Getting Your Non-Technical Team On Board with Techy Terms
Database queries, transaction logs, hashes, SQL, IP addresses, keys, metadata, XML, schemas, and of course, servers…
Membership management software sure can sound a little funny to the average, non-technical employee or coworker. From the technical side, it’s important to call things what they are and be specific. From the member management side, it’s nice to know what’s going on without needing to grab a technical manual to have a conversation with the tech team.
Is it essential for non-technical and technical employees to be able to understand each other? That could be up for debate depending on your organization, but most companies would like their employees to have a general understanding of each other’s work as it relates to their job function.
We understand—when you’re neck deep in code every day trying to meet launch deadlines, it can be hard to step back and be able to explain to your non-technical team the technical concepts you’re measuring with your data. It makes sense to you, after all…
But you definitely want to let your coworkers tell their members that, Yes, their data is safe, and here’s how the software protects their data.
In this post, we’ll explain how to discuss the technical components of your membership management software with your non-technical team members.
Every association is charged with protecting member data and using the database to be one of the most valuable components of the organization. For more data management info, check out our free guide Answers to the Data Management Questions on Every IT Director’s Mind.
But for now, here are a few tips to frame your conversation with your non-technical coworkers.
Speak with the Member Perspective in Mind
The English idiom “speaking the same language” usually means that two parties share the same belief pattern or point of view about a certain topic. You would think that for two people working at the same organization, this would be a no brainer.
It’s actually kind of funny to think about it that way, but the results can actually be quite frustrating. And if the miscommunication affects the services you’re able to deliver to your members, you might have a real problem on your hands.
So what’s the solution?
If you always try to speak with the member perspective in mind, it will resonate more with non-technical coworkers, as opposed to using technical jargon.
For example, note how this conversation can be easily “fixed” once we include the member:
Member associate: Why can’t I send the launch announcement email yet? I thought we were ready to go.
Programmer: I found a bug in the hashing sequence and need to fix it so the data flows properly and securely.
Member associate: [blank stare]
Programmer: Until I fix this bug, the algorithm that transmits the member data won’t properly protect it—the data will be vulnerable to attacks or accidental leaks. We didn’t find it in our initial testing, but it’s clear there’s an issue now.
Member associate: Oh, OK. Yes, please fix that before we launch! I’ll go prepare an email reminding our members how careful we are with their data. Where could I learn more about how this works?
Programmer: I’ll send you a link to an article with a great explanation. Thanks for your patience.
Wasn’t that informative, even downright pleasant? By putting your membership into the conversation, you can actually explain things better and get back to work quicker!
Focus on the Membership Department
Every department of a member-based association or organization is important to the big picture, and there’s no sense in officially setting some sort of hierarchy. On the other hand, the membership department will always require some special attention. After all, they are the ones on the front lines, handling member inquiries, support issues, and keeping things running smoothly. Oh, and they are responsible for driving and maintaining revenue.
For that reason, it can be really helpful for technical teams to put their projects and conversations in the context of the member department. You can do this by explaining how the tech will help their operations, make their job easier, or put them into a better position to serve the membership base.
Don’t be shy about explaining how collecting a certain data point for the member department is actually beneficial to the entire organization.
Discuss How the Data Impacts the Non-Technical Role
Every employee, technical or not, would love to have technology make their job easier or help them provide better service. In this way, showing your non-technical coworkers how data and technology can impact their role can be an extremely convincing way to explain complex topics.
For example, how do you feel your coworkers would answer these questions?
- Would you like to have your reports generated for you automatically instead of pulling everything manually?
- Would you like to know which segment of your membership is the most profitable?
- Would you like to be notified of members that are NOT likely to renew?
If you suspect that each of these questions would be met with a resounding “Yes!”, data can help. If they understand that data is the key to answering these questions proactively, they’ll be willing to talk with you endlessly about the technology stack that can help make it happen.
For example, if you’re able to link low engagement statistics to members who do not renew, this is something that a membership coordinator would love to have visibility into. But of course, before you’re able to analyze those types of trends and create reports, you need to have the data collection methods in place.
This is why explaining the data process in terms of how it can affect a non-technical person’s role can be a valuable way to get your message across and show the impact it has on their responsibilities or how the organization operates for its members.
In the corporate environment, one of the things that separates a good programmer from a successful programmer (or team leader) is the ability to explain concepts to non-technical people. Why’s that? He or she will get to implement the project more often if everybody is on board.
Making a good comparison is one of the all-time classic ways of explaining something complex to somebody non-technical. By putting the subject matter into a context that’s familiar to whoever is listening, you form a bridge between your code base and their frame of reference.
For example, when a member coordinator or marketing associate wants to know something about the membership or prospective members, she might develop and send out a survey.
What a technical person might do instead is to examine the data that members have created while using the software and look for trends that may or may not be able to answer the same questions. In addition to the benefit of not having to take the time to create a survey and bother your membership with questions, this approach can be especially useful because the data represents what they do, not what they say they’re going to do.
Relating a data point to a comparison can provide more context to what the technical component is actually measuring.
There’s nothing quite like providing a concrete example of what you’re talking about to get the point across. Here are two examples from different departments:
Marketing: Engagement is a telltale sign if what the marketing department creates is working. Reviewing engagement data with digital marketing campaigns is an easily-accomplished task for any membership management software worth its salt, but you have to know where to look.
One area that you may want to look at is email—what type of subject lines get the most opens? Which email time delay results in the most conversions? Does does copy length influence how likely a user is to click a call to action? You can answer any of these questions with data contained in your system.
Member Services: Data can speak volumes about what a current or prospective member will actually do vs. what they say they’ll do. Take renewals, for instance—it’s human nature to avoid confrontation with people, so when a member services representative asks about renewal, there’s a good chance they’ll get a response in the positive, regardless of its truth.
But when you look at the data and see that renewals for the bottom half of engaged users is only 10%, don’t be surprised when they don’t renew their membership.
These are two ways that using examples relevant to your team members’ specific functions can help your data-driven conversations about technology and your member system.
We hope you enjoyed our discussion on explaining technical data concepts to your non-technical coworkers. With a little empathy and a few tricks, the task of communicating complex topics can become a lot easier.
If you’re looking to answer more questions about the data contained in member management software, download our free guide: Data Management Questions on Every IT Director’s Mind.
We also have a ton of resources devoted to helping you on your path to a new member management system, and we've packaged them together to make it easy to research and shop. Check out our Membership Software Buyer's Guide today!
About Eric McDonald
As an Engagement Manager with Aptify, Eric helps clients determine whether Aptify is a good fit for their organization as they look for a new AMS. As part of the process, Eric works with clients to consider implementing new systems and new business processes to boost efficiencies and drive greater change throughout the organization. Eric is based out of the New Orleans office, calling the “Big Easy” home since 2010 when he moved there to earn his MBA from Tulane University. Outside of work, Eric loves to CrossFit, spend time with his spouse, cuddle with his Corgi, Bentley, and watch every Saints game—Who Dat!