You Don't Have to Be a Techie to Choose Great Technology

Four Essential Questions to Help Your Organization Choose a CRM/ Box Office Ticketing System

As many organizations wind down their seasons, they have more time to think about next year, and often that means they have time to consider new technology. Changing systems can be daunting, particularly when it’s a CRM system that will be the backbone of your organization for years to come. If your organization is about to embark upon this path, I want to help.

Though we are talking about technology systems, I’m proposing four questions that have little to do with technology itself but that will help ensure your transition process is coherent and efficient, and that you’ll ultimately make the best decisions. Before you start looking at anything on a screen, start by answering these questions on paper.

1. What Information Drives Your Organization?

The central value of a CRM system is that all of your data is in the same place. This means everyone is working off a common database and no one has to search across different systems to find information about your patrons. A CRM system will allow you to report on almost any kind of documented information about your patrons you want: daily sales reports, reports based on patrons’ donation history, mailing lists of subscribers, and even higher-level looks at patron loyalty and engagement.

With that much flexibility, it’s crucial that you know which are the most important reports that you must have to run your business effectively. Some companies call these KPIs (key performance indicators). The most successful companies, no matter how many reports they have, usually have only a few that are the essential, daily ones. So what are they?

Not only should you know what these reports are, but I suggest you create a sample set of your “ideal” reports (even if you have to cobble them together and fake it) that clearly demonstrate the content and format of what you want. Then ask to be shown how the system you’re analyzing delivers these reports. Ask whether they are automated and whether the data is reported in real time, how easily are they modified, and by whom. Starting with reports will give you a good sense of focus in the otherwise broad and sometimes scary undertaking of evaluating or implementing new systems.

2. Who Is Your CRM Manager?

New technology systems don’t get installed like light bulbs (though I’m sure there’s a joke in there somewhere). They need to be molded and modified to meet the unique needs of your organization. There are new fields to be created, new reports to be generated, historical data to be migrated…

You’ll do yourself and your system supplier a big favor by appointing a lead person who is not only centrally involved in the selection process, but remains in charge of the system on an ongoing basis. Even the most sophisticated CRM system is only as good as the data that’s in it and the people who are using it. Having a single person as the designated manager will make everything smoother for all departments involved.

This is not to say your system supplier won’t help get you started and set up, or give you ongoing help and advice! We will, but we need a partner. We can’t possibly know all the nuances and intricacies of your organization without someone on your end to guide (and own) the process.

3. Do You Have Commitment From the Very Top?

The essence of a CRM system is that it’s used from the top of your organization to the bottom, by everyone who touches a patron or donor. That means that whoever’s name is at the top of the masthead must commit not only to the process of selecting a system but also to implementing and using it.

It’s dangerous when senior executives push off the evaluation process to the “techie” in the organization. I think this is akin to asking your car mechanic to do a test drive of the new SUV you’re considering buying and letting the mechanic decide for you. If the chief executive of the organization does not participate in the selection of a CRM system, there’s a pretty good chance the entire process will fail. Ideally, CRM systems provide senior managers with the tools and reports they need to run their organizations. This means they must be involved at a granular level, understanding what the capabilities are, what things are automated, and how systems will operate day to day. If they don’t do this as a key player in the evaluation team, there’s a good chance they will be frustrated later.

4. Do You Have Agreement on Your Most Important Objectives?

There is no such thing as the perfect technology system. There is, however, one new system out there that comes closest to meeting your needs. But in order to find it, you need to know what really matters to you.

At some organizations, the most important factor is technical: We want to be in the “cloud,” or we want to integrate our systems, or we must have feature X or Y. Other organizations have a very constrained budget, so money is the key driving factor and people are willing to make compromises for a lower price. Still other organizations are looking to improve some areas but want to avoid making any big changes in the way they operate, not wanting to reinvent their daily business processes.

Your key objectives will drive your decisions, and unless you agree on what these are in advance, and articulate them during your conversations with your suppliers, internal disagreements will surface and threaten to derail the whole process. One organization we talked with recently had an IT director who said his goal on day one was to be 100% mobile-friendly (even though only 15% of their current web traffic was mobile). This requirement trumped all the criteria set out by the development and marketing departments, and those departments were forced to accept compromises for the sake of meeting IT’s goal. So have your discussions first, and be ready to present your criteria clearly. Some things will be “needs” or “requirements,” and others will be “wants” or “wishes” — make sure you know the difference.

As your season winds down, take the time to consider whether new technology is in your future. If you answer yes, this might be a good moment to invest some time in coming up with answers to these important questions.

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