After helping hundreds of youth sports organizations take their registration process online, SportsSignup has leaned many of the factors that go into a purchase decision. This post is aimed at youth sports organizations in the process of seeking a provider for online registration services. If you are already using an online registration system, you can view it as a sanity check. The 10 points below can be applied when evaluating any vendor:
1. Decide what you are looking for up front. Does your organization need a solution to make it easier and more convenient for families to register for your sports programs? Or, to make life easier and more efficient for your administrators? Are you looking to replace part of your current registration process or all of the process? The answer to this question is important, as it will determine what type of service you should look for. Keep in mind that the administrative burden increases with your player count. More players generally translates to more work, not necessarily for data capture, but for the back end job of dealing with all the data once it is captured. For example, communicating with registrants, accepting payments, issuing refunds, age/grade/gender slotting, determining discounts, placing players on teams, and the list goes on. A good online registration system should replace your current process – and more.
2. “Forms Builders” vs. “Online Registration Systems.” There is generally a low barrier to entry for web vendors to create a “web form” to capture registration information, accept payment, and dump the information into a file. This may solve the problem on the front end, but what about the back end, that is, what your administrators will have to deal with? Web forms solve only a small piece of the problem, and do not necessarily make it easier for your registrants, as the data is not typically stored in a database – this means that the same information needs to be entered every time you offer a program. With web forms, you have technically taken the data entry aspect online but much of the data management is still left up to you. With an online registration system, the data capture is just a small part of what should be delivered for your investment. Any online registration system should, at a minimum, offer a permanent data history, the ability to run custom reports, allow for credit card refunds, support multiple levels of administrator access, have custom discount “rules,” the ability to create and manage teams, create custom questions, communicate by e-mail, manage and track finances, etc
3. Support, Support, Support. From time-to-time you will have questions and need answers to those questions, sometimes during odd hours because you are a volunteer and can’t be a sports administrator during the day. It is important to evaluate how knowledgeable the support team about the technology, but more importantly, how knowledgeable are they are about what you do? What are the support hours? Does the vendor have a tracking system to handle support calls? How good is the online help? Think about situations you have been in that have required support, and apply those experiences to your evaluation of your prospective vendor(s).
4. Look for a “self-configurable” solution. Most administrators are volunteers that perform their duties for your organization during “off” hours. This could mean at midnight on a Sunday, or 5:30AM on a Tuesday. As this is normally the case, will your online registration system be configurable when you need to add something? Will you need to wait for customer support from the vendor? How much control will you have over creating programs, adding custom questions, changing price levels, etc.? Ideally, you should be able to perform 100% of the registration setup and management tasks without intervention from your online registration vendor.
5. Get your own Merchant Account. Many sports online registration vendors will “process credit card transactions on your behalf.” This normally involves using the vendor’s merchant account – and proceeds from your transactions are commingled with their other clients. The vendor then sits on this money, typically gaining “float” interest on it, and then cuts your organization a check on a periodic basis, typically every 2 weeks or semi-monthly. A few months ago we blogged about an online registration vendor, since gone bankrupt, that used registration proceeds to fund their business operations. Consequently more than 220 non-profit organizations lost roughly $5.5 million dollars. The key questions to ask your prospective vendor is this: Can you work with our own Merchant Account, where registration proceeds are deposited directly to our bank account on a daily basis? How easy is it to get our own Merchant Account? Is the application online or do we have to deal with a mountain of paperwork? Can refunds be made through the registration system without having to log in to the Merchant Account?
The bottom line is your organization should be wary about online vendors who do not provide support to use your own independent Merchant Account.
6. Considering “specialists” vs. “do everything” vendors. An online registration vendor will be dealing with your organization’s money and sensitive data about your registrants. This changes the game a bit when deciding on who will take on this responsibility. Many vendors consider online registration as an “add-on” product to their other services, and some will claim to “do it all.” Then you have the specialists, or vendors that have built their core services around a specific area. There is no answer for which path you choose, but the most important consideration is ROI and the ability to meet your needs as an organization. It is nice to have a one-stop-shop but this makes no sense if your needs cannot be met. This is clear when you look at the software loaded on your computer – odds are that the software you use on a daily basis comes from a variety of vendors, because you have decided to use the best tools available to get the job done. If you go with a “best-of-breed” approach, the most important consideration is seamless integration between vendor A and vendor B, and the ability to pass data from one product/service to another, and ideally this integration is transparent to the end-users.
8. Put them to the test. It is always difficult to evaluate a system from a demonstration alone – there is nothing like using the actual system to judge for yourself, with real data. Ask for a test account to experiment and see if the solution really meets your needs. This should cost you nothing, of course.
9. Understand the terms. In addition to price, there may be other “gotchas” embedded in the terms with your prospective vendor(s), such as minimum use requirements, annual fees, setup fees, or long-term contracts. On top of this, look carefully to see if advertising is part of the registration site, and if so who benefits from the advertising? If you benefit monetarily, it may be something to consider but this has to be weighed against the “distraction” this may cause while your members are trying to register and pay for your programs. If the system is as good as the vendor says it is, then it should be backed up with terms that do not penalize you for cancellation or migration to a competitor.
10. Evaluate the solution AND the company. Asking how long has the company been in business does not really get you a useful answer – dig deeper into this question: What is your customer retention? Are your customers willing to talk to me about your level of service (references)? Who runs the company, and what is their experience/background? What industry-standard platform(s) are used to deploy the service? How often are updates/upgrades/features added to the service? The list goes on. The bottom line is that you need to trust the vendor you are working with, and building this trust starts at the first contact and interaction with the vendor. If you get poor response and follow-up from your initial sales inquiry, this is likely to translate to problems later on.