7 things to consider when choosing a Higher Education Customer Relationship Management (CRM) system
Jan 17

7 things to consider when choosing a Higher Education Customer Relationship Management (CRM) system

Welcome to part two of our ‘Choosing a Higher Education CRM system’. It can be quite confusing looking for Customer Relationship Management (CRM) software for your University. With a range of systems out there that all seem to do very similar things it can be difficult to know where to begin to find the CRM system that’s right for you. Well, the first thing to recognise is there’s not a ‘one-size-fits-all’ CRM system that’s right for everyone. Just as you don’t do things in exactly the same way as every other University.

So, here’s a few things to consider when you’re looking for a CRM system for your University.

1 – Make sure you really know what you need

We’re not just talking about a list of functions that the CRM system needs to deliver. That’s obviously important. You want to be sure the system is going to support your processes and allow you to complete specific tasks. However, by just providing a list of functions you’re not setting any qualitative criteria. And although the CRM can perform a specific function it doesn’t necessarily mean it’s doing it efficiently, simply or with quality. So, by simply assessing potential University CRM software by function you’re actually restricting how you’re comparing the different systems.

If, instead, you identify acceptance criteria and return on investment (ROI) measures for your CRM system you’re clearly defining what outcomes you’re expecting. And you can measure them. So, you can see how successful your CRM system actually is and what tangible benefits you’ve gained. Rather than just guessing!

Plus, you can also set measures for the CRM project so you can track its success as you progress and highlight any issues early.

To define your acceptance criteria and return on investment (ROI) measures think about your end goals, processes and user stories. This could include for example:

  • your team always has a backlog of enquiries to enter into your current systems and most enquiries are not entered onto the system. So, you don’t know how many enquiries you’re receiving and handling.
  • it takes you 4 days to fulfil a prospectus request and you want to reduce this to 1 day.

Also, if the systems you’re currently using are slow, require duplicate data entry, cannot be imported into, are paper-based or have too many steps then you may want to include acceptance criteria that demonstrates simplifying or streamlining processes affected by these.

And don’t forget to look at what outputs your University needs from your Customer Relationship Management (CRM) software too. These could include analysis, searches, labels, documents and reports.

But a word of caution, don’t state the steps the CRM should do to carry out a particular process. You’re defining the ‘what’. Leave the ‘how’ to the CRM and its supplier.

2 – Stay focused – don’t allow yourself to be ‘dazzled’

When you start looking at CRM systems for your University it’s very easy to get carried away. You see some functionality in a system that you’d never thought of before and it looks very interesting – and exciting. You can see all the possibilities where you could use it and everything you can do with it. But just take a moment!

Does it help meet any of your acceptance criteria or return on investment (ROI) measures? If not, then try not to get carried away. It might genuinely be something that will really help you in the future but not quite now. That’s great and is definitely worth noting but don’t let it be your focus or overshadow why you needed the Customer Relationship Management (CRM) system in the first instance.

3 – Be realistic

When putting your requirements, acceptance criteria and return on investment (ROI) measures together you’re trying to identify the areas that will help you improve what you do. If you weren’t trying to do something better, quicker, cheaper and so on then you wouldn’t be looking for a system in the first instance. But be realistic!

As good as Customer Relationship Management (CRM) software is, there are some things it can’t solve. If your processes are flawed, then putting them into a system isn’t going to make them any better.

If you want to start recording more personal data so you can carry out personalised communications, the CRM system can provide you with fields to enter those details. But if you have no way of getting that information then those fields will stay empty!

Finally, if you’re going to change the way you do things, make sure you consultant the people who actually do the job. Your ideas about how you think something works are probably completely different to the reality. Plus, getting the team involved helps with system buy-in when you do implement new CRM software.

4 – It’s not just about today, think about the future

This is not about having a crystal ball as no one can predict the future. Universities are typically looking to use the same Customer Relationship Management (CRM) software for at least 3 years. During that time, your processes, the data you capture, your objectives and team may change. You want to know that any CRM system you choose is going to continue to support your University to manage these changes.

This means you need to take a closer look at how the University CRM software allows you to make any changes. And if there are any restrictions. For example:

  • can you add new fields?
  • can you add anything you want or is there a predefined set of custom fields such as ‘UserText3’ for you to choose from?
  • if you do add any new fields, are they automatically available for you to search or report across?
  • what about process flows, can you change these?
  • what training and skills do you need to do any changes?
  • do any of your changes get overwritten if there’s an upgrade or new version?

You should also find out how often the CRM supplier releases new versions. As well as what’s included in these and if they are chargeable. This will help you understand the future shape of the product.

Finally, it’s important to understand if the software includes modules. And if you can switch these on and off as you need. Also, you need to know if these modules are chargeable. ‘Hidden module charges’ can significantly alter the price of a system.

5 – The supplier is just as important as the CRM software

Don’t overlook the people who will be implementing the CRM software at your University.  The CRM system may be excellent but if the supplier is poorly informed or the software badly implemented, you’re unlikely to get the benefits you were hoping for.

If there are two systems you like, where one is scoring slightly higher than the other, but you don’t get on with the supplier then really consider choosing the other one. If you don’t work well with the supplier during the sales process when they’re trying to impress you, then it’s probably not going to get any better.

6 – What about security and data protection?

Finally, don’t forget about security. You’re storing personal data. This doesn’t just include name, email address, date of birth and address details but also details and comments in notes and documents. It’s important that this data is protected from unauthorised access. This includes both internal and external people. There are multiple layers of protection. You should try and choose a CRM system that offers you as many of these layers as possible. Layers of protection may include:

  1. Authentication – This verifies that a user is who they claim to be and can be controlled using internal user accounts managed directly within your CRM system, integration with an existing user management system such as Active Directory or LDAP, single sign-on (SSO) via an external enterprise identity service or multi-factor authentication (MFA)
  2. Authorisation – This verifies what a user can or cannot access and is often role based.
  3. Encryption – Encryption encodes the data, so only users who have the key to decrypt it can view the data. It gives you an extra layer of protection – from both unauthorised internal and external viewing. Types of encryption include end-to-end encryption, encryption in transit and encryption at rest. Some CRM systems provide data encryption at field- or database-level. If you’re storing personal identifiable information (PII) that should only be accessed by authorised users, then you need encryption. Again, it’s worth noting how the CRM software manages encryption. Also, whether you can encrypt any new fields that you add.

7 – Reporting and dashboards for measuring

Don’t forget to put in things in to measure and track your acceptance criteria and return on investment (ROI) measures. As well as your key activities such as your campaigns, events and communications. If it takes you ages to carry out reporting and analysis you may end up losing some of the efficiency and cost saving benefits you gained in other areas!

A final thought on things to consider when choosing University Customer Relationship Management (CRM) software

The main thing to take away is that you should have more than just a functionality checklist when choosing a CRM system for your University. Homing in on your key strategic objectives and current challenges will help you put together your acceptance criteria and ROI measures. You can then use these to objectively measure the success of your CRM. Plus, they’ll also help keep you focused on what’s important, so you’re not distracted by functionality that looks wonderful, but you’ll never use.

And remember the supplier plays a vital role – they can help make or break a CRM implementation.


About The Author

Sharon Williams has over 20 years’ experience of helping businesses successfully implement Sample Management Software and CRM systems. Appreciating that the software will deliver significant business change and improvements, Sharon guides businesses to help optimise these benefits. This includes advice on how to obtain user buy-in, evaluating and redefining existing business processes and how to gain a better understanding of their data to provide invaluable insight and inform business decisions.