Look at “Can” and “How” in Best Software Selection

The RFP stinks when done wrong. Are you doing it wrong?

Software is key to an Association’s success. I believe that every executive should think of their software programs as partners in helping support every facet of their organization. Therefore, from time to time executives should take a step back and ask yourself, how is my software partner doing?  In this article, I cover some thoughts on how to choose a software partner wisely by looking at “how” and “can” in software selection.

The Best Process Leads to the Best Software Selection 

Let’s agree, to start with, that relying on a solid process will get you to the right software decision for your Association—software that meets your Association’s needs now, into the foreseeable future, and fits into your budget.

“There are two possible outcomes: if the result confirms the hypothesis, then you’ve made a measurement. If the result is contrary to the hypothesis, then you’ve made a discovery.” – Enrico Fermi

In other words, start with an open mind and a phased narrowing process: an effective RFI (Request for Information) followed by an efficient RFP (Request for Proposal) & then the demo.

The Role of an RFI—The “Can”

In my opinion, with all the vendors and all the software choices out there, jumping headfirst into an RFP is akin to sending out your wedding invites without dating your mate first. Certainly, you may have a pretty good idea by just looking at their online dating profile. But, it’s a hit or miss proposition at best. Yet, sending out blind RFP’s from no more than a website session still remain the standard procedure for many organizations today.

That is why I am so committed to an RFI, Request for Information, before an RFP. The RFI is a less formal but still systematic and efficient way to narrow the field of choices. It’s a method that enables you to learn which vendors “can” possibly meet your software requirements.

  • First, RFIs require you to be crystal clear about listing all of the functions for which you need integrated software support—such as marketing, membership management, fundraising, event planning, financials, and reporting.
  • Second, RFIs require that you winnow your field of possible vendors. How? Best practice winnowing includes partnering with a specialist experienced in both off-the-shelf and made-to-order software systems. It also pays to reach out to your network and read online reviews of relevant software providers.

An RFI should include:

  • Table of Contents
  • Executive summary, or introduction and purpose of the RFI
  • Describe the business use case of the project
  • Outline the key requirements of the organization and even departments
  • Explanation of scope of the software requirements
  • Glossary of abbreviations and terminology
  • Template for the vendor to complete
  • Details of your next step: an RFP or RFQ.

Why is an RFI a valuable step for both software buyer and the software vendor?

  • The RFI minimizes the costs in the process (both hard costs and soft).
  • The RFI allows the vendor to truly understand what is required.

Think of the RFI (request for information) as the information step of probing. The final product of your successful RFI is a short list of five to seven vendors whom you invite to respond to your RFP.

By the way, if you work with a software consultant, he or she should already have a good knowledge set for the options in your market and be able to avoid time in the software identification area.

The Role of an RFP—The “How” explained

I have a confession. The RFP, Request for Proposal, process stinks! I realize that these are blasphemous words coming from a software consultant. But, I truly believe that most if not all RFP’s received by software vendors are premature, rigged and a guessing exercise for most software searches today.

In my opinion, the traditional software RFP process is a time drain and broken down process. In fact, when it comes to purchasing software as a service solutions, this process never worked properly in the first place. I believe it is the reason stories about software failures regularly appear in the technical press. These stories are only the tip of the iceberg; people don’t talk about most partial or outright failures because they don’t want to be associated with them.

But, no matter how hard you try to avoid them, you can’t. The RFP is the formal procurement process most familiar to executives and likely you too. I admit that the process will not change but for many nonprofits it should.

If you do decide to produce a formal RFP, you should be targeting a select few vendors to send your well crafted proposal. That alone will boost the success of your outcome exponentially. Please don’t waste your time or the software vendors in sending it out to a plethora of options without an RFI already completed.

