When you go to a restaurant that has a phonebook-sized menu featuring everything from dumplings to hot dogs to escargot, you can pretty much guarantee you are going to get a mediocre meal (and probably indigestion).
The same can be said of all-in-one association management systems that attempt to do everything under the sun. It’s not that these systems are bad, but should you expect one platform to be great at everything from dues management to event registration to certification programs? They have passable functionality, but chances are neither your staff nor your members are going to experience any big “wow” moments.
More and more, associations recognize this and look for tech integrations that allow them to take advantage of “best-of-breed” functionality. “I would never say the all-in-one approach is wrong,” says Jon Danforth, CEO and president of JL Systems, “They have advantages, like simplicity and lower pricing. But the trend has been away from one system that tries to do it all toward an integrated solution that does exactly what an organization needs.”
For four decades, JL Systems has provided solutions to the trade and professional association industry. Here, Danforth breaks down what a best-of-breed integration system can do for association staff and members.
Next-Level Email Marketing Automation
Best-of-breed solutions specialize in a specific technology, providing capabilities beyond what an AMS typically delivers, says Danforth. “As an example, it is one thing to send out emails and track whether they were opened or clicked, but these systems also create campaigns to track where the user went, what they looked at and if they put a T-shirt in their cart but didn’t check out,” he explains. ”Then, the system can automate an email saying, ‘Here’s 10 percent off to complete your purchase.’” Plus, third-party providers are dialed into every update within their vertical, including changes in regulations. “Think about email regulations: Canada has anti-spam laws that are different from the States. And the GDPR is on a whole different level. A third party is actively following such changes that can affect your operation and is able to react immediately.”
Superior LMS Functionality
“It is a very involved undertaking to provide courses and testing and manage full certification programs,” Danforth notes. “So much so, that many AMS systems avoid it.” Third-party integration gives users a dynamic experience, he says, encouraging repeat interactions. “Users can view course catalogs, register and take the courses. The systems can handle surveys, evaluations, generate completion certificates, set up retests, updating the AMS along the way. The best LMS capabilities surpass anything I’ve seen an AMS do.”
And like email marketing, a robust system keeps tabs on regulations and compliance issues. “There are rules that say some associations cannot limit certifications to only members,” points out Danforth. “Some associations may violate that rule without knowing it.”
Increasing Revenue and Donations
“We have a widget that allows you to set up buttons on your site for donations. They can appear when a user is looking at products, updating an email address, on the join or renewal page, anywhere,” says Danforth. The Society of Personality and Social Psychology implemented this widget into its event registration and membership renewal pages, and without adding any additional work for its small staff, increased donations by 500 percent. These widgets are also able to be placed in third party systems, such as an LMS, to then be processed ultimately by the member website along with course purchases in a single transaction.
Analytics That Inspire Action
“A typical AMS can bring data together that tallies numbers or tracks activities. But in the end, it’s just a dashboard or a report,” explains Danforth. “Beyond that, analytic companies can do trend analysis to show year-over-year changes.” That means associations can compare attendance data for annual events that were held in different cities or dial into member renewal rates. “You can quickly see, for example, the year-to-date renewals for people in Virginia who attended at least one meeting in the last three years,” he notes. While this kind of data won’t necessarily help predict the future, Danforth says it provides powerful insights for everything from planning event locations to the product and service options and their pricing.
Best-of-Breed Brings Out the Best of Associations
“The best-of-breed approach gets association professionals out of the tech weeds,” says Danforth. “Third parties are laser-focused on technology advancements, improved functionality and any regulatory changes that come down the pike. They allow association staffers to concentrate on serving members and deliver a better member experience.”