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The Future-Ready Playbook

The Importance of CRM for Higher Education

What is a CRM for Higher Education, and Why is it Important?

First, let’s define what CRM is – customer relationship management. 

CRM higher education technology enables institutions to manage relationships with all of their customers (including students, alumni, faculty, staff, and corporate partners) and connect insights from those interactions in a unified view. 

Why is a CRM Important?

  • Quickly support new business models and personalized experiences without the pain of updating legacy systems: with CRM, faculty and staff can collaborate from anywhere and track critical metrics such as retention, enrollment, and engagement rates across a variety of channels. 
  • Connect insights across recruitment & admissions, student experience, advancement, and marketing for a 360-degree view of every constituent: Unlike individual point solutions, which only address a single-use case or challenge, an integrated CRM platform eliminates the pain of having disparate data spread across a variety of systems.
  • More time for faculty and staff to do what they do best – ensuring students have the support and resources they need to thrive: With CRM for higher education, institutions can provide more tailored outreach to prospective students, automate self-service, and increase alumni engagement and fundraising efforts and spend less time spent searching for data across multiple point solutions means.  

With an integrated platform for the entire education journey, institutions of all sizes can use CRM to create engaged learner relationships for life.

Amjad Ayoubi, Ph.D., Senior Associate Dean & CRM Evangelist, Tulane University

Point solutions are not where the future is. They often lead to more training, silos, and complexity. To me, being future-ready means having a CRM platform that can scale as an institution grows, and at their pace.”

Amjad Ayoubi, Ph.D., Senior Associate Dean & CRM Evangelist, Tulane University

Benefits of CRM for Higher Education

Institutions can benefit from CRM higher education technology in a variety of ways: 

  • A unified view of constituent information
  • $2.4 million in total legacy cost savings
  • An improved student experience
  • Empowered faculty and staff
  • The flexibility needed to pivot quickly

Let’s take a look at each one in detail. 

CRM Creates a Unified View of Constituent Information

Today, many higher education institutions are managing the student journey with outdated and siloed systems. Increasingly, students are expecting seamless technology experiences, personalized communications, and a clear ROI. Yet, the average university has 35 different applications or systems to manage recruiting, enrollment, engagement, job placement, and alumni and donor engagement. Nearly one-fifth of institutions have 70 or more! This lack of connectivity causes challenges in data-driven decision-making across the student lifecycle. When data exists in silos, the student experience can often feel disconnected and impersonal.  

CRM, however, is an integrated platform connecting insights across recruitment & admissions, student experience, advancement and marketing into a single pane of glass. This enables institutions to collaborate more effectively and support more students at scale.

Stronger student relationships are built on the foundation of connected student data. The right technology can help institutions maximize every student’s potential—from the moment they express interest in an institution to the day they graduate and become alumni. By creating a 360-degree view of every student, a CRM platform empowers institutions to turn data into insights and insights into actions. These connected insights make it possible to shape proactive and personalized interactions with students, ultimately putting student relationships at the center of every institution. 

CRM Lowers Total Cost of Ownership

Using an integrated platform instead of multiple point solutions not only simplifies data complexity for higher education institutions; it also saves money. 

In fact, CRM higher education technology averages $2.4 million in total legacy cost savings, according to a Forrester Total Impact Study. The study found that higher education institutions using Salesforceare driving 195% in ROI over three years, with a 7-month payback period. They’re also seeing significant increases in revenue and cost savings.

This is because institutions eliminate the expenses associated with more training, the adoption of outdated processes, and the time spent updating legacy systems when using multiple point solutions to manage the student journey. 

CRM evolves as an institution does: It’s a flexible, integrated platform.

CRM Improves the Student Experience. 

CRM enables higher education institutions to stay ahead of student needs with tools such as proactive alerts and conversational chat bots. According to Forrester, students are more likely to enroll in a college, and stay there, when a single platform is used to provide more effective communications, remove barriers to information, and streamline support services. 

Central New Mexico Community College was looking for a single, consolidated view of all of the customers they serve —from students, alumni, parents and donors to employers that hire students. CRM for higher education provided the ideal solution to create a 360-degree view of every engagement, in one place. 

“In our old system, when I needed data about our department, I had to go to our institutional research office and ask them to run a report, and it might take a couple of weeks to get the data back,” said Ann Lyn Hall, Executive Director of CNM Connect Services. “Now, I have access to data and reports myself – I don’t need someone else to help me run those numbers, which is a big time saver.”

With a strong CRM foundation, Central New Mexico Community College was well-positioned to focus on specific areas that they wanted to enhance, like advising. 

“While we had an appointment system that allowed students to schedule an appointment with an advisor, it didn’t allow the students to select a specific advisor to meet with if they had a favorite,” said Lidia Martinez, Associate Director of CNM Connect Services. “Also, all of our advising notes were kept in a separate system from the appointment system – and it was hard to get the two systems to talk to each other. We wanted to find a smoother flow for our advising processes.” Student Success Hub now provides CNM with a unified and holistic approach for advisors to be more efficient and for students to be more successful. Features include a unified advising record that all advisors and support staff can collaborate on, mobile appointment booking, and more.

Forrester found that institutions using a CRM platform, like Central New Mexico Community College, have been able to increase student retention rates by 6.8%. By streamlining workflows for staff members and consolidating relevant student data, advisors can be more proactive in their student support efforts.