The Best RFP for Your Software Selection

So, if we have to live with them. Here is what I believe the best RFP’s do:

  • The best RFPs provide a great deal of specific information about your Association—for instance, its mission, its daily work, its internal organizational chart—to invited vendors in order to help them grasp how they can provide the software support you need.
  • The best proposal never lacks specifics: they step you through exactly how that vendor plans to partner with your Association now and into the future to ensure that your new software system offers all the functionality you require in a user-friendly package.

Minimally, an RFP includes:

  • Table of Contents
  • Confidentiality or non-disclosure agreement
  • Information about your nonprofit and the process for selection
  • Detailed extent and scope of the software requirements.
  • Write requirements as closed questions that the vendor can answer with a selection from a drop down list if possible.
  • Ask the vendor to rate how well their products meet your requirements.
  • Priorities of features requested rather than just features requested
  • Proposed time frame for selection
  • Detailed design information and requirements
  • Budget expectations and considerations
  • Outline your availability to discuss the proposal
  • Evaluation process and award criteria
  • Submission instructions

The RFP audit-The Fail-Safe Step

If an RFI is effective, you should request vendor proposals only from quality vendors who provide what they say they will. But how do you know for sure? The answer is an RFP audit.

  • After reviewing the proposals, ask the vendors follow-up questions, being sure to note down what the vendor responded and how (phone or email, for example).
  • Require each vendor to provide evidence that their software does what they claim in their proposals. Evidence can be in the form of documentation, videos, or a test account online.
  • Go back to your rating sheets and review (or change as needed) your scores according to the responses in the audit process. Annotate your changed or verified scores with audit-related comments.

The Role of the Demonstration-The How Displayed 

I could write a book on the value of demonstrations in terms of winning the mind share of my clients. In addition, I could also write about the pain associated with sitting through ones that sucked too. But, demonstrations are critical in finding out the “how”. Demonstrations, or demos, will let you see how the software explained comes to life. There are several different types of demos:

Self-running demos:

Most companies will provide a self-running demo on a CD or Web site. These demos often show basic functions and let you examine the look and feel of the software. They can be useful for a preliminary evaluation during your RFI process, but they generally cannot cover functionality in great depth. You may find these of value in the “can” during your RFI process.

Live demos:

A live vendor demo lets you see more features, and ask questions while you are reviewing the product. Prepare questions in advance that relate to your organization’s needs, such as those on your checklist, or ask for some hands-on time with a fully functioning system.

I always suggest that the initial demo is about an hour and should be focused on the key priorities outlined in your RFI and RFP. An agenda with each area requested should be provided to the vendor for preparation. If warranted, the second and subsequent live demonstrations are built on the findings of the first and further exploring more specifics.

Demonstrations are so important in a software selection project. As with all steps in software procurement, a good process matters in getting the best results out of a demonstration.

The Role of the Hands On Experience-The How Revealed

I know that this is going to kill a lot of vendors to hear. But, I believe that today it’s important for an individual evaluating software to get their hands on the product. When we are asked to consider making a decision on thousands of dollars and the stakes are so high, I believe it’s paramount.

Granted, their needs to be some parameters in place. For example, a vendor should insist on spending time with the client before handing over the keys. Further, I suggest putting a time frame on the experience too.

I can’t tell you how many times this has eliminated the sales cycle time. And, I believe the challenge of not knowing until after the purchase has been made.

So many software vendors, so Little Time

Market leaders or challengers? Cloud or data center? Evaluating enterprise software is difficult because there can be thousands of requirements and thousands of options too. Ultimately the selection comes down to this: how do you measure the gap between your particular requirements and potential software products?

For many, this can be answered by taking the time up front to step through the right process focused on what can be done but also how it is done too.

Do you have any questions or comments on the software selection process?  Please let us know how we can assist you.

Until next time, keep SmartThoughts in mind.

Free Software Advice for nonprofits

I Hate Sales People! 10 Questions To Know If You Should

Software Sales Matters in Software Decisions

“I hate sales people!” I have heard this expression all to often during my work as a software adviser. And, quite frankly it makes my heart ache every time I hear those words. In this article, I take a look at why the “feel” of the “sell” matters when making your final decision to buy or not to buy from a particular software vendor.

