By: Adam Higgins on December 5th, 2019
How Associations Can Get Cultural Buy-in For MarTech Upgrades
Are you struggling to get new technology approved that could help you reach organizational goals? Buy-in is one of the biggest hurdles for every IT upgrade project. Before you can put any of your great plans into action, you have to present your case to the executive team and convince them to invest the association’s resources in your new platform.
However, financial buy-in is just the first obstacle. At High Road Solutions, we’ve seen associations accelerate or fall behind by failing to adopt new marketing technologies. The initial investment is never returned and frustrations can grow. After the board has signed the check, you still need to obtain cultural buy-in from the marketing team, leaders of other departments, and everyone else who helps keep the association running.
What is cultural buy-in? And why is it important?
We tend to think of technology as a universal cure-all. Invest in a new marketing automation platform, flick the switch and — hey presto! — you’ve instantly recruited thousands of new members.
Sadly, that’s not the case. Technology is only a tool, and tools are only useful when they’re in the right hands.
When you make a major change to your tech stack, such as adopting a marketing automation or email automation platform, you’ll need your people to adopt a range of new processes. These will include things like:
- Adopting new workflows
- Supporting data collection
- Standardizing communications
- Obtaining feedback
- Measuring engagement
- Helping with lead acquisition
These aren’t just process changes; they’re changes to the whole philosophy of your association. You’re asking everyone in the association to embrace a technology-first culture.
And the success of your upgrade project depends on whether they adapt to this new culture.
Common obstacles to getting buy-in (and how to overcome them)
Changing a culture isn’t easy.
That’s true whether you’re in an association, a for-profit company, or any other kind of large organization. Culture comes from the people within the organization. Sometimes those people refuse to change, or they change in ways you haven’t anticipated.
Fortunately, you can gently nudge your culture in the right direction with clear communication and good leadership. Here are a few of the most common problems you might encounter:
People actively resist the new way of doing things
When you introduce new technology, it can spark a degree of job anxiety among workers. This is especially true when you mention the dreaded ‘A’ word — automation — which conjures up images of robots stealing jobs from their human colleagues.
Some employees, and even some management, may try to block your path to digital transformation. In some cases, they may undermine the plans for major tech upgrades, either deliberately or simply by not cooperating.
The solution: Often, the issue here is a lack of communication. Before you start implementing new systems, you need to sit down with all relevant stakeholders and discuss why you’re making the change. Focus on things like:
- How technology will help achieve the association’s goals
- How this change will improve the member experience
- How the association will fall behind if you don’t upgrade
- How new systems will make day-to-day life easier
- What each person’s daily routine will look like under the new regime
- What kind of training and development opportunities will be provided
- How this kind of training can boost your resume
Help people make the connection between the new technology, the goals of the association, and their own personal interests. When you do this, they’ll feel start to feel excited about the change, which will push the culture in the right direction.
Other departments are focused elsewhere
Associations can sometimes have a silo mentality. The membership team focuses on membership, the events team focus on the upcoming conference, and marketing is purely the concern of the marketing department.
This mindset won’t do for a major digital transformation project. For example, if you introduce an email automation platform, then all email communication needs to go through that platform. Not just marketing emails — all emails.
If your events team decides that they won’t use the email platform for communications about the conference, then you run into two problems. First, you’ll still be sending lots of unbranded, non-standard emails to members, which hurts your engagement strategy.
Second, and more significantly, you won’t be gathering data from those events emails. Your marketing strategy needs lots of data about things like inbox placement and open rates. You can’t afford to lose a chunk of that data just because the events coordinator isn’t on board.
The solution: As above, the answer here is good communication.
Department heads all have their own concerns. The head of the events team, for example, is responsible for delivering a successful conference each year. They do so under enormous pressure, and with a huge burden of expectation on their shoulders.
So, it’s entirely reasonable that they might not prioritize a new process if it’s something that only seems to exclusively benefit the marketing team. It’s easier to do things the tried-and-true way this year, and maybe look at upgrading next year.
