Is the Traditional AMS in Trouble?

salesforce1_png__1900×1080_Does the rise of easy-to-integrate CRMs like Salesforce mean that the traditional AMS is in trouble? Should Abila, Aptify, iMis, Personify, among others, be worried about this trend? I would be.

Over the past few years, from time to time, I would see a question in the association community about CRM options. That is, association staff that were looking for options to the traditional Association Management Software (AMS) platform. Invariably the discussion would settle on Salesforce and then someone would point out alternatives such as Microsoft Dynamics CRM – but these two platforms would typically rise to the top.

Options to the Traditional AMS

appexchange imageRecently, the chatter about options to the traditional AMS has increased. In February 2015 alone I saw more than 30 comments in ASAE’s Collaborate online community. It is driven by the fact that Salesforce and Microsoft Dynamics CRM have huge customer bases and have created APIs (application programming interfaces) that are easy to work with for third-party developers. And developers have responded. Salesforce has over 2,500 apps in its appexchange online app store and the Microsoft Dynamics CRM Pinpoint has many thousands as well.

For third-party vendors it’s basic economics – go where the demand is and you’ll sell more apps. For companies and associations looking to improve their technology ecosystems, the CRMs with bigger app stores offer more and easier options. And fascinating ecosystems are developing – see my post The Anatomy of a New Association Marketing Ecosystem to see what associations can do with these ecosystems.

The Empire Strikes Back?

So where does this leave the traditional AMS providers? I would suggest that they are in a tenuous situation. Most AMS third-party vendors are not cloud-based SaaS apps – so creating a marketplace where customers can purchase apps is not really possible. At least for the time being. Last week, however, Abila launched it’s own marketplace – called the Abila Marketplace. While I applaud this move, at first glance it appears to be more of a list of partners than actual apps that you can purchase.

The economics (mass market demand) simply aren’t there for potential developers either. Call me foolish but associations that remain with the current AMS providers may be left in the past (having to pay many thousands of dollars for each integration) or they will move to other CRMs with app stores full of options and promise.

One interesting strategy could be for the AMS providers to create their own apps for Salesforce and Microsoft Dynamics CRM – similar to what Nimble AMS and Fonteva (MemberNation) have done. I don’t see that happening…yet… but it would be fascinating!

What do you think? Is the traditional AMS in trouble?

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  • Mike Frye ,

    Having just sucessfully completed a 500 seat implementation of MSCRM in a very large association, the answer is yes. MSCRM has all the typical AMS modules(dues billings, renewals, event management, donations, fund raising, certifications, etc…), but in addition, many features unavailable in a traditional AMS. (social media monitoring, dozens of marketing add-ons, a market place with thousands of adds-ons). Microsoft pushes upgrades automatically, so vendors are no longer in the upgrade busienss. With the large cloud providers in a pricing war and SaaS pricing decreasing every day Altai’s AMS with Microsoft CRM delivered in your cloud is an inexpensive solution.

  • Dave Martin ,

    Congrats on your recent implementation! When Altai implements your AMS module with Microsoft Dynamics CRM what other modules from the CRM App Store do you see association clients implementing? I’ve heard of ClickDimensions (marketing automation) as a possible complimentary add-on to the AMS module but any others that stand out in your mind?

  • Sigmund VanDamme ,

    I would concur with Mike. We are increasingly seeing that we are competing against platform based AMS systems like Altai and Protech versus the traditional legacy AMS systems. Customers have made up their mind that they want a true enterprise class CRM platform. Associations need the association specific transactional elements (dues, event registrations, financials and the like) but significantly more focus is being paid to the importance of CRM and the platform.

    Salesforce spent $627M on just R&D last year and Microsoft spent a considerable sum as well. Both Nimble AMS and our Microsoft competitors leverage this investment to deliver extensibility, security, scalability and innovation that has not been available to associations in the past.

    The Appexchange ( is just one of number of platform benefits. If you think of how iTunes and the Android marketplace have redefined what smartphone is (I barely use my phone as a phone anymore), the Salesforce and Microsoft app stores are redefining what an AMS is and how extensibility is done.

    AMS upgrades have traditionally been a huge pain point. The platform also enables no cost upgrades three times a year.