SalesPeople will be more successful when they understand that the point of selling isn’t selling. The point of selling is buying. Jeffrey Lipsius, author of “Selling To The Point”

The Sales Process Matters: Feel It 

During my 20 year software career, I have been involved in many roles: software implementer, software engineer, project manager, business process consultant, marketing director, account executive, sales executive and for most of my time a software adviser.

I have a secret to share with you. I believe that sales is truly an honorable profession. I love the sales profession. Today, as a software adviser, I have the opportunity to see first hand how various sales professionals conduct their sales process with potential buyers. Suffice it to say, I appreciate those sales professionals who conduct their business well.

The Point of Selling 

What is doing it well? I believe that the fundamental point of selling should be to remove the obstacles in making a buying decision. For me the desire for clients to win is not a euphemism. It is a mental model or frame of reference which I keep in mind as a client and I mutually  explore a solution which achieves success. If that sounds corny, so be it.

One thing we’ve discovered with certainty is that anything we do that makes the customer more successful, inevitably results in a financial return for them and us. Jack Welch

In my role as a software adviser, I have worked with literally 100’s of software vendors who provide solutions for nonprofits. And, for the most part, the sales teams that I have worked with have been very professional.

But, I have also met some bad ones too. And, those “bad ones” can cause many “buyers” to hate their sales people. Unfortunately, those “bad ones” have missed the point of selling which I believe is helping customers make better buying decisions. Good sales people are a content concierge providing information buyers need in their journey to make an educated buying decision.

Missing the point in selling may not just be a “sales person” problem. Rather, it could indeed be a tell-tale sign of the software vendors culture and ultimately how the software vendor may solve your problems moving forward too.

That is the key point of consideration here.

Your Software Choice May Be The Easiest Part 

Once you’ve made the leap to purchase new software, it’s time to picture this: the excitement in the office the day that the software is first available at your association.

Fade to puzzlement with questions such as the following: How do we convert our data for use in the new system? How do we configure the new system to “talk to” the rest of our software? How do we get the rest of the staff up to speed on using the new system? And significantly, how do we communicate our changes to our customers, members, & donors?

Those are just the starter questions. We all know that any new software brings a related range of new questions about best practices and efficacy.

Once the software vendors have been identified, the RFP sent out, and the demonstrations have all be completed, you have to live with the software you wisely selected. The sales process and the sales professional working with you too, sets the tone and may be a foreshadowing of how your marriage will be once the deal is signed.

Pass or Fail: Testing the Software Vendor 

During the software selection, each team member should weigh in not only on the merits of a particular AMS system, but also on the software vendor.

Why does the sales process and person matter? It matters because how you sell is a free sample of how your vendor will be able to solve your priorities. That noted, here are 10 possible questions to test your vendor during the software selection process:

  1. Approach: Do they seek to understand before being understood?
  2. Selling or Buying: Do you feel like they are “selling” or facilitating your “buying” decision?
  3. Crude or Considerate: Is the vendor pushy, abrupt, disrespectful, cavalier, or indifferent? Ex. Looking at a watch to make the next appointment or impatient with all comments and questions. Ultimately, do you believe that they care about your success.
  4. Brilliant or Ignorant: Does the software sales team know their product well? If you hear something like, “I am just the sales person and don’t know that”. Call the rep an Uber.
  5. Options: Do they provide options and choice?
  6. Timely Follow Up: Basic 101 stuff here. But, Is the vendor attentive to details and follow up?
  7. Fake or Genuine: Is the vendor showing genuine interest in each team member’s reactions and questions, or just the reactions of the team leader?
  8. Communication: Generally, is each team member comfortable with the vendor’s presentation and the interpersonal exchanges?
  9. Partner or Punt: Is each team member able to picture a continuing relationship with this vendor if this software system is purchased? Confidence in their value of the overall solution.
  10. Dirty or Clean: Do you feel like you need to take a shower after a meeting with them? If so, run Forest, run!

