I did some work recently for a membership organisation who wanted to buy a new database and they decided that Microsoft Dynamics CRM was the right solution for them. However, having decided that and having looked at one vendor of a Dynamics membership solution, their trustees asked them to review if there were other companies who could also provide a suitable membership system on Dynamics. Which, when I looked, was an interesting experience.
Just before I go on to what the outcome was, I should say that I think this sort of situation may start to become more common in the charity and membership sector. It may be that some organisations even choose a platform before even talking to a reseller - a practise which is certainly done in the commercial sector - but even if an organisation looks at 'traditional' package suppliers and CRM providers and plumps for CRM, then it will become far more common for them to be comparing at least 2 such business partners, or even more. And as long as we do this ethically and openly then this is no bad thing.
What my client wanted was a supplier who already had a membership "template" built on Dynamics for a UK organisation. They weren't a large or complex organisation so it made sense. And so I talked to a number of suppliers who I knew had or were planning to have such templates. And what I found was the number of options had shrunk considerably in the last 12 months.
For a start, several companies who used to sell such templates don't now. And I got some interesting feedback from those companies as to why this is the case (NB I am paraphrasing here):
- We moved out of the sector - fair enough I suppose, although disappointing for the organisations who had already bought into them;
- We found that a template couldn't support everyone's needs - understandable from one angle but I'm not convinced that should matter so much if you have a good foundation and a solid approach. There is nothing wrong with starting with the basics and developing each installation differently and appropriately for each client;
- And even: Our solution wasn't as good as others on the market so we stopped selling it. Honest at least!
- There was also more than one who, tellingly, never got back to me when I tried to email or phone them…
Which means the market has shrunk to about 1/3 of the options I knew of a year ago, and I was left with only 3 suppliers who still sell UK membership "templates" for Dynamics: Excitation, Pythagoras and Silverbear. Additionally, m-hance offer a "modular" approach where they don't exactly have a template but do have different, appropriate modules they could provide for a membership solution; a perfectly sound approach too. Plus there were a couple of others who are still developing theirs.
What does this mean to you?
It shows that you need to take so much care when buying a new system such as this. Yes, one of the benefits of Dynamics (and similar CRM systems) is that if you do your initial implementation through company X, and then company X goes bust or you fall out with them, then at least you still have your Dynamics solution and you can go elsewhere for your support. But it’s not what you ideally want. Like any similar procurement, you want to buy into a company who is not just supplying you software but who is also going to be a good business partner for years to come, who can bring new things and ideas to the table, who gets to know how you work and who understands the membership sector. That's a real benefit.
You should also be aware of any Intellectual Property (IP) issues in such procurements. If a supplier is claiming IP on any of its software deliverables to you then what would that mean if you did want to move away from their support or if they did decide to stop enhancing their specific offering any more?