In an organization’s quest for the perfect association management system, it’s easy for decision-makers to get caught up in technicalities. While questions surrounding the feature sets, price points and compatibility are undeniably important, leaders must not forget the importance of strong vendor partnership when launching a new AMS deployment, especially if they plan to transition to an entirely new system. Organizations that focus on picking a stellar software partner will find that everything else falls into place, even when overhauling association management from the ground up.

Since this shift toward a vendor-centric approach may be unfamiliar to most organizations, decision-makers could benefit from a set of criteria to help them select the best possible partner. Here are four pieces of criteria to help associations in their efforts to build strong vendor relationships and create a winning member management system.

1. Accommodating RFP process: The way a vendor handles the requests for proposal sent by prospective clients is often a good indicator of its overall potential as a software partner. As a blog article from Associations Now pointed out, this is the first point of contact with the vendor, and first impressions are always important. Associations put a lot of thought into their RFPs, and software providers should honor this fact by engaging in a constructive, critical conversation the drives the partnership forward. After all, creating this comprehensive document is not an easy task.

“The amount of work required to develop a quality RFP is phenomenal,” said Miriam Hara, chief creative officer of 3H Communications, according to the news source. “The time and energy that is devoted to this non-profitable account adds an unnatural amount of stress to the agency business.”

2. Plenty of positive referrals: Word-of-mouth is still one of the best ways to uncover the truth about a vendor, and an association should investigate a wide variety of testimonials in its efforts to gauge the viability of a partnership. Decision-makers shouldn’t hesitate to reach out to other associations known to have experience with the vendor in question, as this will provide the most authentic, articulate feedback on the topics most important to the organization. CIO also recommended looking for referrals and recommendations within the same space, to ensure stronger familiarity.

“Ask vendors for references in your industry,” said Jennifer Walzer, CEO of BUMI, according to the source. “Happy clients will gladly share their experiences with you. How has this provider addressed their specific needs as a company doing business in their specific industry?”

“Offer administrators and end users a chance to get hands-on with the software.”

3. Demos, trials and test runs: If a vendor is truly confident in its association management solutions, it will be eager to let any and all prospective partners take the software for a spin. Whether an organization requests a live demonstration or opts to deploy a 30-day trial of the program, the best vendors will view these interactions as opportunities to let their solutions shine. Offering administrators and end users a chance to get hands-on with the software is the only tried and true way to ensure that the deployment will be successful in the long run.

“Before committing to a new software solution, be sure to kick the tires,” said Catherine Brown, vice president of marketing at Mavenlink, according to CIO.

4. Post-sale support and strategy: The best associations craft their strategic outlooks weeks, months and years in advance, and a tech partnership must be considered with this level of high-level planning in mind. Decision-makers should be sure to discuss the support and consultation structures a vendor has in place, as these will serve to fortify the relationship in the long run. After all, the world of association management systems are changing all the time, and a flexible, future-conscious vendor is an invaluable ally.