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People first, objectives second, technology last

What’s driving your need for new technology?

Technology underpins service delivery and must therefore be top of the list when planning a systems review. This is regardless of where current challenges lie in respect of delivery of strategic business objectives.

It’s possible to read about the importance of investing in technology every day, of making the most of technology, of how vital the adoption of technology is to our success. This is, of course, valid opinion, but it can become tempting to invest in and implement new technology before really determining what objectives lie behind doing so.

At Hart Square, we work with a range of organisations within the non-profit sector. We provide strategic consultancy around “CRM systems” in the widest sense. Our expertise and advice with respect to CRM ecosystems covers:

  • Back office CRM database systems
  • Online platforms and applications
  • CMS systems
  • Social Engagement solutions
  • Digital Strategies
  • Technology Audits
  • Implementation Support
  • Marketing Automation tools
  • A myriad of other systems, processes and technology

All of which can be deployed in support of their Customer Relationship Management strategy.

MS Dynamics – a case in point

Through 2013, and continuing in 2014, more of the discussions we had with clients within the professional membership sector started with “We’re looking to implement MS Dynamics CRM”.

MS Dynamics CRM is a highly-advanced piece of technology with an extensive set of features and functionality which should be of interest to any organisation, regardless of sector. The 2011 release raised the standard of the product significantly, on the back of which it made significant gains in the CRM market space. However, it’s worth noting that although the features and functionality should be of interest; it’s actually the business objectives which this technology can help an organisation to achieve which should really be the focus.

In the world of Professional Membership bodies and charity fundraisers, the contact management functionality of Dynamics is obviously outstanding, but what of the modules needed to handle event management, donors and gift aid, membership subscription administration, professional development? As we stand, in the non-profit sector we need to consider Dynamics as a platform to develop on, not as a finished article. A review of options is required based on niche requirements, not based on the latest technology developments.

Planning with niche needs in mind

Whilst it’s useful to be aware of the promises made by technology and the opportunities that it may present, it’s more important to start planning without any specific technology in mind. This helps to ensure that no objectives are technology driven. This means no system can impose any constraints on the early thinking which is crucial to a technology investment. This tends to lead to a successful CRM system refreshment project.

Putting people first

“People first” is a phrase that (in some form or another) probably has a central place within your mission, vision and strategy. It should carry the same importance and weight within your CRM technology strategy.

Professional membership bodies in the UK are now very familiar with the need to conduct member research as part of their member retention strategy. This ensures that current members are both achieving and recognising the value of the services and benefits they get. A natural element, or extension, of this strategy and activity is to research what else existing members want to see from their membership, and to maintain and update this understanding of what will attract new members.

This same information should form a key component of any technology strategy. Technology should never be deployed for its own sake. It must serve a purpose and that purpose is almost certainly going to be to recruit new members, deliver new services, retain existing members, and deliver existing services in better ways.

Listening enables inclusive decision making processes

We talk elsewhere about the need to have a Social Engagement strategy within a CRM strategy, and Social CRM tools within a CRM ecosystem, but the key here is to listen. Listen to what existing members, donors, and stakeholders do value – and what they don’t. Listen to what non-member, non-donor audiences are talking about, are interested in, are enthused and frustrated by, then devise appropriate responses to support them in their professional development or their charitable aims.

Note the importance of “what they don’t value” in this discussion. As a recent example, when I was talking to a client of ours about their email marketing campaign tools and messaging they were concerned that the “Unsubscribe” option in their regular bulletins may be too easy to use and were asking advice around what was acceptable. My advice to them was to make the option easily visible – without promoting it of course! The reasoning behind this advice is that if subscribers aren’t getting value from what you’re sending them then you want to know about it.

Most professionals, most employees, most people are bombarded by email, and again we know one of our challenges is to get our messages identified, valued and read in amongst the spam and junk. If you make it difficult to unsubscribe then they’ll add you to their Junk Mail filter settings or simply delete your emails without reading them. If they take the time to unsubscribe then it almost certainly means that they’ve read your email and not found it relevant or interesting. You want to know this! Why waste your time delivering content which isn’t valued, when you could tweak and tune your messages to make them more appropriate, relevant and valued, which is better for absolutely everyone involved? Go further and consider how this insight should feed your organisational strategy, not just your newsletter and digital content strategy.

A varied approach enables you and your members

The more varied you can make your subscription options, your newsletters and marketing content, including unsubscribe options, the more quality information you can derive from the detail of subscriptions, reads, click-throughs and unsubscribes. Depending on the technology that you use to deliver this content, you’ll get better or worse, or different, analysis and insight into what’s being valued, and more or less flexibility to be responsive.

That’s where the technology choice comes in; once you know what you’re trying to achieve (have set your objectives) and as one part of a strategic investment in people, processes and technology.