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Over the years, and even recently, I’ve had clients tell me they want to discourage their members and customers from paying with a credit card, because of the transaction fees (typically between 3% and 5%). While I understand the desire, I think this is short-sighted, because many consumers (and companies!) WANT to pay with credit cards (because of the points they earn, easier bookkeeping, or other reasons). Discouraging one form of payment is akin to discouraging the sale itself.

The simple fact is, credit card fees are a cost of doing business. So either you can raise your prices by 3% to 5% to cover the costs, or you can just “eat” the expense as one more bit of overhead.

But the last thing you want to do is to tell a customer “I can’t let you buy that unless you send me a check.”

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In over 17 years of consulting, I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had a conversation similar to this one:

Client: “Our database sucks.”

Me: “What makes you say that?”

Client: “The data is bad. I pull a list of board members and I see lots of errors.”

Me: “Why is the data bad?”

Client: “Because the database sucks.”

The reality is, for many users, bad data = a bad system. All the user cares about is having good data and being able to access that data easily. Another reality is that “better” technology won’t necessarily fix bad data. Bad data occurs for lots of reasons, not the least of which is bad processes and/or poor management of the database.

So when your staff is complaining that the database doesn’t work, dig deeper and find out what they really mean. It’s highly unlikely that “bad technology” is causing bad data (although better technology may make management of the data easier and more effective and efficient).

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Every association is in the sales business. Whether you’re selling membership, event registrations, products, or certification programs, the fact is, you’re selling. Not only is it time for associations to acknowledge that they are in the business of selling, it is also time to start implementing actions and creating a culture that support the sales process.

So what can associations do to become more “sales-focused”? Click here to read the rest of the article.

Of course, if you’re already on my announcements list, you would have received notice of this new article right in your email box. Not signed up yet? Click here to sign up.

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A recent episode of the Freakonomics Podcast was entitled “In Praise of Maintenance,” and asked the question: “Has our culture’s obsession with innovation led us to neglect the fact that things also need to be taken care of?” As usual for Freakonomics, it was an excellent discussion, and it got me to thinking: When it comes to managing our databases, the fun, new, exciting stuff gets all the attention, but it’s the drudgery and maintenance that actually sustain a successful database long-term.

I’ve written plenty before about the cycles of virtue and doom in database management. This is all about maintenance.

I’ve written all about the need for data integrity reports and clear business rules. This is all about maintenance.

I’ve written about the data management cycle. This is all about maintenance.

Innovation is fun. New technology is fun. And it’s also important. Your technology needs to keep up with what customers are demanding. But the reality is, for long-term success, you need to be good at maintenance. It’s the unsung hero of database management.

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In the past week I’ve met with two different associations who are struggling with their current AMS systems. A common theme between the two was lots of staff turnover. That is, since the time the system was first implemented, many (if not all!) key staff had left the organization so effectively “new” people were in charge of the database.

This presents an interesting “chicken and egg” phenomenon. Did the staff leaving cause the system to break down (i.e., become less effective) or did the staff leave because the system was not working correctly? My experience is that both can be true.

Over the years I’ve met with many associations who have told me, in so many words “Our terrible technology is causing our best employees to leave.” I even had one executive director tell me that in exit interviews from the prior year, she had three different staff tell her that the AMS was one of the primary reasons they were leaving.

Bad systems can make good people leave.

So when you’re calculating the cost of keeping your existing system or upgrading/replacing your AMS, be sure to include the cost of NOT doing so. You may be causing your best people to look elsewhere for work!

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When I work with clients on selecting a new AMS, it’s not uncommon for me to hear some variation of the following question: “Can’t you just tell us which AMS is the best one?” I’ll often hear something along these lines, too: “I think I could design the perfect AMS that every association would use. It’s so obvious.”

If you search for “shovel” on Amazon, you’ll receive over 400 results. Why? Because there are different shovels for different needs, and no single shovel can serve every need. Assuming that one AMS could be designed for use by all associations is akin to saying you could design one shovel for everyone’s shoveling needs. It’s just not going to happen.

