A recent benchmark study conducted by BWF indicated that 70% of respondents at large higher education institutions are evaluating and/or replacing their CRM in the next 3-5 years. Demand is high as some established CRM vendors, including Ellucian and Blackbaud, have announced the end of development and clear upgrade strategies for their legacy fundraising software products. Other organizations are simply seeking modern platforms that can provide increased functionality, improved security, and online constituent-facing capabilities.

The decision to switch systems is not to be taken lightly. Most institutions look at a CRM selection process as a 10-year commitment. CRM implementations are enormously complex and often take multiple years and can cost millions of dollars. The relative simplicity of integrating best-of-breed software solutions, as opposed to relying on a single vendor for all aspects of the conversion process, can result in multiple vendor contracts and the need for technical staff to master multiple platforms.

BWF provides our clients with strategic counsel in technology, fundraising, and organizational management. We help ensure that the organization’s larger goals are met throughout each detailed phase of the system migration. But why would you need a partner outside of your software vendor? To answer that question, let’s look at what you should not expect from your software vendor during an implementation.

1. Do not expect your CRM vendor to make your case. Making the case for a new database system can be difficult in the best of times and will increase in importance in the post-pandemic environment as all organizational priorities compete for funding. Software vendors are happy to demonstrate the capabilities of their own products, but they will not write an integrated case statement for leadership to demonstrate the overall ROI of the proposed multi-vendor solution.

2. Do not expect your CRM vendor to revise your existing business processes. An implementation should serve as an opportunity to review business processes, see what is working well, and identify areas of improvement. Vendors who charge for customizations may have a financial incentive to copy an existing, inefficient process as opposed to promoting workflow and staffing changes that optimize the organization around the new software eco-system.

3. Do not expect your CRM vendor to manage change. Change management is perhaps the most challenging part of any migration project. Not only is technology involved, but personalities as well! Some users will adapt well to new platforms while others will require more attention as they struggle to change. Training needs should be carefully considered to encompass face-to-face, on-demand, and ongoing training needs. Flipping the switch on the new system is a big milestone, but the change management is just beginning and will remain an ongoing focus for the organization.

4. Do not expect your CRM vendor to complete anything outside the project scope without a written commitment. Every implementation has unexpected surprises, but many can be avoided with proper scoping before the software contract is signed. But once that happens, vendors have one goal—perform to specification, go live, and transition clients to long-term support as quickly as possible. The key to avoiding bad outcomes is to ensure your scope is as meaningful as possible before involving your software partners. Do not rely on software vendors to define the scope and hold themselves accountable to your strategic goals.

5. Do not expect your CRM vendor to test your new system or validate your data. Your vendor will migrate data from the legacy system but they will not know if it was imported correctly and makes sense in the new platform. You should not rely on your system vendor alone for the data validation post-migration. This should be the organization’s responsibility, but there are many different approaches to testing (commonly called UAT—User Acceptance Testing). Compiling test cases, involving stakeholders, and having a testing schedule are critical for success after the migration.

Having a dedicated consulting partner can help address all of the issues outlined above. BWF protects our clients’ interests before, during, and after the CRM migration. We help organizations achieve their strategic goals, while simultaneously enabling software vendors to have the most successful outcomes possible. Contact us to learn more.

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