CRM workshop

How to start a CRM change project in your union

Many unions are currently considering the future of their membership databases. For some, products are being retired or contracts coming to an end. For others, a run of high pressure large ballot campaigns has highlighted a need for greater accuracy and agility. In some, there are fewer developers with the expertise to support an older system, and it’s simply time to move to a new one.

For most unions, taking this step forward is also taking a step into the unknown. We’ve used the same systems for a long time, we’ve bolted on processes over the years which are unique to our union. And moving to a new system is a risk – it’s expensive, time-consuming, means transferring a large amount of data, and depends on everyone getting trained and enthused about using the new system.

The TUC Digital Lab has been supporting unions to network with each other in navigating these changes. Our latest intervention was running a workshop for CRM project managers, led by digital change consultants Vic Barlow and Duncan Robertson of Agenda. Vic and Duncan both have long experience working inside and outside of unions, and more recently supported ASLEF to plan and implement their move onto the Salesforce CRM platform.

Here are some key points from the workshop. 

Start with the processes, not the system

There are many systems available for unions to choose from – whether that be a basic membership database product, a one-stop-shop CRM which provides the full range of functions, or an ecosystem of platforms which manage discrete functions and talk to each other. 

But whatever the best option for your union, the pathway to making a choice does not start with picking a system then making it work for you. And it does not end with simply replicating the work of your current database on a newer system.

Instead, it starts with mapping out the full range of processes and activities your union currently undertakes – whether this is recorded in your current database, across other platforms, on spreadsheets, or on paper. From here, you can see what doesn’t work anymore, what works well in one part of the union that could spread to the whole union, what needs creating to help your union succeed in the future.

This early stage mapping is the beginning of your statement of requirements. That’s the shopping list you will use to find a system that delivers what you need in the most cost-effective and accessible manner.

Anchoring your process mapping in your strategic aims

The most common entry point to mapping processes is to start with your union’s overall strategic aims. These are usually anchored in recruiting, retaining and engaging members and reps; influencing decision-makers and stakeholders; running a well-managed and well-governed union. These aims translate into your union’s everyday activities.

At our workshop, we welcomed colleagues from different size unions, in a range of sectors, with varied responsibilities across CRM project management and IT teams; organising, membership and communications teams.

In mixed groups, we started with an overarching question: how does your union recruit, onboard, retain and engage your members and reps, influence stakeholders, and report data to the union?

To help structure their responses, we asked groups:

  • To map out the member’s journey through some of the union’s key touchpoints – from the very first ask to join, through to asks to get involved, then to taking their voice to decision-makers
  • To think about how the ask is made – via the current membership system, another platform, on paper, via text or phone or individual emails, in person
  • To think about what data is captured and shared in the process.

During the feedback session we heard some great examples of current union activity as well as some opportunities for better ways of working:

Recruitment activities: 

  • Targeted advertising: with analytics to inform tactics
  • Unique URLs for join: with analytics to inform tactics
  • Quick join: enough info to secure membership; follow up email for the rest
  • QR codes: easy join for in-person events
  • Lost carts: reminders for people to complete online forms they’ve started

Onboarding activities:

  • Sequence of welcome emails: after quick join; eg separating out political fund and equalities requests
  • Rejoiners: identifying who’s come back (and limiting the offer)

Retention activities:

  • Renewal asks: segmented messaging for different sectors/roles
  • Update details: regular asks across variety of channels to keep data clean
  • CPD and events: sign up; management eg accommodation, dietary, disability, referred sessions
  • Case work: spotting emerging issues and developing union-wide advice, support, campaigns
  • Ebulletins: segmented news and advice

Engagement activities:

  • Engagement trackers: spotting and organising engaged members
  • Rep journey: series of asks moving members to reps
  • Opinions/sentiment: surveys, polls on issues and willingness to ‘do’ something
  • Voting: conference; elections
  • Emails/texts: personalised asks

Influence activities:

  • Geocoding: member mapped to MPs for campaigns
  • Petitions/pledges: for campaigns; data capture
  • Media, stakeholder and public contacts: for engagement
  • Ballots: indicative and third party managed

Reporting activities:

  • Broad and detailed reports on above activity
  • Comparisons to previous time periods
  • Backed up with a narrative and recommendations for next steps

Digging deeper into your daily activity

In our next exercise, we dug a little deeper into how unions undertake one significant project across their teams, and how a CRM could help improve workflow, develop a process which could be used again and again, reduce workload and risk, and produce better outcomes for members and the union.

