Narrowing the Field: Finding the Best AMS for Your Association

It’s not difficult to find a quality AMS. What is difficult, however, is finding the best AMS for your association.

By Joe Ball – Business Development Representative

Sixty. That’s about how many association management software (AMS) packages there are on the market, at least according to Wes Trochlil’s count on Effective Database Management. That’s eye-opening. How is any AMS selection team supposed to narrow that field down to the best AMS for the organization, all while keeping up with your day jobs?

That’s why a key question for any AMS selection team is, “How do we narrow the field?” But it’s a hard question to answer. There is no, “best AMS.” There’s only the best AMS for your organization — which is why the selection process can feel so long and arduous if you do it right. You have to do the work to find out how each system’s feature set overlaps, and how they differ.

In this post, I’ll outline the three simplest ways your association can find the best AMS for your needs. It won’t be easy and it won’t be quick, but you’ll be able to pare those 60 vendors down to the perfect choice.

Finding the Best AMS for Your Association

Look at All Vendors

Sixty vendors may seem like a lot to consider, but many will fall off of the list in due time.

At this point, you should have already meet with the AMS selection team to assemble a list of needs and wants for the new system. With 60 vendors on the table, focus solely on the needs. If a vendor can’t offer something that is essential to your team, cross them off the list.

Next, focus on the wants — the things that would make an AMS the perfect fit for your staff. Does your team lean heavily upon the Microsoft Office 365 suite for day-to-day tasks? You might want to keep all of the Microsoft Dynamics 365 vendors on your list. Have a lot of experienced Salesforce users on staff? Keep those vendors in contention, too.

With the initial research out of the way, you should have your list of vendors down to approximately 10 or 20, a much more manageable list of candidates to work with. Perhaps one or two of those candidates wasn’t on your radar. That’s the benefit of considering all options.

There’s nothing wrong with doing your due diligence. You’ll be rewarded for it.

Start Taking Calls

Admittedly, this one is self-serving. But it benefits you, too!

Once you’ve trimmed the list of vendors by half or more, it’s a good time to start picking up the phone and listening to voicemails from the remaining candidates. Maybe you’ll learn something about the system that wasn’t listed on the website or other marketing materials. Or, you can ask for more information on an important integration. Most importantly, you’ll start to get a better sense of who is in your price range and who isn’t.

Attend Association Events

With your initial research, you’ve separated the wheat from the chaff, so to speak. Then, you took some calls and weeded out the pretenders, shrinking the list of best AMS fits for your association down to a select few.

At this point, you probably have all of the information the top contenders are willing to divulge about their product. Now’s the time to seek out third-party opinions.

One of the best places to get third-party insight on some of your top vendors is at association events. The best resource, in my opinion, is AMS Fest — a place where plenty of people in the room is looking to leave their current system. Not only will you be able to catch vendor demos, but you’ll have access to dozens of association professionals who likely have experience using at least one of the systems you’re considering.

Ask what your fellow attendees thought of each AMS you’re considering. Pros and cons? Hidden costs? Customer support? There’s nothing wrong with asking for objective AMS insight, and there’s no better place to do it than AMS Fest. (The next AMS Fest will be held on Nov. 6-7 in Washington, D.C.).

Can’t make it to AMS Fest or next year’s ASAE Annual Meeting & Expo? Try posing questions or asking for feedback on the ASAE Collaborate forum. Or, you could ask around internally. The odds are pretty good that a coworker has some experience using one of your top choices at a previous job.

Final Thoughts

Narrowing the field from 60 to the top four or five best AMS fits for your organization may seem daunting. But it really doesn’t get difficult until the field is down to the final few.

By that point, however, you should be armed with all of the information necessary to make the best AMS decision for your association — especially if you follow the tips listed above.

To prepare yourself even further for your search to find the best AMS for your association, watch the free webinar, “Behind the Curtain: Insiders Dish on AMS Selection Secrets.”