Guest post by Deirdre Reid, CAE

We love and hate our technology.

Technology’s bad for our brains—it ruins our focus and attention span. But, it also provides countless opportunities for expanding our knowledge.

Our email inbox stresses us out. But, we couldn’t do our job without it.

Technology causes social isolation. But, it also helps us create social networks and introduces us to new friends.

Our AMS is horribly frustrating. Or is it? Because that’s not what the numbers say. At AMS Fest in Chicago this year, ReviewMyAMS founder Teri Carden shared two surprising stats:

  • 62% of AMS reviewers recommend their AMS.
  • The average rating for an AMS is 12.9 out of 20 points.

Who loves ya, baby?

What I found more interesting was the satisfaction rate by department. IT staff are the most satisfied with their AMS. Is it because they were the ones who selected the AMS so they’re going to appear happy with it no matter what? Or, since they’re more tech-savvy, they don’t have as much trouble working with a less than user-friendly system? Or, they don’t use it as much as other staff so they’re oblivious to its shortcomings? Or, maybe as long as the AMS plays nice with other systems, they’re cool.

Let’s go to the other end of the satisfaction spectrum. The least satisfied group of users is the Meetings/Education department. Makes sense. I doubt AMS modules are as good as the “best in breed” solutions in the market—hold that thought for a moment.

Moving away from the least satisfied users, the next group in the unsatisfied category is Marketing, followed by Communications, and then we get to the Membership department in the middle of the satisfaction ratings.

I’m not surprised MarComm professionals aren’t that satisfied with their AMS. Many still rely on AMS modules for email marketing and, increasingly, for inbound marketing. But are AMS modules providing the same level of functionality as marketing automation solutions like Real Magnet, Informz, and HighRoad Solution in the association space and big players like HubSpot, Marketo, and Pardot?

Prediction: a bright future for marketing automation

It’s time for associations to get serious about marketing automation and look for solutions that integrate with their AMS. Association audiences (members, customers, and prospects) have limited time to weed through content and find the articles/posts, educational programs, events, and products that fit their interests and needs. With marketing automation, you can get better data about members, prospects, and others audiences, and consequently deliver more targeted and relevant content (and promotions) to them.

AMS providers are responding to savvy association professionals’ desire to collect behavioral data (for example, email and website clicks) and use predictive analytics to provide content and promote products/services based on a member’s behavior. At AMS Fest, I saw a demo of one AMS that collected behavioral data from website analytics, and I’m assuming there were more.

As for the brands that were top of mind during AMS Fest, I don’t know how well the four AMSes in Community Brands handle marketing automation, if at all. I predict one day Community Brands will acquire a top-notch marketing automation solution so their clients don’t have to look elsewhere.

Another prediction: marketing automation software will provide the most technology bang for an association’s buck. I’m not the first to say this. Back at ASAE Tech in 2015, John Mancini of AIIM said they got the most staff and member value from their LMS and their HubSpot marketing automation software, yet they were spending three times as much on their AMS.

Mancini recently wrote a piece about marketing automation in which he said:

“Three years ago, we viewed our AMS as the ultimate system of record where all engagement data and information should ultimately reside. Our thinking now is that our most valuable customer information such as how many forms have been filled out, what documents have been downloaded, what web pages have been visited and what emails had been opened, originates in HubSpot and is most effectively utilized if it remained there. We are still wrestling with the implications, one of which is that we are likely to be showing our AMS the door in the next year or so.”

Yikes. I have a long history of working with AMS firms, so I care about the sustainability of their businesses. How many associations will follow AIIM’s example and reconsider the role and ROI of their AMS? And if they do, what system will they use, in place of the AMS, as their core system of record? 

Tomorrow’s AMS: bloated or brawny?

Many in the AMS Fest audience chuckled or moaned when keynote Thad Lurie displayed a slide showing the proliferation of AMS modules over the years. How did we get to this place? Association staff kept asking for more functionality so responsive AMS vendors kept giving it to them. But no AMS can be that good at everything—and that’s probably one of the reasons why all those departments are dissatisfied. It makes me wonder how long that approach will be sustainable.

How will associations use their AMS in the future? Associations with smaller staffs (and budgets) don’t usually have the time or expertise to manage several systems and vendor relationships. An all-in-one AMS could remain an appealing choice for them, so we will probably always have AMS companies who brand themselves as the best option for small- to medium-sized organizations.

But associations with larger staffs and more in-house (or outsourced) IT expertise at hand will likely opt for a separate CMS, LMS, marketing automation software, and other specialized software. They’ll invest in the best of breed.

How will the enterprise AMS evolve? Once you strip away all those modules, how will they differentiate themselves? What do they become? Do we return to the basics—a simple membership database with governance/committee functionality that integrates with best-of-breed systems? I doubt it.

One option is to double-down on the data analytics side. Offer data mart and visualization software along with the highly secure base product. Maybe even data analytics consultation services—contracted out to friendly industry partners—to help associations with data cleansing and migration, establishing data governance, making sense of data sources, finding the right tools, and developing an analytics strategy.

Because behavioral data is central to value delivery, inbound marketing/marketing automation functionality could also become part of the base AMS product. AI will continue to make its way into the software with predictive analysis for sales and engagement, and personalized communication and content delivery.

APIs will become a differentiator. Technology changes quickly so your AMS will have to play well with other known and unknown types of technology. How long will it be before you want your AMS to work with conversational intelligence (chatbot) software, or AI-powered smart speakers like Amazon’s Echo and Google’s Home? I can see both these technologies having a huge impact on online learning and other member services.

The folks who run AMS companies have to figure out how they can help associations stay (and thrive) in business—that’s how to ensure a sustainable future. What type of technology do associations need to provide a transformational (or, at least, valuable) experience to their members, customers, or professional community? How do associations differentiate that experience from all the other options out there?

How can AMS companies use AI, marketing automation, and data analytics to help associations become indispensable to their members, customers, and community? The AMS community of vendors and consultants now have the opportunity to figure out how AMS technology can help associations evolve into a sustainable business model. Everyone wins if associations, technology providers, and technology consultants collaborate to design their future together.

Deirdre Reid, CAE, is a freelance and content marketing writer for association technology firms and publisher of Association Brain Food Weekly – a ​list of free learning events for the association community.