Finding the best membership management software for your association is often a huge project that gets put off longer than intended. Our team at Cobalt has worked closely with associations since 1996. We understand how complex the move to a new AMS system is for your team. That’s part of why we have written this 2023 Association Management Software Buying Guide. We’ve packed the best of what we’ve learned about evaluating membership management software (and vendors) into this resource.

This post is Part Three of our guide. It will deal with how to make your final selection from the shortlist of membership management software finalists you’ve found. Part One is all about what to ask to assess the needs of your association staff and members. Part Two of the 2023 edition of our guide deals with the initial research phase that helps narrow the possibilities.

Download a free, complete version of our guide now. It’s a helpful resource for association teams at every stage of the membership management software search.

Download a complete copy of this 2023 AMS Buying Guide.

Finishing Your Membership Management Software Search

Hopefully, you started the research phase of your new association management software search with 10-12 possible vendors. By now, at the beginning of the selection phase, you should have less than five companies with offerings that really meet your core needs. 

  • You already know that their core functionality is in line with what you’re looking for.
  • There aren’t any UX red flags.
  • You’ve had a glimpse of their AMS in action during an initial demo.

Now is the time to get down to the nitty-gritty of detailed specs and functionality.

Topics We Cover in This Article

What are the biggest differences in membership management software in 2023?
Mature AMS cloud platforms
Consolidation in the membership management software market
Send RFPs to your remaining AMS vendor prospects
Request customized membership management software demos
Check references for your strongest membership management software partner prospect
Questions to ask references of your potential membership management software partner
Present your final candidate(s) to your AMS stakeholders
Read more about how to select the best AMS for your association

After You’ve Chosen a Membership Management Software Partner
Read more about what to expect in the AMS implementation phase

What are the biggest differences in membership management software in 2023?

Before I dive into the two most significant membership management software trends this year, I want to reiterate something I mentioned earlier in this guide. 

Once an association outgrows the entry-level AMS solutions, there’s a great deal of overlap in the core feature sets of the most viable vendors in our industry. The significant differences between them will surface in the RFP and more detailed product demos. 

Budget, specialized processes and functionality, and vendor support are the biggest levers in this decision for most associations. And those are some of the areas you’ll likely give most of your attention as you shop around for the best system and vendor for your needs. 

But now, let’s touch on the two biggest differences in membership management software solutions in 2023: the maturity of cloud-based functionality, and significant consolidation within the AMS industry. 

Mature AMS cloud platforms

If you’ve been in this industry a decade or more, you’ll likely remember the exciting possibilities related to “the cloud” and cloud-based platforms five to seven years ago. Remember how they were going to do all these amazing things for your association? 

The initial excitement and payoff behind those promises was a bit slow to materialize. But in 2023, I think there’s a general recognition that many of those cloud platforms and opportunities have truly matured. If your vendor is using a robust commercial CRM (like Microsoft Dynamics 365 or Salesforce) to power your membership management software, there really are some amazing new opportunities for your association.

Today, your team can build low-code or no-code applications in-house. It’s often easy to add the functionality that solves your business problems without needing to hit your vendor up for custom development.

AI technology is enabling some wild advancements in real-time member engagement, forecasting, and sentiment analysis in your communications.

Analytic tools like Microsoft Power BI are squeezing a lot more value out of your AMS data. The insights associations have into their market and members really are deeper and more helpful than ever before.  

This is only going to continue as Microsoft and other companies make heavy investments in AI and predictive language technologies like ChatGPT. This may seem like somewhat of a novelty today, but integrating these technologies into the business tools we are already using is going to be a gamechanger in the next few years.

Consolidation in the membership management software market

The other AMS trend for 2023 that I want to mention is the ongoing consolidation of membership management software providers in our industry. 

I don’t think every association looking for a new association management software solution today understands the industry landscape in terms of who-owns-who. There may be some advantages of one parent company offering a different sized (and priced) AMS options for associations, but it’s definitely something buyers should keep in mind. 

My advice here is to do enough ground-level research to know when you’re getting quotes from AMS vendors owned by the same company. It’s almost certainly in your best interests to diversify your short list of providers.

Send RFPs to your remaining AMS vendor prospects

Most of the basic questions that would have been included in an RFP much earlier in the process can be eliminated. This will allow you to focus on the finer points that shine a bright light on the more subtle differences in your final candidates.

Now is the time to issue an RFP or ask for a formal proposal based on your requirements. 

All the effort to gather detailed information about how your staff is using your membership management software and how your members are interacting with it is only going to keep paying off at this point. Revisit all of that now, as you begin reviewing comprehensive proposals from your finalists.

