After AEI, everyone had questions about the new NAR / RAMCO Association Management System being developed and Clareity tried to provide the answers. But there’s a well established system and company that’s already making waves in the competitive landscape for association management, and there certainly was a lot of interest in their system at NAR midyear meetings – so we figured it was time to profile them here on the blog.
As a company, Avectra has been around for 16 years and has about 200 employees located in their headquarters in Mclean, Virginia and their office in Chicago, Illinois. They launched their web-based association management system more than six years ago, and the system is well proven, serving over 1,200 associations in a wide variety of industries.
Their largest customer has 2,000 full time staff and their smallest customer has 50 members and one part time staff person.
I talked with Tom Schaaf, Vertical Markets Manager, at Avectra to answer some questions:
What kind of success have you had in the real estate industry?
We found a few motivated partners in terms of REALTOR associations who felt they were being underserved with the technology options available at the time. These associations helped define the special requirements for real estate association market. Many of these associations were replacing two existing membership systems and a website product – and they were looking for one consolidated product. In addition, a number of industry consultants, NAR staff and our growing number of new REALTOR customers assisted with identifying and/or confirming the key elements critical to REALTOR associations.
We officially launched at the 2009 Annual in San Diego. Every week since, we continue to add REALTOR associations to our growing customer base.
Have they each had special requirements and how have you dealt with them?
Our tool has a lot of capability for configuration and customization – custom fields, forms, membership types, pricing and queries. The best part is that there’s a lot of self-service so the association can configure netFORUM themselves without having to hire their own developers.
The system was created to support many kinds of associations – if netFORUM wasn’t configurable and intuitive, we wouldn’t be able to serve more than 1,200 other associations.
Tell me about the product – key features.
The heart of Avectra’s association management software is a strong and stable customer relationship management database.
There are over 90 customizable fields for each type of record in the database including individuals, companies, events and merchandise. Also, because we support multiple membership type – for example, primary and secondary membership classes, MLS, lockbox, etc. – we can accommodate the flexibility of both MLS and REALTOR association memberships.
Then there are the core features associations need to function – an event management system that blows away other systems in the space and even some dedicated event tools. There are also tools for committee management, education/class management, managing certifications and designations and a reporting capability with executive dashboards and hundreds of reports.
There’s also a fully integrated e-Marketing tool built in which can replace third party email tools – saving time moving data and the cost of the other tools.
We can handle AR, invoicing, and orders inside the system and process credit card transactions. As for accounting systems we also offer exports for standard accounting packages including Great Plains, Quickbooks, Peachtree and more.
However the key for RELATOR associations is that we have systems in place that coordinate with NAR’s systems. In addition to the fact that we already push data to the NAR database and we recently released data-pulls from NRDS—we now have a real-time 2 way sync with NRDS. We use the REALTOR.org payment processor so the orgs take advantage of the savings offered by that processor. And because we are integrated with the NAR e-commerce system, our users can seamlessly split payments to the RPAC, state and national association accounts without cutting a check.
The bottom line? It’s a full featured system that offers all the tools associations need to operate plus we’ve configured it to work for the unique needs of REALTOR associations.
This is a fully hosted solution, right?
Yes, our system is fully hosted.
What does that mean? Because your AMS is hosted by us and delivered to you via the Web, your IT investment is significantly reduced – less hardware, servers and infrastructure – and then you can save on implementation, upgrade and maintenance costs.
Your software gets up and running quickly and we take the responsibility to always keep it updated with the latest technology. Plus, we save you IT headaches by making sure your website and AMS will be up and running whenever you and your members are.
The other key benefit is that you automatically get our software updates. When we release a new version, it is applied automatically to all of our customers so there’s no work for your staff in order to have the latest version or technology.
Talk about your data center, risk management and disaster recovery plans.
We host our data in a world-class data center operated by Equinix. It has redundant Internet providers, full power backups and fire control.
We offer a “data peace-of-mind” that just can’t be replicated by most organizations, let alone other providers in the space.
How about security (PCI DSS) compliance?
All of Avectra’s solutions run in a PCI Compliant, SAS-70 Audited data center. We use not only the most advanced technology for physical security, but also have advanced software and network security technologies and systems.