So the proper way to look at this is to ask: “What functionality do I need from my AMS?” and “Which AMSes come closest to addressing those functions?” Of course, you also have to ask “How much am I willing to spend on this solution?”

So don’t fool yourself into thinking there is one AMS out there that will serve all associations’ needs. It’s quite possible there isn’t even one to serve all of YOUR association’s needs! You might find that 80% is good enough!

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A client of mine wanted to send an RFP for redesign of their website to a design company I had not previously worked with. Because I had no contacts there, I used their online form, which included a category for “new business” and submitted my name and some details, in order to find out who I should be working with.

A week passed with no response. I submitted another form. A week more, and no response.

So I called the company. Naturally, no human answered the phone, but I was able to talk to someone who told me she was in charge of business development. I got her email and sent her the RFP, asking her to confirm receipt. I received no response.

I sent two more emails over the next two weeks, with no response.

I called an left a voice mail (naturally, because no humans answer their phones) in the woman’s voice mail box. No response.

And she is in charge of business development.

At any point during this process she could have emailed me or called and said “Thanks, but we’re not interested.” Instead I’m met with complete silence, wondering whether she ever got my voice mails or emails.

So how about you and your organization? Do you answer all calls and emails? Do you have a human answering phones, or do you send your members and customers into voice mail hell? And do you tell your vendors when you’re not interested in doing work with them, as a simple matter of courtesy?

Because I can tell you, what I just experience is NOT what business development looks like.

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In my experience, when associations make a database system change, staff will sometimes talk about how the old system used to work. They’ll say things like “In the old system, we could add a new individual record in two minutes; now it takes five.” Or “In the old system it was really easy to pull a list of committee members, just by selecting a checkbox; now it takes ten steps.” Or other words to that effect.

Whether these statements are true or false, it’s critically important to address these comments as soon as they are raised. I suggest one or more of the following responses:

  1. Can we look at the process together to see if there are ways of making it simpler?
  2. Did you know that by doing it that way in the old system, we were creating a lot of other problems?
  3. Are you aware of all the other benefits this new system is bringing us?

and my favorite: “Weren’t you the one who was always complaining about our old system?” (This may or may not apply, so use judiciously!)

Like remembering only the good qualities of an old girlfriend, nostalgia for the old system can alter the perception of a new system. That’s why, among other things, I recommend you have a good database PR campaign in place to continually emphasize the positives of the new system. Don’t get stuck dreaming about the good old days that probably weren’t that good…

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I’ve written elsewhere that 80% is Good Enough when it comes to selecting a new AMS. That is,  if you can get 80% of your functional needs met while still staying within your budget, you’re in very good shape.

The same rule applies when matching data on exports during a data conversion. If you can match 80% of the records in multiple lists, you’re doing very good and should be happy with that. The last 20% can either be managed manually, or ignored completely.

Some caveats:

  • If we’re talking about members, you should be matching as close to 100% as possible. In other words, you shouldn’t be losing members during a data conversion.
  • If it’s data that is absolutely critical to your organization’s operations (e.g., certification or accreditation data) then gain, we need to be matching close to 100%.

So don’t beat your brains out if you can’t get 100% match on data exports. 80% is likely to be good enough, and getting those last 20% may prove to be far more expensive than it’s worth.

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Recently I was discussing with a client their rules for how they manage event registration. As my client described the different rules for how customers can register for their events, I complimented her on how clear the rules were. She responded: “We like to make the boundaries very clear. Just like children need boundaries, our members and customers need boundaries, too.”

And while this may sound a bit paternalistic, I think it actually makes a lot of sense. Really clear business rules help our members and customers make better decisions for engaging with us. Clear business rules also make the process easier for both customer and staff.

For example, some of my clients use online “wizards” (a series of questions) to help guide the member or customer to the correct membership type.  Rather than presenting ALL the membership types, with a few questions, the customer is pointed to the correct member type (e.g., based on level of profession, type of degree, etc.). These “boundaries” guide the customer to the right membership type, thus making it easier for them to join, and easier for staff to process (since there will be fewer errors).

So think about the “boundaries” you’re creating for your members and customers. Are they helping guide them to make the right decisions?

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