You know your association management software (AMS) is overdue for an upgrade, or your staff isn’t getting what they need from your customer relationship management (CRM) platform, but that project never quite seems to make it to the top of your IT priorities list. The reasons it doesn’t — whatever they are — really are good reasons.

We know that because we know how important your AMS is to your membership organization. It’s one of those backbone components for how your staff manages their work and your members interact with your organization. There’s never been a good guide to finding a new association management software, either. That’s why I wrote our 2023 Association Management Buying Guide.

The three reasons you don’t want to change your AMS are probably one or more of the following: pain, cost, and uncertainty. But I want to talk about the six reasons you should change your system.

Pain: “Sticking with our AMS is a pain, but upgrading our AMS is a BIGGER pain.”

When we start to list all the reasons that migrating to a new AMS can be a painful, difficult, or risky endeavor, it can be tempting to just check out and put the whole thing on a shelf for “later.” But it really does need to get done, and we can map this pretty quickly at the high level.

There is fear of losing functionality with a new AMS.

The top concern for most organizations facing a switch is the very real fear that when the new system is up and running — after all that effort and investment — staff will discover they have lost some functionality or ability to do something they used to be able to do with the old system. It really is a horrifying prospect for a lot of people, and we’ve seen this fear alone postpone a needed move for years.

It’s not that new systems aren’t flexible or robust enough to include those old capabilities, but actually getting every employee to systematically think through their workflow and document what they need or how they use the AMS or CRM is daunting, time-consuming, and ripe with opportunities for someone to overlook something critical.

Members love change. Oh wait. No, they don’t.

On top of that, your staff are only half of the equation when it comes to fear or resistance to change. The members your organization serves could be allergic simply to a new look, let alone a new process for paying for an event. Their attitudes have to weigh heavily in each decision you make behind the technological curtain, and that change management burden can feel awfully heavy.

It’s not like we don’t have other things to work on.

The bandwidth this move is going to require is another huge roadblock for many organizations. At Cobalt, we advise our client partners to allocate 20 to 30 percent of our team’s estimated hours as the amount of time their staff will need to set aside for this project. We spend 1,000 – 1,500 hours on a typical implementation, so that comes out to somewhere between 200 – 500 hours of your staff’s time and energy. Much of that time will be training for each staff member in your organization, but that is still a significant total investment.

That’s a lot of data. Really, really important data.

The technical complexity of the move itself is daunting, and that’s if you have great documentation. Wait, you do have great documentation, right? Your business processes, data dictionary, and data structure — those are all neatly organized, updated, and easily, universally accessible, no? Of course, they aren’t — they never are! Parts of all these things live only in the minds of different staff members. How you got to where you are is a strange and winding history that nobody can really piece together in detail.

Cost: “What’s the cost of a new AMS for my organization?”

We’ve already hinted at some of the cost barriers for organizations when we looked at the bandwidth required for an AMS migration or upgrade. You know just how important all the other IT projects and priorities are, and dedicating that much of your department’s time and availability isn’t something you can do lightly, or quickly. It’s hard to find a big enough space in the calendar for a project this big.

The financial cost and bottom line is significant when typical implementation costs are around $250,000 and monthly SaaS fees average $150 per user. Since your organization knows how vital this technology is for all your major processes and day-to-day operations, you probably don’t need to justify the expense. Most of our clients have the money to spend on a new AMS or CRM, but the cost can feel prohibitive when it’s connected to our next consideration.

Uncertainty: “How can I estimate the real value of investing in a new AMS?”

There can be a great deal of uncertainty surrounding a major change in your AMS or CRM. One of the hardest things many of our clients were struggling with was recognizing when they really needed a new system.

Knowing you need a new system isn’t the real problem for a lot of organizations, though. In the association organization world today, 30 – 40 percent of organizations will stick with their current vendor even when they are really unhappy.

What’s our ROI, again?

The hidden, often unspoken problem is how difficult it is to map out the exact benefits to your end users. There’s no question that your staff will be more efficient or productive — but how much more? Adopting a new CRM will definitely make a difference to your members and their experience with your organization — but how possible is it to quantify that difference so we can measure ROI?

You don’t want to be a scapegoat.

This is where things really get problematic for someone making a recommendation about a new AMS or CRM platform. Sometimes it’s not only difficult to connect this investment to measurable ROI, but it’s also your professional reputation and perhaps your job on the line with this decision. If you choose a bad platform, if the wrong internal or external stakeholders are unhappy with how this transition goes, if what you end up with doesn’t work for them: that’s a gigantic personal liability you’re facing. Consciously or unconsciously, those risk factors can let a kind of paralysis creep in around this project and your efforts to move forward.

