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Taking an enterprise approach to CRM in higher education

June 7, 2018 Article 3 min read
CRM is a key growth driver for many institutions. But few in higher education believe they’re getting the most of out of their investment. Building a CRM culture can change that.

A teacher standing in front of a classroom of college students.

According to Gartner research, higher education institutions that want to achieve CRM’s overarching goal of lifelong student and alumni engagement must move from department-driven to coherent, enterprisewide initiatives.

Most institutions have at least one CRM solution, but few believe they’re getting the most out of their investments. This may be because the benefits from CRM investments arise from the ability to leverage student data across multiple processes — admissions, enrollment, recruitment management, and alumni relations among others — and institutions that don’t take an enterprisewide approach are at a big disadvantage.

What does CRM mean to you?

Many in higher education have adopted the term “constituent relationship management” to better reflect the entire life cycle of personal interaction (in contrast to the more common “customer relationship management” term coined by businesses). In higher education, constituents may have a lifelong affiliation with an institution that can span upward of 50 years and reflect many touchpoints —from admissions and on-campus activities to athletic ticketing, career services, and lecture attendance, all the way through alumni giving, estate planning, and corporate and foundation giving. CRM systems provide a way to organize and coordinate details across this broad range of interactions to align with individuals’ dynamic relationships with an institution.

“But we have a CRM — in fact, we have several!”

Virtually every institution has some kind of CRM and student information system in place. However, many legacy student information systems are aging and haven’t necessarily delivered promised outcomes for a single, comprehensive view. Institutions report that they have multiple CRM solutions used by individual departments that often duplicate efforts and provide little or no integration, resulting in confusion and frustration, high sustainability costs, and low impact.

A report issued by the American Association of Collegiate Registrars and Admissions Officers revealed that the majority of higher education institutions have at least one CRM system, yet 75 percent weren’t maximizing its use. Institutions pointed to “time to learn and implement” as the primary challenge. Other factors? A lack of clear leadership responsibility and culture change. Imagine the improvements you could make by recapturing some of the money that’s lost or wasted as you expend resources updating and exchanging information across multiple silos or data vaults.

Would an enterprise CRM system be better?

Enterprise CRM supports a new way of thinking, organized around how an individual experiences your institution. Your systems and software exist to support the delivery of the many services that together build an extraordinary student or constituent experience. Beyond adopting the right mindset, a successful CRM initiative requires some fundamental principles and building blocks. Creating an organization-wide, or “enterprise” CRM strategy and implementation plan takes a more holistic approach — one where you focus on the individual’s journey, not on institutional processes.

How do we develop an enterprise approach to CRM?

To adopt an enterprise approach, institutions must first envision the desired constituent experience — whether that constituent is a prospect, student, alum, donor, corporation, or foundation — and leverage that into a vision for CRM. Participating departments across the university that “own” the relationships with these groups must come together to provide governance — describing how decisions are made and who participates in those decisions, identifying performance metrics, and providing oversight of the resulting plan. Institutions shouldn’t necessarily expect that there will be a single solution, but rather that an enterprise solution will be standards-based, will facilitate integration, and will include a limited number of component systems to provide the institution’s CRM solution.

Looking for more information?

Understanding the full range of options and outcomes is essential for any institution looking to create a solid business case for an institutionwide CRM initiative. Our higher education team can leverage its enterprise solutions and higher education experience to help develop an enterprise strategy and business case for CRM. If you have any questions, please give us a call.

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