Establish a timeline
Even the best, most practiced presenters can ramble at times. Or, questions can slow down a presentation. You don’t want to be in a position where you’ve only seen half the toolset at the end of two hours. Setting a timeline can help. Again, be clear about what you want. If you only want 10 minutes of introductions, say so. Your timeline can look something like this:
3PM – 5PM XX DEMO
- 3:00 – 3:10 – Introducing our team
- 3:10 – 3:20 – Vendor introductions and company overview
- 3:20 – 3:40 – Product overview slides
- 3:40 – 4:00 – Fundraising tools in the platform
- 4:00 – 4:05 – Quick break (breaks aren’t a bad idea as you can excuse part of your team that doesn’t need to sit for the entire demo or just have a quick hello moment)
- 4:05 – 4:20 – Advocacy tools in the platform
- 4:20 – 4:40 – Peer-to-peer tools in the platform
- 4:40 – 4:50 – Top level overview of other platform functionality and integrations
- 4:50 – 5:00 – Questions
Designate a team member to keep time and note questions. If you’re at the end of a time block and there are still a lot of questions you can follow-up after the demo. A good vendor will take notes on questions during the demo as well.
You can certainly deviate from your timeline if you want. But, having a schedule will help ensure you cover the material you’re interested in seeing.
It’s tempting to schedule three demos in one day and get it done. At the end of the day (literally) what you’ll have is an overwhelmed team. Consider the timing of your full demos.
schedule them close enough together that each is fresh and unique in the team’s minds.
schedule them so close together that the team can’t get other work done (leaving them distracted or rushed) or that demo information runs together. Usually a day or two between demos is good.
Your team took good notes and documented questions. Be sure to send follow-up questions to the vendor so nothing is overlooked. You can also request short follow-up demos on specific modules or tools. Perhaps your team had a lot of integration questions that needed to be answered. Or, wanted to see functionality that the vendor touched on but seemed very interesting. If you want to know more, ask.
Don’t ‘Get Stuck’
That moment after demos are complete is where nonprofits often ‘get stuck’. It’s a sort of paralysis that sets in due to information overload. So much work has gone into the evaluation, you and your team have just completed multiple demos and dedicated hours this project. You’re completely overwhelmed.
Don’t get stuck in this moment. If you table your decision or put it off, you risk losing valuable information garnered during demos and conversations as time passes. If you’re feeling overwhelmed, think of ways to clear the table and unclutter your mental workspace. Go back to some of your basics such as the requirements matrix. Keep moving forward.
Usability is a big part of the product you select. So, getting to take a “test drive” can help you assess if the product has the features you need and is easy to use.
A ‘sandbox’ is a demo account provided by the vendor so that you can try the platform. Here are some considerations if you request a sandbox account.
INVEST IN TIME TO LEARN
Jumping into a product you have not used before is not a recipe for success. Ask your vendors for a technical walkthrough – aside from the product demo – for a nuts and bolts explanation of where to find your desired features and how to perform basic tasks. Make use of any training resources including video courses and support websites – evaluate the training tools too, since these are an important part of your buying decision.
SET REASONABLE EXPECTATIONS
Most sandbox accounts are either completely empty or have minimal ‘test data’ in them. Ask your vendor if you can send emails and SMS from the sandbox, as well as getting your branding and images uploaded. Know that in any sandbox, you’re getting a snapshot of what the tools can do as you may not have time to set up bespoke pages or deploy marketing automation journeys.
Ask about the features which are important to you – if you plan to import data into your eventual account on a regular basis, then identify how you can test this in the sandbox. Think of your sandbox experience as a tour but don’t expect it to look like your current system or to be full of information.
DEDICATE STAFF AND ALLOCATE TIME
If you’re given a sandbox account and the wrong person tries it out, they may have a bad experience. Choose someone you know is adaptable to new technology and skilled to test-drive the platform. Then, make sure they have time set aside to experience it – consider scheduling team members to evaluate together, so they can discuss their experience and learn from each other.
ASK FOR HELP
If your team is very interested in the sandbox, ask your sales representative for help or a contact at the company. Sometimes, this is the best way to get questions answered. Asking and getting an answer is better than assuming the tools don’t do something you want if your team has questions.