6 Reasons You Should Adopt a Modern, Cloud-based CRM

3 Reasons You Don't Want to Change Your AMS and 6 Reasons You Should

Do you recognize some of your biggest concerns, challenges, or obstacles to making a change in what we’ve covered so far? We have been working with associations and engineering better AMS and CRM tools for them since 2003, and most of our customers are dealing with some or all of these problems when they come to us.

There is no easy, simple way forward, and anyone who promises you otherwise is lying.

Some of the paths forward are less painful, costly, or risky than others, though, and that’s what we love to do for people and organizations in your position. Let’s be clear about the problems, the benefits, and help you really understand the options for getting this adoption accomplished.

This challenge also has a major opportunity hidden in it.

If you’re still using an on-prem proprietary CRM we have a pretty good idea about the limitations your staff is working under, and the kinds of complaints that you’re probably hearing. A modern, cloud-based solution was a new and uncertain prospect even 5 years ago, but the technology, support systems, and partner companies like Cobalt have matured, addressed the scariest risks, and developed a scalable CRM model for the foreseeable future. Along with the challenge of making a change in your CRM, you also have a tremendous opportunity.

We believe that investing now in a modern, cloud-based CRM platform like Microsoft Dynamics 365 is going to have long-term benefits that more than justify the cost. You know at least the ballpark cost of server maintenance, hardware, IT staff hours for updates and maintenance. Right now, your staff is probably just getting the bare minimum out of your old CRM, and it’s way too hard just to get that much. This is your opportunity to invest all of that money and resources in a platform that will improve your staff’s productivity, make getting the data they need easier, increase their overall happiness, and legitimately empower them to better serve your members.

The best way to stay relevant … is to stay relevant.

Speaking of those members, have you noticed a shift in their expectations in the last five years or so? We sure have. The consumer apps they use are powerful, sophisticated, and have better and better usability. Migrating to a new AMS or CRM platform will make your staff much, much happier, but …

You actually stand to lose members if you keep putting off a new adoption.

Maybe you shouldn’t have to look relevant to be relevant to your members, but the growing reality is you do, and not investing in new technology will only be more painfully obvious as time goes on.

Major CRM players have become really stable options.

Platform stability and reliability continue to deepen with major players like Microsoft making gigantic investments in their existing offering (Microsoft Dynamics 365) and their research and development. Microsoft Dynamics 365 continues to be an industry-leading and award-winning CRM solution. They have a robust user and support community, superior integration with Office 365, and Power BI.

Flexibility to do more.

Flexibility is a benefit that often drives clients forward in the adoption process. It has taken a while, but the older way of conceptualizing what a CRM is, and what it should do, has changed. It used to be that we felt like they should be Swiss Army Knives — self-contained technology that did everything. Most people see things differently, now, and conceptualize their CRM as a hub designed to handle core functionality with the support of APIs that can be easily integrated, customized, or changed as your needs change.

A strategic way to create a fresh start.

How about a fresh start or clean slate for some of those business rules or processes you’ve been meaning to update for years now? Have you been wanting to change how you charge for membership or some other critical piece of functionality for your association’s members? These are some of the strongest, most appealing opportunities for updating your AMS or CRM. When you can strategically align it with other major updates or changes you’ve needed to make, you get so much more for your investment.

The End is near.

You understand that eventually you will have to do something. Limping along with an old on-prem AMS / CRM really is painful, but as more and more enterprise software companies move into the cloud, they keep phasing out their on-prem offerings. Soon, it really won’t be a choice, so proactively forging ahead now makes a lot of sense. If you’ve already moved to a cloud-based solution, but you’re overdue for an upgrade, keep expecting more from what your CRM can do for your team.

How Cobalt Can Help

We work hard to collect assets and write articles that help association organizations understand what their AMS and CRM options are. Keep exploring the issues that matter the most in choosing the platform that’s right for your company.

Cobalt helps associations, certification organizations, and businesses find hidden value in their customer data. We’ve spent the last 15 years developing tools and an AMS that increase your customer engagement opportunities and empower your staff to get the most from your CRM. Take a copy of our latest AMS Buying Guide with you today. It’s a helpful resource for teams at every stage of the search for a new AMS system.

Get a Complete Copy of the 2023 AMS Buying Guide

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Association Management Software 2023 Buying Guide cover image. It includes a large version of Cobalt's logo, the AMS Buying Guide title, and photograph of Cobalt's Washington, D.C. lobby.