Part 3 – CRM implementation essentials + bonus The top six CRM features for Associations

25 Jun 2021 5:43 AM | Brett Jeffery, CAE (Administrator)


  • The biggest mistake you can make when implementing a CRM project is to not be involved – success comes from engagement with the process.
  • Thorough planning is essential and must include timelines, project teams, communication plans, project scope and outcomes.
  • No project will ever be perfect but the more shared understanding you have in place from the beginning, the better chance of success you will have.

Focus Area 1: Timing is everything

Even the most well-oiled IT project demands the time and focus of your Association and staff.
Planning when to do the project is key. Associations often have busy seasons so make sure you choose the right time (most likely in your down season).

As we mentioned in the previous article, you must be confident that your partner has outlined a realistic timeline that works for you.

Focus Area 2: Building your team

You need to think of CRM implementation like any other transformational project. This means it’s not a case of ‘leaving it to the IT guys’.

Don’t just hand over the scope to the external project or partner team and expect them to come back with the solution. You need to be involved. And you want to have enough internal prioritisation and resourcing from your side so you can contribute to the project.

It’s important to build an internal project team that has management buy in. The project will require top down engagement to push forward, and to get similar buy from all staff members.

The team needs to be a multi-disciplinary ‘A Team’. By this we mean you need good representation from your entire organisation on the team. This ensures that the needs and requirements of every area are represented and heard, that the project will get input from all stakeholders and – again – that you will get good buy in across the board.

Focus Area 3: Communication. Communication. Communication.

Should we say that again? Communication is the bedrock of implementation success. Think of communication as a matrix:

  • Between the partner project team and your internal team
  • Between your internal project team and your management and board
  • Between your internal project team, management and any other key stakeholders

Digital transformation is heralding a steady evolution in how projects are managed and structured. Transformation projects traditionally had a very hierarchical or ‘command’ structure.

As we push into digital there is an equal and necessary push to adjust these structures. Think of the rise of the ‘Team of Teams’ approach. The structure is flatter, more collaborative and more interactive – ensuring better communication and more effective implementation.

Focus Area 4: Project scope

Do as much work on the project scope up front as you can. The clearer and more comprehensive it is, the better. It is extremely common for scope to change as a project progresses and the impact is nearly always negative.

You must develop a shared understanding of scope including:

  • Expectations
  • Parameters
  • Assumptions
  • Outputs

Any discrepancies in any of these areas between any project teams or members should be cleared up and resolved as soon as possible.

Keep up to date with project status. Regular check-ins and updates must be built into your implementation plan.

You need to focus on governance around ‘scope creep’.

It looks like this: We initially had a conversation and understood the scope to be a certain size and then new elements were introduced (often assumed to be involved but not clearly articulated) and those new elements mean there is more work to do.

Is this is a variation? Should it have been included originally?

This is why that time at the start of the project is so important. The better the conversation around scope up front, the more this can be avoided.

It’s impossible to have absolutely perfect design before starting a project. The way to avoid too much stress is – you guessed it – communication.

Be prepared that change may happen. And if it does, you have a plan in place for how to negotiate the impact. For example, you may choose to prioritise certain features and rule others out if they are going to impact the timeline too much.

A good rule of thumb is Pareto’s principle also known as 80/20 rule – to focus on the 20% of the project that will give 80% of rewards.

Finally, remember the GOOD FAST CHEAP rule we laid out in the previous article. You will need to keep an eye on managing these variables as implementation progresses.

Focus Area 5: 

Don’t become so focused on project management that you neglect to focus on outcomes though.

You must develop a set of measurable outcomes from the get go so you will have a way of knowing if the project is a success.

Continually track these outcomes all the way through the project.

Then, keep evolving your goals and outcomes. A good CRM implementation will continue to evolve and deliver over time. Tech will improve. Market forces will change. You don’t want to have to start a whole new CRM project every time this happens.

Continual support and maintenance must be built into your project and into your relationship with your partner.

