Part 2 – Identifying CRM Essentials

CRM for Associations Super Blog Series

In Summmary

  • Assessing what you need from a CRM starts with taking a good look at where you’re already at in terms of digital transformation readiness.
  • The next step is to be very clear about your goals and where you want to be, being both aspirational and realistic about what is possible.
  • Finally, you will need to list out your requirements regarding functionality and technology to support your goals.


Choice paralysis. In a marketplace flooded with solutions and a rapidly changing digital environment – how do you even start to choose a CRM? It needs to be the right fit. It needs to be able to grow and change as your Association does. These are givens. But they are not enough to get you started on the evaluation and decision-making process. In this second article in our CRMs for Associations Super Blog Series, we drill down into a four-step process that will help you know exactly what you need from a CRM.

Step 1. Assessment – Where are you?

You want to get a realistic sense of the digital maturity of your Association across a number of different areas. A good way to do this is to give each area a ‘grade’ of: early, developing or mature. As a starting point, we recommend the following assessment areas:

  • Strategy
  • Leadership
  • Workforce development
  • User focus and culture

Of course, you can expand on that list, change it, add to it – the crucial thing is that it makes sense to you and the people in your Association. Equally, you can amend the ‘grading’ system to words or levels if that makes more sense to you. And you should extrapolate a little with each point so you get a clear picture. The aim of the exercise is to assess where you are up to in terms of digital transformation readiness. For example, we have created an assessment here of a fictional Association – based on our years of experience working with associations:

Step 2. Aspirations – Where do you want to go?

There are two parts to this step – external and internal. Externally, it’s good to take some time and look around you. What are your closest competitors doing? How far advanced is their digital transformation? Beyond that, what about aspirational Associations? The ones you look to for inspiration or motivation whether because of their size, scale or sophistication. Where do you want to be in relation to them? Then, turn your attention inward. Revisit your assessment matrix and create an aspirational one for the next 6-12 months. It’s important to be realistic here in terms of what you can achieve. Don’t set yourself up for failure by saying you want to be ‘mature’ across every criterion within a short timeframe.
To continue our example from above:

You may also want some high level goals such as ensuring your work culture is open to more change and innovation in how you engage with technology. A key thing at this stage is to make sure you have this conversation at the management and board level. The more people in key roles who are invested in digital transformation, the more chance you have of effective implementation (see the fourth in our CRMs for Associations Super Blog Series for more on this).

Step 3. Functions and Features – What do I need to get there?

It’s time to get down to the brass tacks. This step is all about generating lists and being specific about the functions and features you need so you can answer this question: What specifically does your Association want to be able to achieve? Be expansive in how you generate this functional ‘wish’ list. It should not just come from one person’s thinking. Ways to generate the list can include:

  • develop use cases
  • use focus groups
  • hold brainstorming sessions
  • record observations about current issues
  • conduct staff interviews
  • conduct an interface analysis
  • use prototyping

Following on from our fictional Association example, we have generated two lists of functional requirements:
Web portal

  • member directory
  • member self service
  • event and course registration
  • product purchase
  • subscription and communication preferences
  • delivered to web and mobile

Core internal business system

  • web portal well connected to internal system
  • management dashboard and reporting
  • 360 view of stakeholder management and member management
  • has ability to deliver EDMs
  • marketing automation
  • manage events and conferences
  • continuous professional development
  • financial integration

You may have internal teams who can build up your list requirements or you may want to engage a business analyst. The Associations Forum can be a good place to start if you’re looking for external assistance here. Or you can get in touch and we can assist you. In summary, the main thing we always hear – over and over – is that the number one priority for Associations is: EASE OF USE. That applies to both public / membership and internal stakeholders.

Step 4. Technology – What tools will best support you?

You might notice that we haven’t focused up front on technology when it comes to your assessment process. The temptation can be to talk about hot trends like AI and chat bots. But this is the wrong way to look at things. You need to start with a holistic approach, based on what your organisation needs and find the technology to support that. Developing your technology requirements is another list-generation process. Again, this may be something you can do internally or you may benefit from some external guidance.

Here is the basic list of technology requirements for our case study Association:

  • Easy to learn
  • Good user interface
  • Well documented product – training resources and videos online
  • Product is easy to change – we want a strong core product but we have specific requirements, and these may change over time so we want it to be able to evolve as we evolve – this is called extensibility
  • Integration – we want all systems within the infrastructure to be able to communicate with each other – this is called interoperability

Finally, some broad level questions will help prompt your list generation process in regard to technology requirements:

(i) Where will data be stored and will it be safe? Data security and compliance are increasingly important, so you need appropriate controls in that space. There are many options including:

  • on premise (on own infrastructure)
  • hosted in the cloud
  • SaaS (Software as a Service)
  • PaaS (Platform as a Service)
  • IaaS (Infrastructure as a Service)

You may have specific requirements around where you want the data to reside and need a product and partner who can support this.

(ii) Do you want the platform to be cloud first? Mobile first? How digital, how mobile do you want it to be? Build your own requirements set and don’t be afraid to be really specific about your technology needs.

Our next article in this series is all about finding the right vendor or partner for your CRM project.

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