Specific technology for your business model is a love/hate thing.
You love it when it’s all installed and working correctly, but could certainly dislike the process of getting to that point. It often means more demos, more research, hours of contemplating and analyzing, often with multiple team members whose schedules don't match up with yours, etc., etc… It can be frustrating and, if you're the point person making the decision, there can be a lot at stake, too. Even though the process can be all of these things, spending time asking the right questions and reaching the best conclusion for your organization is worth the time expended.
If you conduct advocacy and need your members to get involved in order to affect public policy, how can you effectively evaluate a technical solution?
Here are some broad points many will already understand:
- It starts with the end in mind. What's the organizational goal for this particular piece of software? What are we trying to accomplish? What are our essential requirements versus nice-to-haves?
- Does this need to be integrated with our primary organizational software or can the advocacy platform stand alone?
- Who are the industry players in this area? Research their sites for features and benefits.
- Set up demos and analyze the features and functions, and map what each vendor offers to your requirements.
Sounds simple, right? It can be, but more often than not, the folks on each side of this conversation don't ask the right questions. That's right, the advocacy salesperson/consultant needs to make sure they're asking the right questions to ensure a tight organizational fit. If the software is not a solid fit and doesn’t solve problems, then its a lose/lose proposition for both parties—something to be avoided at all costs. Votility has a near-perfect annual customer retention rate because we take our time and ask the right questions, and because we have a solid, easy-to-use product. We're not looking for short-term customer relationships—and I'm fairly certain you're looking for actual solutions. So, each party has some responsibility here.
When it comes to advocacy software, here are some more nuanced questions you may want to consider asking:
- What platforms do we have in place today and how can we get them all to 'play nice', to work together to help us achieve our organizational mission and goals?
- Does this advocacy provider have an API that will allow it to integrate my existing software platforms or at least my main software, like the AMS platform? At the very least, do they have a Single Sign On through this API that will allow my member to seamlessly access both the main organizational software (AMS) and the advocacy software? What all is involved in getting that up and running effectively? How does it work and what are the costs? We're looking for efficiency here, right? Ask lots of questions.
- Does the provider have the features I need to perform my tasks and achieve our stated goals? Much of this can be accomplished through a demo. You may have to fill out a form on their website and someone will contact you. (If someone doesn't contact you quickly, red flag! That might be the way they communicate or solve problems or run their Customer Service as well. Pay careful attention to who contacts you and how knowledgeable and sincere they are with helping you. If communication is vague or slow in coming and its hard to deal with them, the organization might work the same way.)
- If there are only so many actions I need to make sure the software includes, how easy is it for the staff to execute and how simple is it for my members to engage with?
- Training and Customer Support. How well are you going to be trained to use the software out of the gate? How often do you get to train? At what cost? It’s preferable that the software is so simple to use that you don't need training at all but that's not likely. Some are easier to use than others, for sure.
- Can I customize my user experience or functionality? If your organization needs specific features due to the way you're configured as an organization, can I get them? Can I customize this platform? If so, what's the process? The best process is to create a scope of work that outlines exactly how the new feature will work and have everyone sign off on it. Get it all in writing.
This post is designed to help avoid problem when choosing software vendors. Unfortunately, you can't always identify the problems until after you sign the agreement and are stuck. Not a good feeling! The best defense is to ask lots of questions, and not just via email. It’s on a phone call, web conference, or in person that you can get a better feel for the person who is selling the software and whether or not you have a good feeling about them. First impressions are usually right.
Here’s to your success!