Regardless if you're a client, consultant, or vendor you've been on one side or the other of this perfectly reasonable sounding question:
"Do you have any success stories or case studies on how your service produced a positive result?"
A typical response looks something like this:
"Why yes, after implementing Technology-X, Arts Organization Y experienced a 15 percent increase in single ticket sales in the first year alone. Arts Organization Z experienced a 23 percent increase over two years and a 12 percent jump in the number of annual fund donors."
Naturally, arts organizations want to know how a product or service produced a positive result but in an environment filled with pressures and problems, the decision making process can get cut a bit too short and decisions end up getting influenced by vendor provided statistics more than they should.
Yet I love the success story question, not because it offers an opportunity for me to toss out my own variation on the theme; instead, it provides an opportunity to have a more meaningful discussion about the nature of success stories. As it turns out, success stories (even the ones that are completely accurate, transparent, and without exaggeration) are a convenient device for vendors to promote technology solutions as the tipping point in improved marketing performance, but technology is only one component in those efforts.
Technology should support without getting in your way.
Your technology solution should provide the framework for your team to do their job without said technology getting in their way or slowing them down. Even the best technology solution is still merely a tool and it takes capable professionals with an effective plan to maximize the benefits of a good platform. For instance, I've had plenty of clients that had the right people with the right plan in place who were able to bring about success with even the most limited technology solutions at their disposal; it just took a lot more effort than it should. On the other end of the coin, I've seen arts organizations with dysfunctional work environments dump a pile of money into new technology platforms only to see their problems accelerate and spiral out of control. This underscores the reality that technology isn't a silver bullet solution but in the hands of a motivated and cohesive work force working with a clearly defined purpose and goal, it can bring about Henry Ford levels of transformative change. To that end, arts organizations need to focus as much on the potential relationship with technology providers and how it will help improve their work environment and efficiency. Ultimately, the combination of people, plan, and technology should work together to make your organization more than the sum of its parts. All of this is perhaps a roundabout way of saying that arts organizations shouldn't place too much emphasis on success stories and technology providers shouldn't use them in a promotional sense to take the lion's share of credit for improved results. After all, when you really start digging into a success story, what you'll discover is it was due just as much to the people using and providing the solution as the solution itself. So the next time you find yourself shopping for technology solution, ask about the success stories but set aside time to dig into the story behind the story. If that's a time luxury you don't have, then it might be a sign that you should wait until you can enter into a service relationship with eyes wide open.