CONSIDER A SCAVENGER HUNT
Yes, a scavenger hunt. Your sales representative can probably suggest some ideas. The purpose is to get the team into the system in a thoughtful and systematic way. Get them past login to look at something of value. Consider incentivizing them with a free lunch. This is also a way to make the process fun. Here are some ideas – for each they have to provide a screenshot in the platform sandbox:
- Page templates – set up a template
- Content library – set up a content block
- Marketing automation – set up a welcome series workflow
- Advocacy – set up an email to target action to a certain list
- Thank you page – set up a thank you page for your advocacy action
- Fundraising – set up a fundraising page with recurring giving
- Create a donor profile
- Take a picture of their own supporter record
Anyone can say ‘I liked or disliked it,’ but you need more than that to make a sound decision. Ask for a report – even if just 5-10 bullets – from your team about the tools. If you like, have them complete the same questions for apples to apples comparison.
Basically, like anything else in this process, you want to ensure that use of a sandbox is thoughtfully approached. Just sending team members in with no purpose or time can leave them confused and feeling like they don’t understand the tools.
While the technical functionality and your needs are your primary focus, there are other considerations that may weigh into your final decision that shouldn’t be overlooked. Some of these may be covered in your requirements matrix – or maybe not. Take these into account when moving to the final phase of selection.
We seek to compare apples to apples in this process for fairness, which is good. But, in the end, a final decision may come down to something as simple as compatibility. Does the vendor match your organizational culture? Did you like the people? Do you feel like a partner and like they hear you and respect your needs? Do you think you’ll get the support you need to learn and use the tools? Do you trust them?
These points aren’t quantifiable but so many times this qualitative point, this gut feeling is the deciding factor. Don’t ignore it.
Support and Training
Ever had a question online and you clicked the live chat only for them to say – in the LIVE chat (!) – they’d get back to you in 3-5 business days? Not cool.
What are the support options available to your team? Is it 24-7? Is it phone/chat/email? Is it through a ticketing system or do you talk to a real human? If it’s a real human, where are they located? What’s the typical response time? These are all important questions for any day – or the one Sunday when you’re finalizing a big fundraising push that goes live on Monday morning.
Or, how’s this one… Ever had a team member ask you the same question about how to do something in your eCRM platform three times (just worded slightly differently)?
Training your team is essential to the success of your nonprofit eCRM AND your digital program. Some vendors offer a basic knowledge base while some offer comprehensive certifications. Are they required to certify? Can your team easily access basic, video or other documentation to solve their problems? In addition to what they offer, is there a cost involved? Be sure to find out about training options available to your team.
Innovation and product development
If you’re planning an eCRM change in the first place, chances are, your old tools aren’t doing something you need. Some platforms change focus over time. Some technology providers fail to innovate and improve their products. The end result is a stale platform – you don’t want that.
To keep pace with the rapidly changing online space, look for an eCRM vendor that focuses on technology and innovation. One that has frequent releases that include new features, updates to tools AND bug fixes. Be sure to ask about this in your discussions. You can also ask for any roadmaps for planned updates, product journals and release notes.
This question comes up more often than ever as we see more data breaches in the nonprofit sector. What is your new eCRM partner doing to secure your data? This has some many facets, some of which are your responsibility and some of which fall on the vendor. Here are some basic questions:
- Where is the data stored?
- Who has access to your data?
- Can you set up restricted user accounts in the eCRM to protect data?
- Are payments secure?
- What about GDPR?
- What’s my job versus your job in terms of security?
Onboarding and Migration
Migration is a project in itself. Once you sign your contract, the arduous journey of moving your data securely, setting everything up, training your team and deploying your new eCRM without a hiccup… well, that’s next. Wouldn’t it be nice to know the nonprofit eCRM vendor you’ve selected has your back and will be there to assist?
This is called ‘onboarding’. The level of onboarding assistance provided by vendors varies greatly. Some offer a detailed ‘agile’ process for free (like Engaging Networks
), some offer onboarding but charge, some offer very little assistance.
What you want and need in terms of onboarding is up to you but it’s worth researching and asking about so you know your options.