Rather than reinvent the wheel, you can simply look to other associations and find out about the important lessons they’ve learned during their digital transformation projects. Most of your peers in the association space will offer the following tips:
1. Change is not a goal – change supports your goals
Technology is changing so rapidly that it can make you dizzy, and the speed of change is only going to accelerate over the course of the coming decade.
Associations should try to stay on top of this change. New technology can offer some fantastic opportunities that benefit you, your team, and your members.
But associations also have to keep their feet on the ground and make wise IT investment decisions. What’s a wise decision? Something that results in a tangible, beneficial outcome, like bringing in new members or making a better experience for your existing members.
The best way to make wise decisions is to forget about technology entirely. Instead, start by asking a simple question: “what do we want to achieve?”
2. There’s a tool for every goal
The great thing about the digital revolution is that you now have options for anything you want to achieve. Many of these options are specifically designed for associations or can be tweaked for optimal association usage.
For every goal you set, you should be able to find a corresponding tool. If you want to generate leads and find new members, for example, you can look at a marketing automation platform.
If you have a clear list of goals, you’ll have an easier time identifying the right tools. The reverse is also true: when you’re considering a new tool, you should work out how it will support your strategic goals.
3. A true strategic partner will want to know your goals
At some point during the upgrade process, you’ll probably have to partner up with a third-party expert. If you pick the right partner, you’ll save a lot of time and money in the long run.
A good partner will begin by asking what your goals are. They’ll explore your goals, talk about your challenges, and help you to define your metrics of success before they move on to any kind of conversation about technology upgrades.
If your partner skips these steps and starts recommending new systems, they’re not a strategic partner. They are probably a sales rep for a software company. While such a person may be able to give you some good advice, they can’t offer the kind of big-picture thinking you’d get from an independent consultant.
4. Nothing happens without leadership buy-in
Association management structures are not always very innovation-friendly.
Every decision requires the support of the management committee, as well as any relevant project stakeholders. It makes for good governance, but it can be a little frustrating when you’re trying to drive change.
That’s why it’s best to secure leadership support before you kick off any big projects. Identify everyone who needs to be involved in the decision and confirm that they’re happy to proceed.
Securing buy-in is another reason to have clear goals. If you can explain what you hope to achieve (i.e. “we need a marketing automation platform to help recruit new members”) you have a much better chance of getting a green light.
5. Your MarTech stack needs the right components
Your stack is the whole apparatus – the sum of all systems that support marketing. There are a few systems that you always need in any stack:
- Association Management System – Your AMS is the backbone of your IT infrastructure. This is where you hold personal data about all of your members, as well as details of their activity and purchase history.
- Customer Relationship Management – The CRM tracks interactions with anyone who’s on a sales journey. These can be members who you want to purchase something or brand new leads that you hope to convert.
- Learning Management System – The LMS deals specifically with digital educational programming. The data here tells you a lot about who your members are and what they need from you.
- Event Management System – The EMS handles the live side of things, tracking everything from event attendance to booth rental. The data here is extremely useful for marketing, especially data about non-members who attend events.
- Email automation – Your email automation platform handles all routine communications. The right email platform increases the reach and effectiveness of each message, which strengthens engagement.
- Marketing automation – The marketing automation platform helps generate leads and convert them with a high success rate. It’s very much dependent on data from the other systems in your stack.
There’s no universally correct configuration for a MarTech stack. You may not have all of the above systems, or you may have others that aren’t mentioned here.
The only thing that matters is whether your stack supports your goals. If you’re missing a vital component, that’s where you should invest.
6. Technology integration improves the performance of every component
All of the systems mentioned above have one thing in common: data.
They’re all either gathering or processing valuable data. Sometimes they do both. In all circumstances, the data needs to be able to flow freely from one system to another.
This is system integration, and it can be a real chore. Integration is something you should consider at the buying stage: ask the vendor if the new system will play nice with the rest of your stack.
Even then, you’ll probably have to do some configuration work to get everything running smoothly. Without integration, however, none of your technology stack is working at optimal efficiency.
7. Data can tell you if you got it right
You’ve set goals. You’ve found the right tools to support those goals. You’ve put everything in motion.
Now the question is, did it work?
Without data, there’s no real way of knowing. Capture the right data, however, and you can track your progress in granular detail. For campaigns related to engagement and retention, this means learning more about how people use your digital tools and programming.
If you’re overseeing a recruitment campaign, your marketing automation platform can give you detailed data related to sales allocation, telling you exactly where your marketing approach is succeeding or failing.
When you invest in new technology, it should always lead to measurable results. When you can track the impact of new systems and see that they’ve helped your association grow, that’s when you know you’re on the right path to digital maturity.
Aimee joins HighRoad Solution with 15+ years of integrated marketing and communications experience, primarily in client-facing roles within the association and SaaS space. Her specialties include persona development, content strategy/management, lead gen and awareness campaign development, and website development/optimization.