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Sami Scarpitti

By: Sami Scarpitti on March 15th, 2019

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Association Management Software (AMS) vs. Customer Relationship Management (CRM) System

Association Management

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When an association installs new technology, they usually have two main goals: to acquire new members and to improve engagement and retention of existing members.

There's some debate about which platform is best for achieving these goals. Some people focus on upgrading their Association Management Software (AMS), while others favor adding to the kind of Customer Relationship Management (CRM) system that’s commonly used in commercial enterprise.

Smart associations use a mix of both platforms. An AMS and CRM can help you meet your goals in very different ways. Put the two systems together, and you have a tech platform that will really boost your member engagement and new members.

AMS vs. CMS: definitions

First, we need to be clear about what these two systems are and what kind of member data they process.

Association management software (AMS)

AMS is built for the unique challenge of running an association. Your existing AMS probably already handles a lot of the day-to-day tasks associated with managing membership, and provides valuable data on what’s happening within the organization.

The AMS stores a lot of data about each member, including:

  • Member details
  • Subscription data
  • Purchase history
  • Event attendance records

The crucial detail here is that the AMS handles data related to existing members, with the intent of providing the best possible service to those members.

Customer Relationship Management (CRM)

CRMs like Salesforce store details about relationships with current customers and potential future customers. This can include current members, past members and non-members who might be interested in joining.

CRMs can store large amounts of data about each person, including:

  • Contact details, including social media profiles
  • Interaction history – calls, emails and digital interactions
  • Lead score – a rating of how likely a non-member is to sign up, or the changes of a member making an additional purchase
  • Purchase history and marketing engagement – one-off purchases, attendance at an association event, signup forms completed on the website
  • Records of previous marketing communications sent to the client

The CRM focuses on examining your relationships with people and identifying ways to strengthen those relationships, either through direct sales or through marketing communications. The CRM also gives you an aggregate pipeline and can project how much revenue you may generate from new members. In addition, your CRM can help you identify prospective members as the move from marketing qualified leads to sales qualified leads.

This information allows you to locate potential new members and develop marketing strategies that will bring them in. It also allows you to find new ways to market to current members, allowing you to diversify revenue streams.

What are the differences between AMS and CRM?

There can be some overlap between the data held in these two systems, so why not just merge them into one?

As these systems have different purposes, they also have very different sets of functions. Here are a few things that are unique to each:

Key AMS functions

Your Association Management Software will plug into many of your other systems and processes, allowing you to manage many of the day-to-day tasks of association management.

The functions available depends on the association management software you use, but common features include:

  • Website management: AMS can provide part of the backend to your association’s website. If this integration exists, members will be able to perform several self-service functions online, like update their personal details, purchase digital content, and book themselves in for live events.
  • Purchase fulfillment: This system can also help manage the dispatch of items, whether they are physical or digital. These purchases can be one-off, like a book or an online training course, or they can be regular items like an association magazine.
  • Membership dues collections: This vital function can be fully automated through most AMS systems. The AMS can securely store payment details and process recurring payments. It can also send reminders when subscription fees are due, and flag up members who are about to lapse, allowing the sales team to intervene.

Key CRM functions

A CRM focuses on looking at all available data to assess and manage your relationship with contacts, whether they’re current members or not. The CRM is vital for sales as it helps to identify leads and opportunities to upsell.

To achieve this, the modern CRM offers a number of functions:

  • Lead scoring: What are the chances of converting a lead? If you knew this in advance, you would know where to focus your marketing efforts. CRMs offer several techniques for scoring leads, making it easy for you to identify the most promising prospects.
  • Contact logging: CRM client records contain details of previous client interactions, which can range from copies of marketing emails they were sent to recordings of calls. With access to the full history of each prospect, you can create bespoke propositions that lead to conversions.
  • Marketing automation: The CRM links up with other marketing tools to enable automated campaigns that run in the background. These can be focused and segmented, increasing your chances of success.
  • Analytics: While all systems store crucial data, it’s usually easier to configure the CRM to capture the kind of data you really need for analytics. This data allows for much richer analysis, which can help all areas of association management, not just marketing.

How AMS and CRM work together

Most associations will need both Association Management Software and a Customer Relationship Management system to achieve their growth goals.

Does that mean that the two systems will work in isolation? Of course not. Even if the systems aren’t directly integrated, there are lots of ways that they can directly influence each other, such as:

AMS data helps identify leads. 

Segmentation is the key to successful marketing. But often segmentation is based on demographic information, which doesn’t always work for association members. Association members have needs and wants that are based on professional circumstances, rather than age and location.

This is where AMS data plays a big role. You may be able to identify certain trends – people tend to buy certain training materials after attending a live event, for example, or people in certain roles have high rates of referring others to the association.

This is the kind of data that a CRM thrives on. A CRM with strong analytics capabilities can store data, analyze it, and identify patterns that may not be otherwise visible. With these insights, you can locate leads with greater precision and focus your marketing efforts where they count.

CRM data can help improve the product offering.

The AMS can tell you details about a member’s activity, like how often they log into the website. This is important, but it doesn’t give the whole picture. For example, is the website useful? Can they find what they need on the website? If someone doesn’t log in very often, is it because they don’t need your web services, or is it because they don’t find your web services helpful?

This is the kind of detail that starts to emerge in the CRM. Customer interactions can offer a lot of subtle detail about your relationship – whether your association is fulfilling their needs, whether there are things that could be improved, whether you offer value for money.

Crucially, it can also reveal where there is a demand for new products or services. This information can help you think about how you interact with your members. If you need to make changes to your offering, you can implement them via the AMS.

Marketing automation is important.

Marketing automation is one of the most valuable applications of CRM. You can integrate the CRM with a marketing automation tool and send focused, targeted messages that result in a high conversion rate.

One application of this is the onboarding process. When someone signs up, they usually need some assistance in getting to know the products and services that come as part of their membership. Bombarding them with information on the first day is counter-productive. Instead, you might automate the process of sending them introductory emails at regular intervals over the first few weeks, with information about how to get started in the community.

AMS data can help with marketing automation. Looking at a user’s activity will give some insight into what they are likely to do in the future. For example, if someone has accessed a lot of beginner-level training materials, they are likely to be interested in attending live events that offer training seminars. Your CRM can automatically send an email to notify the member when a suitable event is happening near them.

Full-stack Approach to Marketing Your Association

So, does your association need a CRM, or improved AMS, or both working together?

The answer is, of course, that it depends on your goals and on the needs of your members. Before making any decisions about implementing new systems, ask yourself a few questions:

  • Do we have a good process for identifying sales leads?
  • Could our conversion rates be better?
  • Do we need to diversify revenue streams by shaking up our sales process?
  • Are we providing the best possible experience for our members?

Once you know where you are, and you know where you want to go, you’ll start to understand exactly what kind of systems you need to have in place.

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About Sami Scarpitti

Sami has a business degree in Professional Sales from The University of Toledo and an impressive 15 years of experience leading the charge in her field. She is a senior leader on the HighRoad team focused on the success of the organizations she partners with; helping them embark on exciting new marketing solutions.