CRM Empowers Faculty & Staff

When institutions switch to CRM, administrative and academic teams are able to work more effectively. Forrester found a 12% increase in productivity across teams working on everything from admissions and the student experience to alumni engagement and fundraising. Over the course of three years, this equates to $6.7 million for a college or university.

As an example, the University of Massachusetts (UMass) had multiple departments handling administrative tasks, and employees were relying on paper and email to communicate with prospective students and alumni. Having seen success from using a CRM platform to improve the student experience, UMass decided to replicate it for employees system-wide. 

“We wanted to make it easier to get work done, and we were really inspired by the idea of a platform that could make collaboration between administrative divisions and departments possible,” said UMass System’s Deputy Chief Enterprise Applications Officer Doug Anderson. He and other UMass System leaders wanted a flexible platform that could scale across departments and encourage interdepartmental communication from anywhere.

“Employees have great digital experiences in their everyday lives. While we are not Amazon, we want to bring these kinds of digital capabilities to their employee experience,” said Anderson. “Helping administrators envision these opportunities and reframe their thinking on traditional operations was an important element to our modernization plan.”

CRM Prepares Colleges and Universities for Whatever is Next

CRM for higher education is the digital foundation empowering tomorrow’s institutions today. A CRM platform connects insights campus-wide instead of creating data silos, making it easier for institutions to quickly support new business models as constituent needs evolve over time. 

Undoubtedly, transformation across education is here to stay. Whether it’s increasing hybrid course offerings or creating additional revenue streams with new programs, having an agile platform is critical in order to support the long term success of colleges and universities.This is the new technology mindset of the future-ready institution and it’s powered by CRM for higher education. It enables a shift from siloed data and disconnected experiences to a flexible platform that grows with your needs.

Here are just a few examples of CRM success:

  • The University of Kentucky reinvented campus operations and pivoted quickly using a CRM platform to remotely support students during the peak of the pandemic. 30,000 students were contacted via a net new call center and the university leveraged an integrated dashboard to quickly identify students in need.
  • Hennepin Technical College (HTC) saw a 10% increase in new student enrollment after leveraging CRM for higher education. HTC’s Enrollment Services department leveraged the power of CRM to improve its recruitment and admissions processes, streamline workflows, improve collaboration, and harness its data to make better decisions and support students along their journey.
  • At the Institut Químic de Sarrià (IQS), officials are using CRM to modernize internal operations. The transformation started with undergraduate and graduate admissions —and quickly scaled to other IQS departments that were operating in silos. The university is now more data-driven in its decision making, thanks to insights officials have on student interactions as well as the team’s activities and performance.

To summarize, institutions can benefit from CRM higher education technology in a variety of ways, from simplifying data complexity to creating more personalized experiences for every constituent.

ASU students wearing a shirt with their mascot

“We found that people were putting together who they were working with on spreadsheets or in many different databases – or, in some cases, they weren’t even keeping track. So how could we ever provide a view of who was working with ASU if we couldn’t even get to the data? We decided it was time to implement an enterprise-wide experience, so everyone coming through the university gets a personalized experience and we can serve their needs.”

Leah Lommel, Assistant Vice President and Chief Operating Officer of EdPlus at ASU

How to Select the Best CRM for Higher Education

Having outlined the benefits of CRM for higher education, institutions must consider the best CRM option for their needs. 

When comparing different CRM platforms, questions to keep in mind include: 

  • Does the platform offer the integrations you’re looking for?
  • Does it allow for customization?
  • How is setup and maintenance managed?
  • Does it have a reputable user experience and ROI?
  • What is customer support like?
  • Is it built to support colleges and universities of all sizes?
  • Will it scale as your institution grows?

Having a good understanding of what a CRM is and how it can help students, faculty, and staff makes it easier to select the right solution. 

Below are the recommended steps to selecting the right CRM platform.

  1. Outline pain points: Where does your institution struggle? What are the common paint points you hear from students, faculty, and staff? What systems aren’t working for you? What goals do you have trouble meeting now, and what are your goals for the future? Write down the top institutional challenges and your expectations for a CRM platform.
  2. Make a list of current programs and systems, and think about the future: What platforms do you already use for recruitment, admissions, student engagement, alumni management, communications, and other processes? Make a list so you can evaluate how many systems you have. Then, examine each system to see how well they’re currently working for your campus, and how well they might work in the future.  
  3. Set a budget: How much can you invest in CRM for higher education? Compare platforms based on the number of users you have and the features that will be most impactful. Consider the value of a CRM platform: the functionality, customer service, and ease of use.
  4. Compare features and resources: Invest in what you need, with options to grow in the future. Choose the provider that offers onboarding and support so you can make the most of your new CRM.
  5. Review customer references: Look for comments from schools like your own, and see how a similar solution might work for you. Explore customer community groups, review sites, and more.
  6. Narrow the list: You may start with a list of a dozen different providers, but as you consider the features, functionality, and values of each, this list will shrink. Once you have five or fewer options, request demos. Invite department heads or other potential users to try the platform and give their feedback.

Drive Impact as a Future-Ready Institution

Watch the future-ready webinar to learn how institutions can create a roadmap for innovation and agility in today’s evolving education landscape.

The Future-Ready Playbook

Learn more about CRM for higher education and dive into the four pillars of the future-ready institution. Each of the following chapters is dedicated to these pillars, with actionable steps you can take to drive learner and institution success from anywhere.

Learn More about Salesforce for Education

Dive into customer stories, success metrics, and tailored solutions for education.