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The Amorphous CRM

First in a series about CRM

We’ve all heard the parable in which a king sends six blind men to find out what an elephant is. The one who touches the tail says it is like a rope, the one who feels the leg says it is like a pillar, the one who handles the ear says it is like a fan, etc. The point (setting aside why one would send blind men on such an errand) is that each one defines the elephant based on their limited interaction with it. None of them have the complete picture; thus, none of them provide a comprehensive definition.

Elephant calfIn Higher Education, that elephant is CRM.

What Is CRM?
CRM (Customer or Constituent Relationship Management) is an amorphous term that means different things to different people, depending on how they will interact with it. In a college or university setting, most users see it from an internal perspective and tend to define CRM based on what they want from it:


  • Recruiting and Admissions: “I want to see all the contacts for a targeted applicant or group of applicants.”
  • Recruiting, Admissions and Alumni Relations: “I want to see who attends what events and whether these events meet expectations.”
  • Advancement and Fundraising : “I want to see donor history, contact history, and personal and corporate relationships—and maybe even create a relationship map.”
  • Student Services: “I want contact information that is searchable and sortable by academic performance, relationships (e.g., legacy students, high school attended), etc. I want a 360-degree view. “

The Promise of CRM
While users may not agree on what CRM is, they all share the belief that they need it. Why? Because CRM promises to do what their current ERP cannot, including:

  • Collecting and storing more information
  • Handling complex interdepartmental system relationships
  • Storing various communication material
  • Generating targeted, automated communications that produce better, measurable results (for instance, retention of at-risk students)

Of course, as with websites in the early days of the Internet, many believe they need CRM simply because it is a trending technology and they don’t want to be left behind.

No matter how you define it, understanding CRM and what it can do for your organization is a major challenge. So in this series, I will explore what CRM is, as well as the concepts and ideas leading to the implementation of a successful CRM.

Next up: Exploring the Term CRM: What Exactly Are You Trying to Manage?

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