Monday, January 19, 2015

Differentiating Suppliers of the Same Software Platform


An interesting challenge is arising on CRM platforms. With more and more companies producing 'templates' for fundraising and membership solutions on the same platforms (mostly Dynamics and Salesforce), I am finding that I see quite similar looking software from different suppliers. Which leads me to ask myself: if the platforms are that good and are right for my clients, and the software is starting to blur into the same sort of solution, then how do I distinguish between the different offerings?

First, it's about the supplier
What this shows straight away is the importance and significance of the supplier themselves. i.e. their approach to your project, their empathy with your organisation and staff; the people they employ; their sector knowledge. The added value they can bring to the project and to your organisation. All the usual sort of stuff I discuss frequently on my blog, but with a different level of emphasis because of such a need for comparisons and differentiators.

And that to me is still the most important thing.

But it is the software too
There is more you can also do to look at the software more deeply. Even if it looks similar (which it probably will because it will be on the same platform) it will of course be different when you look closer, especially in the areas of fundraising or membership. Some of the specifics you could consider include:
  • How are the companies actually presenting the core data which you want to see? Is it truly intuitive? Is there flexibility in its presentation? Have they understood how fundraisers want to see and use such data?
  • Look especially more deeply at the most critical parts of the software. For most charities who are doing fundraising this will be the income management. i.e. If a supplier is offering you a solution with some sort of template to manage your cash donations and regular donations, then how have they structured that? Have they used the platform's standard entities? Have they used custom entities? How have they created a system where you can record a pledge and its instalments? How have they created a system which enables you to create a direct debit mandate and then record all the future payments against that? And do they really understand regular giving itself? And how about reporting of this area - that takes some thinking about. This will start to show-up differences and suppliers' comprehension of this crucial area.
  • What about batch entry of income? What about the data entry of more complicated aspects of some fundraising data - e.g. in memory relationships, corporates and their contacts?
  • How have they actually coded the system to process direct debits? Can they manage high volumes - not just your current levels but if you increase them too?
  • Do they understand Gift Aid and how have they linked their system with HMRC's Charities Online?
  • How have they optimised the more common CRM elements for charities' needs? e.g. opportunities, leads. Have they shown how you major donors and HNWI fundraisers could get the most out of such systems?
In addition to all that, you also need to consider how different suppliers are considering the future of your software. Do they see it as a 'product' whereby they will be providing functional upgrades in the future? Or is it just a system which you are buying 'as is' and then build on enhancements as and when you want to? Neither way is right or wrong, it's down to your requirements and wishes. And depending on how you want to develop the system in the future, consider also the intellectual property (IP) aspects of the solutions.

Finally, you'll notice I haven't mentioned cost. So, yes, cost does of course distinguish and separate suppliers, but it's never as simple as saying that the cheaper solution is the one to go for. There is so much more to cost than that! Have a look at my blogs on cost factors and indeed, everything else about procurement.

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