Our aims were not only to show how one particular project could be made smoother and easier by using a CRM, but also to demonstrate that a CRM belongs to the whole union – and that process mapping has to involve every team, potentially every individual, in the union to make sure the list of requirements meets everyone needs. 

Each group took one major project: planning annual conference; developing a young workers’ recruitment campaign; and running a ballot for action.

To help structure their responses, we asked groups:

  • To map out the member’s experience of the project – what were members being asked to ‘do’ at every stage of the project to take them from knowing very little to being fully engaged
  • To map out which teams had a responsibility or contribution to make at each project stage
  • To map out what that responsibility or contribution looked like – what were teams sharing with another team to help their work; what were they sending to members; how were they actioning member queries or responses

During the session we heard some great examples of union activity which currently does (or does not but could) sit within unions’ integrated systems. We discussed how CRM could support each project stage:

Start with what you know and need to know:

  • What does your current data tell you about your whole and segments of membership?
    • Eg for recruitment campaigns, what’s your density in an area?
    • Eg for ballot campaigns, how many members in what workplace will you be balloting?
    • Eg for annual conference, what’s the block vote for branches?
  • And how can you ask members to update their details?

Create a project plan with a sequence of activities to engage members:

  • What are the processes and activities you need to plan to take members on the journey?
  • Will you be emailing or texting people; have you got the necessary details and permissions on the system?
  • Will members have to sign up to an event themselves; are you capturing everything around accommodation, dietary and disability needs?
  • Will you be printing materials; will reps be ordering off the website, how will you track those orders to make sure you’ve fulfilled their requests and you’ve got enough stock?
  • Will you be holding face-to-face events; how will be joiners be added to the system or members’ feedback/sentiment be captured to inform union strategy?
  • Will you be automating communications; what’s the timing and escalation of ask along the email sequence?
  • Will you be phone-banking; how will you know which, and how many, members should and should not be contacted so you can plan your staffing?
  • Will you be testing sentiment; what survey or polling needs have you got?

Allocate activity to teams:

  • What are the deadlines for each team to deliver their responsibilities or contributions?
  • How can you track activity; share information in one place; spot and flag issues?
  • How will you manage data transfers to third party suppliers?

Report back on progress:

  • What reports are useful to generate and share on progress?
  • What narrative needs to go around the data?
  • Who will take responsibility for union-wide action on findings?

Adjust tactics accordingly:

  • How and when will new tactics be measured and reported?

Learn for next time:

  • What can be measured at the end of the project which helps sequencing and allocation of responsibilities for next time?

Process mapping isn’t a one-off activity

The next steps for process mapping would be to take one function – for example subs collection or event management – and list out what happens in what order, on the current database, other platforms or otherwise, then test back the logic with every person who’s involved. 

While you’ll capture the stages of what happens right now, you’ll also be clear about what doesn’t work anymore, what works in one part of the union that could spread to the whole union, and what needs creating to help your union succeed in the future.

As you create your more precise statement of requirements to test with potential suppliers, you’ll find you have to go round teams and individuals again and again until you get the detail you need for ‘how we collect subs in my union’ or ‘how we manage events in my union’. 

You’ll also be able to take a view on what work you’d like to prioritise as you build a new system – what is an absolute must to keep the show on the road after the old system closes, what comes next, and what can wait for now until you decide how the new system is faring.

A word of warning: there’s nothing like trying to bring a logical and clean process to existing activity to throw up every fudge or outlier that needs smoothing for a new system to succeed. Do build in time for back and forth and consider bringing in expertise for ideas from elsewhere and a neutral voice.

