Associations have discovered the power of customer relationship management (CRM) platforms. Most associations now want an association management solution (AMS) built on an industry leading CRM platform. Robust platforms such as Microsoft Dynamics® CRM enable associations to make smarter decisions and improve member management. But, associations shouldn’t have all the fun. The association’s members want access to the very same data so they can update their own profiles, sign up for meetings online and pay for dues online—all on their own. Allowing members to dictate their own engagement with the association greatly improves the overall member experience. But, how can you enable your members to engage online? The answer is a feature-rich member self-service portal.
But there is a problem… most CRM platforms (and this includes Microsoft’s) don’t have a ready-made, self-service portal built into the system. Microsoft used to (sort of), but it was retired years ago. So, if a CRM platform doesn’t come with a ready-to-go member self-service portal, especially in today’s age when self-service and instant gratification are so largely engrained in our everyday lives, what can an association do?
Luckily, Microsoft does offer an SDK portal extension for developers, which enables its partners to develop customer portals instead. The Microsoft Partner Network is one of the largest partner networks in the world, and includes AMS software vendors that can assist associations looking to implement a customer portal.
These vendors often understand that portals:
- Are commonly part of the association website and not another software add-on.
- Are no longer separate, self-contained websites, but should be deployed in web parts and strategically interwoven within the existing website.
- Often have to integrate Single Sign Ons (SSO) across a variety of domains to authenticate users and their individual website roles and permissions.
Experienced vendors understand these complexities and how associations can use online portals to increase member engagement. Expertise in website integration, as well as deep association process knowledge, allow AMS software providers to offer solutions that connect directly to Microsoft Dynamics CRM.
For associations looking to bolster their member experience, here are three benefits of using a member self-service portal with Microsoft Dynamics CRM:
- Web Parts Strategically Integrated into Existing Webpages.
As mentioned above, implementing a self-service portal involves integrating it into the association’s website. This not only creates a cohesive look to the site, but also enables web parts to be inserted into existing pages. For example, on a page dedicated to an association’s annual meeting, a web part can be inserted to help members register for the event. This creates a friendlier, more streamlined web experience, thus driving increased registrations. Members no longer have to jump over a wall to a separate “members only” website (that somewhat resembles the main website). Instead, the self-service interaction with the CRM database takes places right where the online user needs it.
- Ready-made, Association-specific Web Parts with Full e-Commerce Functionality.
Most Microsoft partners that provide portals connected to Microsoft Dynamics CRM have pre-built functionality to handle common processes like updating a profile or even registering for a meeting. But it usually stops there and the association then must rely on a different solution for credit card processing or tracking invoices. However, a handful of providers have taken the solution a step further by providing full e-commerce functionality. This includes a complete shopping cart, processing credits cards, generating an invoice back in CRM, and even paying open invoices online. Associations should take advantage of portal solutions that contain out-of-the-box web parts that are pre-built to specific association processes and online needs. Associations can then spend less time getting a self-service portal off the ground and concentrate on increasing engagement and growing their membership.
- Flexibility to Extend the CRM System “as a Platform” and Track Key Data
Associations are discovering an often lesser known – albeit more powerful – benefit to Microsoft Dynamics CRM—its extendibility as a platform. This allows an association to easily add functionality to its CRM to track any information it wants, such as award applications, grant funding requests, or even industry-specific member demographics. A small handful of vendors provide easy-to-use, out-of-the box portal web parts that can connect any table in CRM to the online portal. So when an association adds the new functionality in its CRM, it is also available online in the portal. Now that is powerful.
One of the main reasons why associations are looking at self-service portals is to provide their members with a greater member experience. Today, that means putting your members in control and giving them the ability to leverage your website and online tools. So although Microsoft doesn’t directly offer a ready-to-go customer portal built into Microsoft Dynamics CRM, it does provide access to trusted and vetted partners with the expertise necessary to help associations continue to deliver exceptional service.
About Will Slade
Will Slade is senior CRM and MX consultant for Protech Associates, Inc. Slade works to help Protech’s clients better understand the unique business value derived from using customer relationship management (CRM) as the platform and focal point to the entire enterprise.