To overcome this obstacle, you need to show how the new technology aligns with the objectives of each department. You’ll need to talk this through with the department head, but common themes include:
- Membership: How marketing automation can help secure net new members
- Communications: How email automation can lead to higher open rates
- Events: How increased engagement can lead to higher event attendance
- Programming: How data can help identify programming requirements
When you get department heads on board, you’ll start to see a cultural shift across the whole of the association.
People are enthusiastic but don’t know how to use the technology
Culture is defined by what you do on a daily basis. To have a technology-first culture, people need to make technology part of their lives.
Which is easier said than done in some cases. Often, you’ll find that it’s easy to sell people on the advantages of automation and analytics. They understand that technology is essential if the association is to keep growing while retaining existing members.
But they may not know how to use it.
Some people won’t know how to operate the new platform. Other people will learn the basics, but won’t fully understand how to leverage technology to improve their own productivity. Either way, you’ll find that your technology-first culture is failing to take root.
The solution: Training is the most important part of any change project. You can’t consider the project a success until everyone knows what they’re doing.
When you’re composing a training strategy, remember that you need to cover a lot more than just what buttons to press on the user interface. You’ll need to cover things like:
- New processes
- Exception handling (i.e. how to deal with things that aren’t covered by the new process)
- Quality assurance
- Member experience
- Analytics and reporting
- Branding and communication standards
- System configuration
- Any additional features of the new system that might be useful
Remember, when people sit in a training session, they’re not thinking, “how does the new platform work?” They’re thinking, “how can I do my job with these new tools?”
At a minimum, training should answer that question. Everyone should emerge with a rock-solid understanding of how to go about their duties with the new technology.
But training can go beyond that. Ideally, you want to give people an insight into how the new systems work. Talk about how automation works, how data flows through the MarTech stack, how you measure engagement and build buyer personas, and what analytics tools are available.
If people get a chance to peer into the guts of the MarTech infrastructure, they may surprise you with ideas and innovations. Plus, they’ll have a better understanding of what you’re trying to achieve, which will make it easier for them to embrace the technology-first culture.
Planning ahead for cultural buy-in
Lots of projects take cultural buy-in for granted.
This is normal. When you’re working on a digital transformation project, the benefits might seem so obvious that you can’t imagine anyone objecting.
But people will resist change. Sometimes, it will be for a good reason — you may not have adequately considered the impact of the change, or you may have overlooked better alternatives. In that case, you’ll need to return to the drawing board and find the best solution.
But when you know you’re on the right path, you need to do everything possible to get everyone else to follow you. You can do this by mapping out the following in advance:
- Goals – What are the objectives of your change project? What benefit will you deliver to the association?
- Communication — How will you get everyone aligned with the project? How will you update people on your progress? Do you have suitable channels for feedback? Will you let people know if the new technology is achieving its targets?
- Processes – Have you mapped out the existing processes? Do you know what you’ll be changing? Have you documented the new processes?
- Training — Are there adequate training resources available? Will there be ongoing support after the project ends?
None of these things directly impact your association’s culture. Instead, they help individuals to feel informed, supported, and excited about the possibilities of new technology. And if you can make people feel good about technology, the cultural buy-in will happen by itself.
When it comes to choosing marketing software and putting together a strategy to execute your organizational goals, we offer you the tools you need to succeed. HighRoad is an association marketing partner that does it all – from implementing marketing software that integrates with your AMS, to making sure you get results through expert guidance and hands-on execution.
About Adam Higgins
For over 20 years, Adam has functioned as a marketing and business analyst for non-profits and associations. As Chief Technology Officer at HighRoad, he leads a team of software developers, business analysts, and customer support analysts to supports technical integrations between marketing automation platforms and digital systems. Throughout Adam’s career, he has bridged the gap between the business units and information technology departments. Often when he's working with clients, he is their defacto MarTech liaison and solution architect. Adam is a graduate from California State University, Dominguez Hills. He’s a Los Angeles native that now resides in Atlanta, GA with his wife and son.