Shared reflections on CRM

At the end of the workshop, we surfaced and grouped insights attendees were taking with them from the day. They fell into six broader groups that unions needed to consider.

The importance of building shared practice

  • We noted how many of the problems faced by unions in CRM projects had common areas of experience.
  • And that there was a great value in peer support between unions facing similar problems.

The need for strong engagement from top leadership

  • A major tech project needs buy-in at all levels, from senior leadership to occasional users.
  • Leadership buy-in is essential to justify the level of resourcing that a project will need.
  • And change projects encounter lots of political problems that will need senior sponsor support to work through.
  • The complexities of implementation will be a lot easier if a clear strategy for the change is established first. It’s easy to get stuck into the weeds of implementation and lose sight of key principles. 
  • A clear strategic starting point also helps avoid the “sunk costs fallacy” – sticking with something because of the previous investment made into it, rather than evaluating whether it really meets the unions needs going forwards.

The potential in working together on costs

  • Lots of unions have been looking at mainstream platforms like Salesforce and finding initial offers very expensive. 
  • The lack of transparency on pricing deals means it’s hard to trust platforms that those deals are fair, or that they’ll last over time.
  • There could be possibilities for unions to collectively bargain in groups with suppliers.

One big system versus better aligning lots of little systems

  • A union doesn’t have to tackle everything from the start. It is possible to join separate functions together, as much as it is to have one tool for everything.
  • It may be that unions could develop particular functions together, as templates within, or stand alone tools linked into commonly adopted platforms. 
  • There is often quite a lot of fragmentation in the systems used when you get to a local level in a union.
  • A project can address future needs outside the current scope of the union’s CRM. What needs to happen for launch? What could happen later on?

Focusing on the process more than the tech

  • There was positive feedback for the process mapping methods in the workshop.
  • The exercises helped highlight the inter-relation between teams in any given process or tool.
  • Unions too often have a culture of siloed working, and this can be dangerous when one team develops tools that will impact other teams.
  • Everyone who could be affected needs to be involved in planning the project, taking a “whole union view” of how things work, and how they could work.

How to make the most of the future potential post launch

  • Rolling a project out after launch is as much about culture as about technology. 
  • It will be a project in itself, with heavy training and support needs.
  • Modern platforms offer a lot of scope for in-house “power users” to build their own applications within the system, but there will be extra support needed to make the most of that.

What’s next?

This is going to be a big topic for unions and the Digital Lab over the next 12 months, as unions plan and kick off a wave of CRM move projects. 

We’re planning interventions across the themes that emerged this session. Steps so far, and currently planned are:

  • Supporting senior project sponsors with a top-lines report on CRM change projects, and the kind of questions leadership will need to be ready to answer. You can download the report here
  • Shared development for union specific functions and integrations. Join Together is a TUC-backed project to build shared union joining tools that can hook into any CRM system, saving the need to build those functions every time in CRM projects. They are launching and demoing their system on 1 Dec – register here
  • What do the next stages look like? We’re running a webinar with PCS on 7 Dec, looking at how they have taken advantage of their Salesforce platform since launch, and the new project it is enabling in later phases. Register here

We’re also looking into the possibility of hosting a number of other events. Please get in touch if you’d be interested in any of these:

  • Regular informal CRM drop-in sessions for project managers to talk to peers and swap learnings.
  • “Meet the supplier” sessions to demo CRM solutions and providers that unions have less experience with.
  • Exploring co-design with a case study from Australian unions, who have built an impressive suite of shared tools for unions on the back of the IMIS product.

And we’ll be making sure to incorporate a strong CRM focus in some of our priority themes for 2023 – info security and data protection, and dealing with the growth of shadow IT. Please do get in touch if you’d like to talk more about anything around CRM and your own union’s options.

This report was written with the help of Vic Barlow and Duncan Robertson of comms and digital consultancy Agenda.