What kind of support do you provide?
We have multiple methods of support included with the service. We have training videos, documentation and context sensitive help system within the product 24×7.
We also have a support team available by phone 8:30am-8:00pm Monday through Friday Eastern time. We have weekly webinars introducing new features or when clients ask for specific training. We have an online user group that all of our customers are automatically a member of at no additional cost.
That leads to my next questions – How about innovation and next steps for the product? How are customers involved in the product enhancement process?
We refer to our release cycle as “continuous innovation.” The software is built on the daily best practices of more than 1,100 associations that are using our software. Through our active user community, we also solicit and collect feature requests from our customers and build those into the system.
We recently met with a number of state and local REALTOR associations to get their input and collect a number of product requirements. We have added those requests to our product plan and they will be available in future releases.
We regularly collect feedback from customers and prospects and work that into our future plans. Our development roadmap is planned at least a year out and covers three or four major releases every year. We collect and prioritize other requirements and get design help through the user group to ensure we meet the design requirements that they have.
What are your biggest differentiators from the other options real estate associations have?
Quite simply it’s that not only is it available right now, but it works and is a proven system.
While our competitors are just starting to build a web-based system or figure out what works for REALTOR associations, netFORUM customers and their members are already recognizing the benefits of a 100% web-based membership management solution. I think as the real estate market turns around, REALTOR associations will want to position themselves for success and increase their product offerings and services so they can serve their members better. In today’s competitive business landscape, most Executive Directors would agree their members are an investment, and they need to maximize their ROI. There is no better way to deliver enhanced services to their members and position the organization for long term success than by mining the wealth of data about their members and leveraging technology to be more efficient and effective. netFORUM makes that possible.
The other key point is that our REALTOR specific features are critical to this market. A standard association management system will never do everything a REALTOR association wants to do – there are separate products for MLS, lockbox, etc. So our system is the foundation you need to manage your association but then integrates with any other tool you have, including new social networking tools.
Let’s talk about price.
Let’s talk about value. We’re going to save your staff time. We’re going to save you from having to wonder, “Are my updates being posted to NRDS correctly?” or having to copy data to three different places because your systems are not integrated.
There are lots of areas to save time and money on the staff time. On the revenue side, we’re going to give you tools to sell what you can – membership, events, merchandise, subscriptions, donations, etc. – and use the power of your data to market those to the right people at the right time. We’ll make it easy for you to increase your sales per member.
But if you need to talk about cost, because we offer this using a software-as-a-service model, costs are predictable. There’s a small setup fee and a monthly fee which doesn’t change for the term of the contract. And most important as new technology comes out is the fact that upgrades are included – there are no special assessments or hidden fees to hit you a year or so into the contract.
What other frequently asked questions have you heard that we can answer here?
Yes, there are a few other items that people should know.
A strange question, but one we understood was relevant to the audience was “is your product available now?” As we mentioned earlier in our discussion, “yes.” In fact, I have over a 1200+ customers to confirm netFORUM enhances their ability to identify, serve and retain their members, drive non-dues revenue and achieve their organization’s goals.
I hear all of the same rumors and stories your readers hear… a co-op was formed to offer new REALTOR association software, but the release has been pushed 3 times already. Another group has been trying to move to a web-based platform for a year but can’t. Others have a vision with unanswered questions. Avectra has customers–who serve over 35 million members worldwide—that experience membership success of multiple levels every day.
While this is called “association management software”, MLSs can use it too. Likewise if you have customers who aren’t technically members, the system can still process their transaction.
People ask if members can see all of their educational credits and certifications online – including what classes they need to complete a certification – “Yes”.
People ask if there’s an online membership directory for agents and brokers, including their pictures – “Yes”.
Last but not least, there are a lot of questions about social networking. netFORUM has a social networking platform, Avectra Social Community, built into the application. In addition, we also offer web-services to connect with your existing social platform.
If any of your readers want to see everything the system has to offer, their best bet is to visit http://www.avectra.com/livedemo and sign up for a demo with one of our account executives.
Clareity Consulting is pleased that a competitive market in real estate association management systems is emerging. Competition breeds innovation, and everybody wins.
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