    These enterprise platforms from Salesforce and Microsoft do present a significant challenge to the legacy AMS and it will be very interesting to see how it all plays out.

  • Mike Frye ,

    Most typical are the Marketing apps users purchase on 50%+- of our projects:
    Marketing: ClickDimensions, Silverpop, MarketingPilot, Informz, MailChimp, etc..

    There are tons of other apps that we don’t see or control as our clients simply install them by themselves(job costing, budgeting, time keeping) Also there are thousands of free utility apps that we don’t see or control.

    Web: Some of the content management systems(CMS) we use have an app store. The DNN store for example must have 16 different online job boards, a few wikis and collaboration add-in and thousands of skins. WordPress has thousands of apps and skins available.

  • Dave Martin ,

    Wow! Great input Sigmund. Thank you for contributing to the discussion! The next few years may be pivotal for the legacy AMS providers. Would it make sense for them to create their own apps for Salesforce and Microsoft Dynamics?

  • Sigmund VanDamme ,


    Great question that is very difficult to answer. For a legacy AMS to rebuild on a CRM platform would be an extensive and expensive, time consuming effort. It would also involve a large, expensive conversion for all of their customers. So in that regard it would not make sense for them to do that. On the other hand, most of the major legacy packages are using a very old code base that will have to refactored just to stay current with the current technology stack and to maintain relevance in the marketplace. So given that either way a sizable investment needs to be made maybe it does make sense to do that.

    Personally I feel that they will continue to refactor their existing code base due the overwhelming nature of switching platforms and the risk it presents. Is this the right thing to do? Time will tell. I worked for Eastman Kodak in the 80’s and watched as they struggled to deal with how to handle the new digital cameras (that they invented) that were on their way to displacing Kodak’s bread and butter (silver halide film). They tried a number of hybrid “fixes” (remember the photo CD?) and wasted years trying the bridge the gap. By the time they entered digital photography full on it was too late.

    Making a large scale change like that takes courage, forward thinking stakeholders and a willingness to sacrifice a very solid present business for an uncertain future. NimbleUser went through this when we transitioned from being a very successful reseller / implementor of a traditional AMS to developing Nimble AMS. I will be honest and tell you that it was an extremely difficult decision and it was a huge, painful, high investment slog. But now that we have gone thru that we are well positioned for the future.

    On a related note we get probably about half of our customers from situations where the old AMS is either too inflexible and/or too expensive to maintain. These type of customers will leave for a better solution regardless of what the legacy manufacturers do. That being said, the other half of our customers leave for non-technology related reasons like poor technical service, apathy / lack of empathy from manufacturer (often the result of it being sold or acquired by private capital who usually cut support / customer success first), etc. These items can be addressed and I have seen a couple of the legacy manufacturers do this successfully and keep their customers in the fold. As far as I am concerned this is the number one thing that the traditional AMS vendors should address and fast to stop the bleeding.


  • Tanya Kennedy Luminati ,

    Customer relationship management (CRM) functionality is an extremely useful tool for associations who are tracking various types of development activities (member prospects, sponsor development, store sales, etc.) but a dedicated CRM-platform-based system isn’t always the best answer for everyone.

    Many associations place a high value on having all of their staff using the one main database, but some of the CRM-platform-based systems are out of their price range for that many seats. In these cases, a lower-priced AMS with some CRM functionality is still a good option. One association client of ours was in fact using SalesForce for their development team. They realized that they only needed about 10% of its functionality, but that little bit of functionality was costing them the time to maintain two databases because they could only afford to have about an eighth of their staff using SalesForce licenses. They came to us, we discussed the gaps between our CRM functionality and what they desired, and two MatrixMaxx AMS releases later they were able to drop their SalesForce licenses.

    There are other considerations, too, including amount of customization available, development and consulting services offered by the various vendors, etc. As varied and nuanced as the associations themselves are, I think that we’re going to continue to see a variety of different database solutions and vendors successfully meeting their needs.

  • Michael Bishop ,

    The traditional AMS is in trouble and has been for a long time. But is having access to a plethora of “CRM apps” really something for associations to get excited about?

    The store-front is still where the money is, and the constantly increasing accessibility to everything digital will threaten the existence all players in this demanding market sooner than we think.

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