Director American Academy of Orthopaedic Executives) said during the brown bag, “You need clarity on requirements.” Usually when an AMS doesn’t live up to expectations, it’s because the requirements analysis process wasn’t sufficiently thorough. The necessary questions weren’t asked, the necessary buttons weren’t pushed, and the necessary changes weren’t considered.

Vendors can only work with the requirements you provide. They won’t know your association’s needs or the problems you’re trying to solve until you educate them either in person (highly recommended) or in your RFP. They need to understand your association’s mission, goals (both high-level and operational), and how technology is supporting your association in achieving those goals.

Give vendors clear information about the business processes that are critical to your organization. How do you use your current AMS? What type of manual processes are still being used? How are members (or customers, attendees, etc.) interacting with the AMS? What type of data and reports do you need to pull from the AMS?

An AMS is the sum of its parts. It’s part of a universe of related vendor partners and systems that interact and integrate with it. It is critical to include that entire universe in the information you provide to vendors so they know about all possible integration points. 

Sit down with each of your existing system vendors and ask them which AMS they integrate the best with and why.

Teri Carden (Founder, ReviewMyAMS.com) had some great parting advice for the brown bag participants: “Finding the perfect AMS is like finding the perfect spouse. They don’t exist. Find the best AMS for your needs.”

Tune in tomorrow for advice on preparing your staff for a new AMS.

Other posts in this series:

Additional reading:

Flickr photo by Jay Williams

Sneak peek: what you need to know before selecting an AMS

(AMS, Association Management) Permanent link

sign: no hassle (hassle 10% extra)

Selecting an association management system was the topic of a recent ASAE Membership Section virtual brown bag, Think Like the Experts: Experienced Tips for a Hassle-Free AMS Selection, moderated by KiKi L’Italien (Senior Consultant, Aptify). I was a panelist along with Teri Carden (Founder, ReviewMyAMS.com) and Addy Kujawa, CAE (Executive Director, American Academy of Orthopaedic Executives).

I walked away from the brown bag with a head full of selection advice, so I jotted some of it down and will be sharing it with you throughout the next week – keep an eye on this blog (and the DelCor Twitter stream) starting Monday, October 6, so you don’t miss a single bit of the panel’s advice and insight.

Of course, AMS selection is not new for DelCor. We’ve been doing it for decades, watching the field evolve and mature. We’ve also covered some similar topics before here on the DelCor blog, which I share below to warm you up for next week. Breathe deep, stretch, and read on. See you Monday!

Flickr photo by Chris Brown

Blogger’s Digest: September 2014

(Everything Else) Permanent link

Commodore 64

Was the Commodore 64 your first computer? (Flickr photo by DKSTHLM!) You know we love all things retro. To highlight some of them, and in celebration of our 30th year in business, we’re featuring some blasts from the past on our Facebook page; just scroll though for the “Flashback” posts.

 

Hello, October!

Let’s take a look back at our blog posts last month. Feel free to comment online, or send your suggestions/questions for future blog posts to deardel@delcor.com.

  • Measuring your association’s personal intelligence (Tobin Conley, September 9, 2014)
    Taking a cue from Scientific American Mind, Tobin examines how your staff’s ability to make consistent plans and visualize the future can impact your organization’s success.
  • Appreciating organizations that make a difference (Bill Walker, September 12, 2014)
    For 30 years, we’ve been committed to our community, and we’re celebrating that commitment all year with 30 Acts of Appreciation. In this post, we pause to recognize many of the organizations we support for the betterment of our community. Is your favorite on the list?
  • Reserve a VIP spot at your project launch party for IT (Wendy Raulin, PMP, September 15, 2014)
    Are you about to launch a new project? Wendy reminds us to save IT a VIP spot, noting the 3 specific contributions they’ll make to your project’s success.
  • Book review: Give and Take by Adam Grant (Gretchen Steenstra, PMP, September 18, 2014)
    If you attended ASAE’s Annual Meeting in Nashville, you might have seen Adam Grant speak – he was the opening keynote. Gretchen shares her insights on the book and describes the 3 personalities Adam examines in his book: givers, takers, and matchers. Which one are you?
  • You have a financial portfolio. Do you have a project portfolio? (Wendy Raulin, PMP, September 24, 2014)
    If your organization is running multiple projects without tracking them, that’s bad. Wendy explains the value of a project portfolio for helping you keep track and stay on mission.
  • Is your IT department a “necessary evil” or your “partner in crime”? (Wendy Raulin, PMP, September 29, 2014)
    A follow-up to the above post, Wendy further explores why it may be time to change how you view IT – success is certainly much easier when they’re a fully participating partner!

 

Upcoming Events

 

Want to receive this monthly digest by email? Drop us a note!