2 Rules of Thumb When Defining Membership Software Requirements
Once your organization has decided to make the switch to new membership software, you’ll have to evaluate your existing system to see what it lacks and then create a requirements list on what you want your new software to have. This step is crucial because naturally you want the software to be able to do what you need it to do. And your requirements set the baseline of what the price tag of your software will be.
Defining your requirements is not always as easy as it sounds. I see this as trying to figure out what you want in an apartment or house. Currently, I'm trying to figure out where I want to live as my lease will be expiring in the upcoming months.
The first step is a needs assessment. This can be done before you start investigating systems or once you’ve started the search process, but it will need to be completed in order to define your list of requirements. In my case, I need to figure out if I want to stay in an apartment or buy a condo. How many bedrooms do I want? In what part of the city do I want to live?
During this phase, clearly articulate every business process and every system need. That way, the vendors you're considering can determine what can be handled by the stock system, an optional module, or a configuration. Each of those has an effect on costs. Some of them could drive cost up, and some of those could save you money.
Here are 2 tips to follow as you and your staff determine your requirements list.
Depending on what is important to your organization's success, you need to be specific in what you need in your next membership software purchase. For example, let's say you're a trade organization and you put down a requirement that says, "Software must support trade membership." Well, just about every software system out there "supports trade memberships," so they'll all mark that as stock functionality. With this example, you need to get more specific.
The actual requirement is that your trade organization has membership that trickles down from the parent organization to every employee of every child organization. In addition, the dues are based on annual revenue, and membership renews on an anniversary basis. With this specific requirement, some membership softwares might support this functionality, as an out-of-the-box feature. However, some of the pieces might require configuration or customization in other systems. That's an additional cost you would need to take into account.
Another way you can decide your system requirements is by considering the different use case scenarios. Consider identifying the people in your organization that will be using the software and how they’ll be using it to to get their jobs done. This will vary with every organization, but when you go through this exercise with your staff, you’ll discover what requirements are vital to the success of your organization and what are simply “nice to have.” This will also help your vendor so they can get a better understanding of what you’re looking for in a software and how that could impact the price.
Right now, I'm trying to be determine what I need in my next apartment. My must-haves are that I'm near a train stop, a grocery store, a gym, and the building has either a doorman or some type of security checkpoint. As I search for a new place, though, I'm realizing I need to be more specific about some of the above items. I want to be near a train stop, but what is my definition of "near?" "Near" could be 10 blocks for someone who isn't fazed by cold weather or those days when Chicago truly lives up to its nickname "the windy city." For me, I need to be no more than 5 blocks from the train stop. Also, what type of gym? Would a trendy, overpriced yoga studio suffice, or should it be an affordable fitness center with a good selection of classes? I’m thinking the latter with this one.
Bottom line: be specific about what you need when you're defining your requirements. It will make things easier for your membership software vendor and will reduce the likelihood of running into issues during the actual implementation.
When you're defining your needs, you should focus on the what and the end result, not the how you get to that end result.
When you're defining your needs, you should focus on the what and the end result, not the how you get to that end result. Maintain an open mind internally at your organization as to “how” you get to the end result. There will be instances where you’ll have to change the process, or you’ll discover a lack of an internal process and will have to develop one. How many times have you been stuck in a workaround in your current membership management system, rather than solving the actual problem? If a new system can meet your needs and get you to that end result in a different way, then it may be a huge time and money saver. In the long term, it will avoid customizations that will bog down the system and impair your upgrade path.
I'm trying to stay open-minded as I search for a new apartment. It's definitely a struggle for me because I have two additional must-have items that I didn't mention earlier, and I'm having to ask myself if I'm willing to compromise on those items.
So that's it! Try to keep these 2 guiding principles in mind when gathering your membership management system requirements. Once you've compiled your list, the next step is to send it out to software vendors as an RFP.
About Chandra Chakravarthi
As a Coordinator of Content, Branding, & Buzz at Aptify, Chandra supports the department with content creation, digital advertising, and overseeing the social media channels. Outside of Aptify, you can find her exploring Chicago and eating too much pizza while she waits for her letter from Hogwarts.