Sunday, October 13, 2013

CRM Dynamics template market for membership solutions already refining itself

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?

As a final caveat, I'm not suggesting templated solutions such as this are the only way to buy Dynamics for membership solutions, and I'm not endorsing the above suppliers. I can't say if they will still be selling their solutions in 12-18 months time. But the approach is certainly one option you can take. And I'm equally sure there will be other, new developments which could become good options in the future. The most important thing is to do a solid procurement and selection process and then you will be as sure as you can be that your final decision will be the right one.


Steve Gapes said...

Ivan, you raise some interesting points in our article .. all of which, we, as one of the Dynamics CRM suppliers named, would agree with. Your key points about doing “a solid procurement and selection process” and having a partner who is “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” are particularly insightful. Dynamics CRM is a very powerful and configurable platform and can, fairly easily, be configured to “look and feel like” a membership solution but there is some much more to the functionality that a membership organisation needs than can be achieved by surface level configurability. We, at Silverbear, took the decision some years ago to focus exclusively on the membership and Not for Profit sector, and then, having determined what we believed these markets required from a solution – both at the backend (CRM) database and administration side, and the front end web self service side – looked for a platform upon which to base our solution. The outcome of our selection process was Microsoft Dynamics CRM as we believed in its flexibility, ease of end user adoption, integration with common Office tools and its ongoing development roadmap. But we also knew that we needed to invest in developing those areas that Dynamics CRM doesn’t handle well. or at all, that are so essential to the membership and Not for Profit worlds. Sample examples of these are membership renewal and lapses processes, the handling of complex pricing models, the complete end to end processing of financial transactions (including direct debit handling, part payments, over payments, refunds, credit notes, financial allocation, etc), committee and group membership, events and conference/congress management (a huge area in its own right – including booker and delegate management, different “package” entitlement and pricing algorithms, speaker, exhibitor and sponsor management, session management, waiting lists, etc), and application and accreditation management (including CPD management, qualification management, etc). Add in gift aid handling, true email marketing functionality, and the host of other things that a busy membership organisation needs to run efficiently and effectively, and the list of things that need building (and that we have now built and successfully deployed to our growing customer base) gets very substantial – make all of this functionality accessible by members online and the size of the task in hand is daunting (we know, as we’ve built all of this over a 3 year period and having invested a sizeable development budget to make it happen). If you need integration to other third party applications – such as your financial application and your existing web site – then the task, and the required budget, gets larger and larger with those solutions who haven’t designed these capabilities in from the outset.

Mark Travis said...

Hi Ivan,

Mark Travis from Silverbear here. Great post with some really useful points highlighted.

Thank you for including us in your list of suppliers.

Since our membership software is Certified for Microsoft Dynamics, we're acutely aware of the use of Dynamics CRM as a base for membership solutions - including all the difficulties in creating a solution on this platform that can provide membership organisations with everything they need to effectively manage their members (which most of the time cannot be achieved with a basic surface-level configuration).

We've got a lot to say on this topic (as you can imagine!), so we've written a full response on our own blog. Please have a read and let us know your thoughts: Microsoft Dynamics CRM for Memberships.