Our next – and final – article in this series outlines the top features that associations are looking for and using in their CRMs.


  • Every Association is unique, but it helps to know what other Associations prioritise when it comes to CRM features.
  • The top six CRM features used by Associations are; user portal, membership management, marketing hub, event management, creating online communities and integration.
  • Clade has deep experience successfully implementing CRM solutions for Australia’s Associations.


CRMs come with a seemingly endless list of features. How do you know which will suit your Association best?

Looking to other Associations and what they’re using it for is a great place to start. These are the top CRM features Associations are currently using.

Feature 1 – Membership self-service web portal

Members love being able to interact via an easy to use web portal. This includes basic functions such as managing their own profile, picture, and password. But it can be much more sophisticated with options such as:

  • Member access to articles, events, and items equivalent to their level of membership
  • Members being able to add content
  • Members being able to interact with each other

The better the portal, the more members will engage, share, and recommend it. Don’t skimp when it comes to how your self-service portal looks and behaves. It needs to reflect the quality of your Association’s brand and work seamlessly and responsively across a variety of devices.

Feature 2 – Membership management

They say the devil is in the detail, but the detail is your friend when it comes to membership management.

Your CRM should allow for a comprehensive level of tracking, updating, and managing all aspects of membership. The basic functionality you should ask your partner to include in your CRM is:

  • Easy to use membership dashboard
  • Membership reporting – providing a 360-degree view of your membership
  • Track any communication and interaction against member profiles
  • Easy to use invoicing function – including automation
  • Create, segment and define different types of members by using a robust and flexible system

Feature 3 – Email marketing and communications

How are you communicating with your members? Is it a laborious manual process to send a newsletter via email once a month? Are you able to track which content your members respond best to?

Marketing often comes second fiddle when it comes to CRMs. But it’s THE most important tool in your arsenal when it comes to communicating with members and getting a clear picture of who your members are and what is meaningful to them.

The marketing hub of your CRM should enable to you:

  • Track leads by source – including types of advertising that brought them to you
  • Segment your customer base – and set up your own rules for this
  • Have access to a range of email templates including inline editing options
  • Create and track member journeys – with variations built-in (e.g. if they don’t open, a follow up is sent; if they reply they immediately, they get a confirmation email)

Feature 4 – Event, training and conference management

Events are crucial for the life of an Association, whether virtual or face to face. Having a CRM that allows you to manage your events end-to-end will save you and your staff from dealing with the pain of multiple, static spreadsheets, syncing information, and unnecessary double handling.

Information and functionality can include details of speakers (and all communications with them from your team), travel and dinner bookings and registration processes.

An event timeline that takes you through organizing an event step-by-step (and you have to tick each one off before you can move on) is a good way to streamline and regulate event management processes.

Also included in event management should be the capacity to send out automated feedback surveys after every event. These capture crucial information and tag them to that specific event in your system.

Feature 5 – Creating online communities

In addition to regularly distributing engaging member communications, Associations can benefit from creating and encouraging online communities. Digital forums present excellent networking opportunities, a benefit that is often a driver in gaining and retaining members.

Online communities can also become a good channel to host or promote events, renewals, and key member communications.

Association members are known for their willingness to network, share their experiences, and learn together, by creating an online community your Association can provide the framework for this to take place.

Feature 6 – Third Party System integration

Your CRM should enable Association growth, not stunt it. The right CRM will integrate with your other software solutions including finance, payments, reporting, and learning management systems.

What is most important here is the integration with Microsoft Outlook, so your team don’t have to enter information about meetings, emails, and calls into multiple locations.

Additionally, every CRM needs to integrate with a finance system and a payment gateway. Check with your vendor and partner to see if they can seamlessly integrate with systems such as Xero and MYOB, and payment gateways such as eWay or Paypal.

Your partner should also be able to help you implement parts of your chosen CRM solution at different stages. For example, you may choose to start with the membership management solution and then add in more elements over time. Open architecture, ongoing support, and careful attention to detail from your trusted partner are essential for success.

Original article published by cams


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