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“All models are wrong, but some are useful.” *

*  Quote from George E. P. Box

A few weeks ago I got a cold call on a Saturday morning (on my cell phone?!) from a guy in Rome (yeah, Italy) in a heck of a hurry to convert an Italian Monastery from Blackbaud’s Raiser’s Edge ™ to Salesforce ™.

He explained that a few volunteers had helped them with the initial conversion but that the data is not completely moved yet,  and it does not look right. I am writing this post to try and present this client (not an atypical one may I add) a sort of “way-out” of this corner we hear about quite often.

This conversation is typically led by these questions from the prospect:

  • Have you done this before?
  • How long does it take?
  • How much does it cost?

Our response is always the same (these days); that we have done hundreds of conversions to and from these systems, and that depending on the variables the costs would fit into the following range:

  • Time range of: 3 weeks to 14 weeks – the average is 8 weeks.
  • Price range of: $8k to $100k – the average is $20k.

This was not well received.  People in this situation want fast action and cannot understand (it seems) why this is going to be so difficult, or take so long. His primary objection was that if we had done so many of these, then why can’t we pinpoint the costs more accurately?

Cutting to the chase; try this model if you (or a loved one) is in this type of pickle:

Problem Story:

  • Small business moving from one fundraising system to another
  • Short timeline and small budget
  • Person driving the transition is neither the primary user nor a conversion specialist

Best Path Forward:

  • Invest in your incumbent system before jumping, like more/better training, advanced configuration, and possibly enhancements (send a note to our friend Bill Connors, and maybe a plane ticket too — Italy is nice for Westerners to visit ey?)
  • If that is not fruitful;
    • Spend a little money to get a vendor selector who knows the options. This will save you 3-5 weeks of calendar time, 20 or so hours of asking questions that are already well known in the ecosystem, and allow your business to run without interruptions (call our friend Robert Weiner please).
    • Allocate 8-10 weeks for the conversion.
    • Involve the primary user in the conversion process. Have that person drive the effort if possible — this will save you time and money!
    • When you shop for your new system, use examples that are real to test the fit with the new system, like:
      • Walk through adding 10 records – manually. If this is too much for you to do – then you will get surprises later that you will regret (see blog post on “Top 10”).
      • Use that manually entered data to view reports – live – with your sales rep – to get a feel for what you are buying (test drive ey?!)
      • Measure/Assess time and energy costs of this transition – talk it over with your team.
      • Be honest with management; if a new system is a way to avoid proper training and discipline – then expect a replay of this in 18-36 months.
      • Assume you will lose some data, time and possibly people in the change. Hold the project to a realistic pace and measure of success – many projects get bogged down by unimportant concerns; getting it done and on time is the priority!

In our experience, the “fast/urgent conversion” prospects are typically not being championed by system users – they are being led by cost cutting folks. That is going to make the whole thing much harder. The transition needs to have system users involved, or when you are “all done”, user adoption will be difficult.

I later found out that an ecosystem ally had given this prospect my cell phone about 3 weeks back, so it took this guy 3 weeks to hunt around, see that things cost too much, then call me on a Saturday morning to get it done in a rush.

This model (approach to a conversion) works well – and often slows things down; I suppose I am not going to get much traction on this post… 🙂