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The CRM Landscape for Trade Associations (The different CRMs in the market for associations)

As a Communications or Membership manager in an association, it is not easy to make a decision when it comes to choosing the right CRM.

Your choice can significantly impact the efficiency and growth of your organisation.

If you take the wrong decision, all the fingers will be pointed at you. The risk of a CRM Failure is just too high: Hidden Cost, Time Overrun, Poor integrations/sync, data glitches, cyber loopholes, data not hosted in the EU, long term contracts, no adoption by staff  ..

There are all kinds of wrong CRMs for associations in the market (Sales focused CRMs, Open Source CRMs, ERP systems, All-in-1 association management software, Substandard CRMs ...),

Here is our take on the different choices you are faced with when selecting a CRM for your Trade/Business association or non-profit.

At Symantra, we have moved hundreds of reputed Associations (from different sectors, industries, and all different team sizes) from a multitude of CRMs.

Therefore, our insights below are based on objective hands-on experience and discussions with Membership, Operations, Comms Teams about their experiences before and after the new CRM implementation.

From our knowledge of the CRM market, here is the list of the WRONG CRMs you should avoid:

 1 - So-called Association management software.

They are not a real specialized CRM. Often called «  all-in-1 solution », pretending to do everything, but unfortunately everything is half-cooked. You name the feature, and they funnily have it. But, beyond the "marketing fluff", the reality is that all these "features" work only in theory, but not in practice. The after-buy reality shock is dire. Most of the times, staff end up falling back to manual tasks like before to for their day-to-day digital needs.

When we moved some of our customers away from these broken software, a real change was felt by the Membership, Operations, Comms and Policy team alike.

For who can this "Association management software" still be worth?

If you are managing a very little association (asbl), running club or a bridge clubs, go for them. But, not meant for a serious EU association.

2 - ERP systems: Some organisations buy an "ERP software" in the name of a "CRM".

It is an over-kill for Associations and too complex and time consuming to manage it. The big surprise is also huge ongoing costs in custom development and expensive consultants. At Symantra, we have moved some customers away from Odoo, SAP&Co ERPs. The staff enjoy now an easy-to-use and specialized CRM for the exact needs of Association management.

For who can an ERP system still be worth?

ERP is ideal for Supply Chain or Manufacturing sector. Certainly not for Business or Trade Associations, Non-profits, and Membership-based organisations: ERPs are too complex, cumbersome, costly, and requires IT skills internally to manage this CRM.


3 - The Big Corps Sales focused CRM - Salesforce, Dynamics &Co.

They are good CRMs for Enterprises having a global sales team, sales pipelines and complex work processes.

These CRMs are too focused on Sales. Not on Marketing & Comms, nor on Membership, Community management, Events or Invoicing. You often get some free licenses as a catch if you are an NGO, but then it makes it too expensive to customize and integrate. Then you depend on a consultant which means hidden cost, constant change request and ticketing system. You most often also need an in-house IT person to manage this CRM.

For who can it still be worth?

Suited for Enterprises and Sales Reps, not for associations.

4 - Open Source CRMs

The classic trap, particularly in Belgium. You get started quickly with no upfront fees. But, the reality bites in shortly after. Huge reliability and security issues. You risk losing all your data and years of works with some wrong updates and version changes. It is also a hackers playground and you are not sure where is the confidential data of your members and stakeholders data land up.

To be clear: Open source does not always mean cheap, and certainly not mean IT freedom. Often, it could be the contrary.

For who can it still be worth?

The amateur NGOs who are still figuring out their operations.

5 - Most other CRMs in the market are substandard.

There are lots of challenges/flaws or they are not compliant with all the EU regulations. They are NOT focused on membership-based organisations nor international associations. Getting any CRM just for the sake of it (without the right integrations, the right features, the right company expertise) can be a costly mistake.

An honest advice: If you are not confident about the CRM and the skills of the IT provider, it's better to stick with Excel than to opt for an unreliable, substandard, or complex CRM.

Finally, get one powerful and easy-to-use CRM for all your Stakeholders, all your Membership management, and all your Performance Marketing activities.

Want to audit your current CRM or consider a new CRM?

Want to make an informed decision about the troubles your peers have faced with unsuitable software?

Just drop the name of your current CRM, we know them all.

What you will get:

  • The most user-friendly CRM in the market

  • Centralize all your contacts, whether members or external stakeholders

  • Hyper-automate all your daily tasks related to Membership Journey management, Invoicing automation, Advocacy & Campaign automation, Events  & Certifications management, Business Development.

  • The most popular Marketing Hub for Campaigns and better Newsletters

  • Deep Integrations with most popular software & custom automations

  • Superfast and perfect migration in 6-8 weeks.

  • The highest cybersecurity standard

  • All data is stored in the EU 100% GDPR compliant.


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