Friday, September 30, 2016

Nonprofits, what's your problem?

Do nonprofits have a problem?

You know that selecting, buying, and implementing enterprise software is a complex task requiring detailed technical knowledge rarely part of the “day job” of the people making the decision.  Furthermore, the process could take months to a couple years (or more).

That’s not the problem.

The stereotype of software salespeople as predators is often true. Many, especially those working for large, publicly traded companies or venture-capitalized start-ups, are on quota. They’re not bad people, but if they miss their quota, they risk losing their job; closing the deal, makes them money. It’s easy to see how this zero-sum game might lead one to gloss over complexity and nuance.
Companies design a veil of confusion around their products, contracts, and pricing for a key reason: they are beholden to revenue estimates for which Wall Street and VCs hold them accountable. Failure to meet estimates can mean lower stock prices and loss of shareowner trust.  

That’s not the problem either, because--honestly--who trusts salespeople, anyway?

The key issue is nonprofits themselves. You’re too nice. Organizations deal with punishing sales experiences all the time. Some even wind up happy. How? If your nonprofit wants to make the process of selecting, buying, and implementing enterprise software work, you need to become knowledgeable, demanding, cynical.

You need to be a tough customer. 

Here’s how:

  1. Have staff knowledgeable about the business operations and technology help make the right choice. Free up their time so these people can focus on the process and engage with the details before a decision is made. If you have staff whom can drive the process, you have to make sure that their other responsibilities are reduced so they can give this process their undivided attention. Consider devoting internal staff to the project or working with a consultant familiar with the organization’s needs.
  2. Software can only improve a situation when it aligns to an organization's strategic plan and goals.  How many nonprofits actually get specific goals and expectations from senior leadership before researching and selecting software? The best projects have someone from senior leadership (CEO, COO) as engaged project sponsors, setting direction, removing roadblocks and holding everyone accountable. If the CEO can have an intelligent conversation about what’s going well and what’s not working during the process, her/his level of involvement is about right.
  3. Get staff buy-in. Dictates from on-high rarely survive ground conditions. Project owners or managers should find out if the software will work for staff and give them what they need. The result is that staff will actually use the product when the switch flips on.
  4. Boards usually carry fiduciary responsibility for an enterprise software decision but are rarely involved in selection. If the board has to approve the funds, they might consider appointing a member to get involved and stay involved. You don't want to have to ask the board for money more than once.
  5. Consider the alignment of the vendor with your market and their track record of successful long-term relationships with clients like you. My belief is smaller, privately held firms are most willing to go the extra mile for their clients.
  6. Hold vendors accountable to terms of contracts, statements of work, and deadlines. If something feels wrong, it probably is. The time to address a problem is early. If this makes your salesperson or project manager uncomfortable, that might be an indication you found something that will make your life difficult later. It is okay to push back early–you are the customer, after all.

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