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Is Higher Ed Enterprise CRM an Illusion?

We hear frequently from customers about enterprise CRM. Some customers tell us they want our help in moving forward with Enterprise CRM. Other customers want to know if they should be looking seriously at Enterprise CRM. And of course, vendors are marketing and selling their version of Enterprise CRM.

Naturally, when one begins to drill down into what is meant by Enterprise CRM, there are as many definitions (or lack of definition) as there are conversations.

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Enterprise CRM Defined

At Delta Initiative we define Higher ED Enterprise CRM as follows:

Enterprise CRM centralizes accurate, real-time constituent information. This allows everyone in a constituent-facing role the opportunity to improve the constituent experience and strengthen the bond between the institution and the constituent based on insights gleaned from the information available in the CRM.

A Higher Education institution needs to enroll students, keep existing students through graduation and raise funds. It is easy to fall into the trap that an Enterprise CRM approach is solely focused on students but as I have pointed out in an earlier blog a student can have multiple relationships with an institution, and all of these relationships are important to the institution. In addition, the institution has relationships with many other entities that are not students or even individual people.

What the above suggests then, is that there are at least two major important differences between CRM in a commercial setting and CRM in an educational setting.

The first difference is that in the commercial world, you generally have either a Business-to-Business (B2B) relationships or Business-to-Customer (B2C) or retail relationships. There are businesses that have a mix of both (Apple and Microsoft come to mind) but there is a difference in how they market, sell, and service these two types of customers. In Higher Education you have a simultaneous mix of both B2B relationships (think grants, fund raising, government relationships, and local companies, for example) and B2C relationships (think students, parents, employees, alumni) where the “C” often has multiple relationships with the institution.

The second difference, and I am going to focus on students here, is that what data is needed or required at each stage of the student life cycle is different and focused on the particular needs of the administrative unit. In a commercial setting, customer information is generally well defined and supported by internal processes that work across the organization and administrative boundaries. We have worked with schools where Recruiting and Admissions collects the information it needs to admit a class and, for example, parental information is not important to them and not collected even though it is to the Advancement organization. Similarly, Student Services may know what student groups a student belongs to but not share that information. We have even worked with schools where the Graduate College did not know who was graduating from the undergraduate college at the same institution. In short, most Higher Education institutions are operational siloes and narrowly focused on their own particular mission.

The Higher Ed Enterprise CRM Challenge

It is no secret that hard and fast fiefdoms exist in Higher Education institutions although the walls are weakening ever so slowly. But if Enterprise CRM is not an illusion it is a necessary pre-condition that the fiefdoms disappear and that everyone understand how they can support the entire enterprise and not just their piece of the enterprise. This is a Change Management, Data Management and Leadership issue and must be faced head on.

Secondly is the question of whether there are technology solutions that address the ever-changing relational complexities within Higher Education that are cost-effective, easy to implement and manage.

Lastly, if you believe that your institution needs Enterprise CRM and you think that the institution can address the challenges that need to be overcome, how are you going to define success? How is Enterprise CRM going to make the institution better and enhance the constituent experience, regardless of whom is the constituent?

Or is higher Education CRM all an illusion driven by vendor sales and marketing?

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