Request customized membership management software demos

Once you have proposals in hand, pursue another round of demonstrations. Ask your top contenders to schedule what we call a “reverse demonstration” with you. 

This one step could prove to be the most critical in the entire membership management software selection process for your association. 

When you take space to plan and execute an effective reverse demo, you give vendors a thorough walkthrough of your real needs and priorities. 

We have devoted an entire post to preparing for reverse demos because we believe they are so important. It is packed with practical, concrete steps you can take and questions you can ask to ensure you make the most of your time and effort for this step.

We always learn things that make  a significant difference in the bids we submit. And associations always learn some important things about their own processes and inefficiencies.

You don’t want to spend a ton of time, effort, and money on this project only to wind up with a shiny version of the system you already have. That’s a monumental waste! The reverse demo is where associations start to see (and help us see) some new ways to improve day-to-day processes for their staff, and what they can offer their members. 

After a round of reverse demonstrations, ask vendors to tailor a custom demo of their software for your organization. This is why the reverse demo is so critical. You need to know they truly understand what you do, what you need, and then prove they can meet you where you are. 

You’ve seen their more generic demo, but at this point in the process, vendors should be willing to put more time into something more customized for your staff and members. This also gives vendors a chance to show off — and clarify how much they want you as a customer!

Check references for your strongest membership management software partner prospect

One of the last things in the process of finding a new AMS is checking the references of your top finalists. Don’t be surprised if a vendor is reluctant to hand over reference contact information earlier in the process. 

Their best and favorite clients don’t want to be inundated with calls from potential clients. But if you’ve come this far in the selection process, a vendor should be willing to let you hear from the associations they serve.

Questions to ask references of your potential membership management software partner

  • What was the implementation process like? Were there issues?
  • How would you rate this vendor’s customer service?
  • How often do you experience outages with your system?
  • Were the final costs in line with what the vendor promised or proposed?

Present your final candidate(s) to your AMS stakeholders

After all this work, your Task Force should have one or two finalists. And, they should have everything they need to make a clear, compelling case to your stakeholders. 

There are critical phases just around the corner: implementation, training, and adoption. So, it’s very, very important to present your candidates well. 

It’s equally important to listen well to what your staff and members have to say at this point. Answer their questions if you’re able. Follow up with the vendor to address any outstanding issues or concerns. You’ll be paving the way to a successful implementation with any effort you spend in this conversation.

A tremendous amount of time and energy has been dedicated to this search, especially by your point person and Task Force members. Recognize and celebrate that appropriately! Make the unveiling of your final candidates the big deal it truly is for your organization. 

Taking this approach will only help create more buy-in from your people. And that is the peace of mind that outsourcing massive bulk RFPs cannot provide.

We recommend taking special pains to reiterate all the effort that went into assessing your staff and member needs. Highlight the particular ways the new system will make their work easier, more effective, and a better fit for their everyday needs. You’re presenting membership management software to them they might just grow to love.

Read more about how to select the best AMS for your association

The Power of Reverse Demos in the AMS Shopping Process

Using Power Automate For Association Networking

What Should You Budget for a New AMS?

After You’ve Chosen a Membership Management Software Partner

Once you’ve made your final decision, there is still a lot of work to do before your team will be up and running with the new system. If you’ll adapt and follow the game plan I’ve described in this buying guide, you will significantly increase the odds of finding membership management software that will meet your needs. 

After choosing an AMS partner, focus your team’s energy on drafting a strong project charter for a smoother implementation. 

The other huge consideration will be how you handle data migration. We’ve got some best practices for migrating data from your old AMS. As I mentioned above, your data migration strategy can have a huge impact on the scope and cost of your AMS implementation project. This is something you should make sure that you are on the same page on with your vendor and your internal stakeholders before you get too deep into the implementation.

Read more about what to expect in the AMS implementation phase

How to Avoid an Implementation Horror Story with Your New AMS

What It Takes to Successfully Launch Your New Association Management Software (AMS)

Download a complete copy of this 2023 AMS Buying Guide.

Finding the Membership Management Software You Need 

We hope you and your AMS Task Force will find this buying guide helpful in your search. We’ll keep it updated with the best advice and most current information we have, but take a copy of it with you today.

Cobalt’s association management software solution was built and refined for an organization like yours. Wherever you’re at in the search process, we are here to answer questions. 

We would love to give you one of those customized membership management software demonstrations we mentioned, when the time is right for you! Contact us today, and let us know how we might be able to help.

Connect with an AMS Expert

We understand associations and the needs you have throughout the process of researching, selecting, and implementing new membership management software. Wherever you are in your AMS search today, we can help you find clarity about your options and take the next steps with confidence.

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