Accountability in the Sales Process

Accountability is a simple concept. Can you do what you say you will do and take responsibility for getting it done? This is something we learn from our parents. Well, at least most of us. Regardless of being taught or not, the world makes us accountable for our actions.

This gets more complicated when you look at it from a software purchase decision. It’s easy to understand if a feature is accountable. For example, being able to do a task such as sending an email, running an ad, or posting something to a social media channel.

However, does the software vendor demonstrate accountability when it doesn’t? What is the business impact when features don’t work? And, when a vendor doesn’t care.

Certainly, accountability is likely the hardest to discern in the sales process.

Selling and Feeling the Invisible

Software companies are selling the “invisible”. They are promoting and showing the value of what the solution will provide once it is purchased. On the other hand, an organization evaluating software should be “feeling” the invisible throughout the buying process too.

During your sales selection process, certainly it is important for an organization to review software features and functions. But, finding the best vendor fit may not be found just by reviewing features and functions. Emotions and relationships about the vendor, product, and buying process should be included in your final score card too.

In my opinion, your experience and relationship with the software vendor during the evaluation process is a sample of how your two organizations will perform together when you become married to each other. How the selling process transpires is an example of culture and commitment to helping you too.

If your buying experience isn’t top notch when you are being courted, what are the chances the experience will improve once you have tied the knot with each other? Sales matters.

Until next time, keep SmartThoughts in mind.

Free Software Advice for nonprofits



Virtuous CRM Software For Nonprofits Review

Virtuous CRM Software Review for nonprofits

Isn’t it time to drop kick your outdated donor management software system for something virtuous!?  If so, the team at Virtuous CRM For Nonprofits believes that they have the best All-in-One donor & fundraising CRM for your nonprofit.

Virtuous CRM Software Review

In our ongoing “Search of a Nonprofit CRM Software Series”, we have prepared a quick look at Virtuous CRM, a nonprofit Constituent Relationship Management Software. This tool helps charities create personal relationships, reduce costs and maximize impact. For those interested in learning more about Virtuous CRM, we are available to share with you are thoughts about the donor fundraising software and how it fits in the donor database software market today.

In addition, we have curated, interviewed, and prepared more detailed information for executives employed in the not for profit industry to set up a time to discuss as well. Our agnostic insights and software reports are designed for those who would like fair and objective insights into the capabilities of this CRM software for nonprofit program.

Introduction to Virtuous CRM Software:

The needs of the modern nonprofit have changed just as much as the software industry in the last two decades. Unfortunately, charities are often asked to to accept an archaic donor management systems or traditional CRMs built for sales instead of generosity.

With so many donor database software programs in the market today, it is often hard to discern the best fit. The good news is that nonprofits don’t have too. Virtuous is the nonprofit CRM helping charities raise more money, inspire more action and do more good. With Virtuous, they aim to help accelerate a charity by helping them see donors as relationships instead of transactions.

When asked about the name, here is the response from David Cady, CRM Evangelist, at Virtuous:

“We believe that fundraising and the nature of what we support is a high-calling and endeavor to admire. With our name we wanted to bring a human and compassionate element to donor management software”.

From all accounts, Virtuous provides an elegant and easy-to-use donor software designed to serve your entire staff – but feature-rich enough to meet even complex fundraising needs.

An example of going beyond the options in the market, Virtuous CRM contains marketing automation features. These features are designed specifically to help nonprofit staff reduce costs while increasing generosity using best practice templates and the ability measure & optimize. Simply put, unlike many other donor databases which have email marketing, Virtuous goes beyond just email to provide full moves management-style email automation PLUS the ability to automate tasks, tags and other data.

Virtuous CRM Marketing Automation Examples

Another advanced aspect of this tool is the blending of Social and financial data inside the analytics. Users can see how they’re connected to givers geographically or by social network. Using this data, the Virtuous CRM dashboard will suggest next steps with each giver based on financial data and relational data. So, Virtuous Software will suggest when to ask for a gift, and what amount, but it could also suggest you invite someone to a fundraiser or informational meeting. Cool stuff!

Purpose Statement from Virtuous CRM: 

Virtuous is set out to fundamentally change how nonprofits interact with their donors. Their software can enable you to tell your story at scale. You are able to make personal connections with your next 10,000 donors in the same way you did for your first 10. Virtuous does this by taking givers financial data, social data, and giving patterns to intelligently recommend the next best ask for each giver. This allows you to intelligently manage your interactions so your fundraising effort creates the most value for the organization. Virtuous creates an accountable and sustainable environment that fosters human connections and a relationship first organization.

“Their relational tools allow you to understand your donors and where you have common interests, based on publicly available information as well as the information gathered over the relationship as it’s been built,” said Tj Abood of Access Ventures, and investor in Virtuous Software.

Key Functional Areas of Virtuous CRM: 

All the functional areas of Virtuous CRM are developed with the following benefits in mind: save staff time and grow giving, allowing your organization to get to know your donors, tracking engagement, and getting the data your executives need to make decisions better.

The three main functional areas of the CRM system are:

  1. Donor Management for Elegant and easy-to-use donor software designed to serve your entire staff – but feature-rich enough to meet your complex fundraising needs.
  2. Marketing Automation / Moves Management: Marketing automation platform designed specifically to help nonprofit staff reduce costs while increasing generosity.
  3. Online Giving: Virtuous includes several options for a fully-integrated, digital giving experience. From complex giving requirements such as in-kind donations and stock gifts, to simple forms to accept credit cards at an industry low cost.

Key Features of Virtuous Fundraising Software: 

  • Suggested gift asks – and suggested ‘relational’ asks – help prompt you to make the right ask as the right time
  • Full Marketing automation to personalize donor communications and outreach based on unique donor profiles
  • Social media scraping with social profiles embedded
  • Donor scoring based on relational and giving capacity
  • Impact updates for projects – Track funding goals/impact, and even expenses, for projects you fund
  • Identify givers by their passions, persona, group affiliations or communication preferences

Where does Virtuous CRM Fit?

The company is targeting nonprofits between with $500,000 to $1 million in revenue. In other words, the “SMB” of nonprofits.

When asked where Virtuous fits, the response from David Cady was the following:

We work exclusively with nonprofits, and the best fit is organizations who have a variety of funding sources, but most importantly a diverse amount of individual givers.

Virtuous Fundraising Software Visual: 

Virtuous CRM for Nonprofit Review

Is Virtuous The Best CRM Software? 

We don’t espouse to the belief that there is “one best CRM” for everyone. But, Virtuous CRM may very well be your best fit.

However, to answer this question with certainty, we need to know more about what makes you unique. And, discuss other insights about this platform which we have curated, clients interviewed, and discuss more detailed information beyond just this summary.

Please know that our detailed analysis and expertise is available upon request. To be sure, our software analysis is not a “pretty brochure”, “marketing noise.” or a “sales pitch.”

Rather, we provide a free objective dialogue and insights designed to help nonprofit executives make a smarter software business decision.

If you are interested in some help with reviewing your options and comparisons, please check out our “vendor matching” services here.

Want More CRM Software Reviews?

Please stay tuned to our ongoing “Searching for A Smart CRM Software” where we will continue to provide further insights into membership database software options designed for our 501(c) 6 membership focused organizations.

For the most recent published reviews, please click below:

And, to obtain a sample list of the database software reviews we have, you may follow the link here 

If you work for an AMS or CRM database software system and you would like us to include your firm in our software review process, please contact us.

Until next time, keep SmartThoughts in mind. Happy Software Buying!

virtuous crm software review for nonprofits