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7 Questions to help you choose the right CRM system for your university


Key elements for successful pathways programmes

You may not know much about the right Customer Relationship Management tools, but it’s changing the way universities and schools are talking to their existing and future students. With some universities needing to keep track of thousands of enquiries on a monthly basis, on top of their existing students, parents, employees, and external organisations, it’s easy to be overwhelmed. CRM tools can help keep track of these conversations, and some even include multi-platform options.

You may have already some great ideas for your CRM tool and are ready to get started. Your next challenge is figuring out how you are going to choose the best system, which means you’re evaluating CRM systems and tool options.

But how do you choose which solution is right for you?  The questions that follow will help you select the right customer relationship system for your institute and your priorities so you can hit the ground running.

1. What are your goals and how will the platform help you accomplish them?

Starting with a clear definition of what you hope to accomplish is an obvious first step.  Most likely it’s a bit of an iterative process: the more you dig in, the more ideas you will have for using your CRM system in your marketing and communication mix. Clarifying your goals will help you understand the functionality you will need.

  1. Who should be using the CRM system across your institute? Will you only use the CRM system for the marketing and student recruitment services, or do you want one platform for everyone? The more departments will need access to your system, the more complex the CRM system needs to be to manage the needs of all the stakeholders.
  2. Even within the same function (e.g. student recruitment), how many faculties or schools will be using the same CRM system?
  3. Are you looking to improve your number of touchpoints with prospective students, or improve the quality of this communication? Is your goal to simply automatize part of student communication to ease the workload for your department?

The answers to these questions have direct implications for choosing a solution that meets your objectives.

Specifically, you should ask yourself:

  1. How often do you plan to communicate with your prospective students (once, monthly, weekly)?
  2. What types of communication are you most interested in initially?  What could you see yourself building down the road?
  3. Through what channels do you want to communicate with your prospective students (website, email, blog, social channels, mobile, all of the above)?
  4. How will you segment your communication? Will you have geo-targeted or discipline-specific content for students from specific countries or wanting to study specific programmes at your university?
  5. Is the software sophisticated enough for your intended usage? Or are you looking for a simple, quick and easy solution with no commitment, but more limited functionality?

2. Do you want a generic enterprise-class or higher education-specific solution?

This seems like a simple question, but it’s not. There are plenty of generic CRM platforms available from established companies. However, to customise them to your institution’s needs, you will most likely need a large team, resources and money to make it work for your needs. That can mean anything from adding student recruitment functionalities, enrolments, and so forth. In addition, you might need to create special forms to collect the data from various landing pages on your university website that also needs to be optimised to work together as a well-integrated solution. In the end, while generic CRM solutions would be great for some universities and could allow you a wide range of customizations, they might also be more complex and expensive to set-up.

The other option is to choose a system tailored to education. However, the risk can lie in the systems becoming quickly outdated if they fail to keep up with the needs of educational institutions. The key is finding a system that is both tailored to meet your needs and built on a platform that is widely used, which can mean extensive research. There is no perfect solution that can satisfy every university, so, in the end, you will need to make the best choice for your budget and requirements.

3. How easy is the solution to use?

With any new system, there will be a learning curve and, naturally, the more control you have and the more you want to communicate with your prospective students, the more complex the platform. However, you still want to make sure the platform you choose will be intuitive enough that with a little training, you and your team can hit the ground running.

  1. What sort of technical skills is required to use the platform? Will you need a technical person in the team to manage the CRM system?
  2. Is there drag-and-drop functionality for your CRM system?
  3. Does the platform have an overall user-friendly design?
  4. Can content be created quickly to capitalise on short-run campaigns?
  5. Are there guides, blog posts and videos for quick reference and troubleshooting that you can use to answer your most urgent questions?

4. What do training and support look like?

Along the same lines of ease-of-use, you don’t want to get into your brand new CRM system platform and find yourself stuck with an unanswerable question. Some CRM systems provide extensive onboarding and training, others provide 24/7 support, others have extensive resource libraries, etc. Take a careful look at what kind of support you think you’ll need and make sure it matches up with what’s being offered.

  1. What, if any, training is available? Is it included in the purchase price?
  2. How much time does it typically take to complete a CRM training?
  3. How quickly will I be up and running creating campaigns and tracking my communication?
  4. What sort of ongoing coaching and support is available including regular reviews of what’s working, best practices, etc.?
  5. What is the format for support?  Email only?  Phone?  What’s the turn around time?

5. How long does it take to implement?

Depending on the complexity of the solution, setting up a new system can take anywhere from 1 day to 1 year. What good is a CRM system that you would need to wait a year to be able to use? What about the costs of training, support, technical issues? Do you know what you are signing up for in the long term?

6. What applications and resources do you want to link to CRM?

You probably want to capture leads on your university website into your CRM systems, connect your email client, your system for tracking and checking student tests, or your application tracking system if you have one implemented. Will your social media channels also be included in CRM? Some things to consider linking to your CRM account:

  1. Your website to import new enquiries and leads
  2. Accounting software to automate tuition payments or special application payments
  3. An online web-portal so prospective students can get updates about their applications status
  4. A phone system for automated dialling & call recognition
  5. A file storage and indexing system to keep track of relevant documents.

7. Who will be responsible for deploying the CRM system?

Whatever option you choose, whatever system you decide to invest in, the key to its success will be accountability: who is the one person in the university that will oversee the entire project, listen to all the stakeholders, and make sure all the features are being implemented? Ideally, this person’s role would also be to ensure the long-term success of the CRM implementation project, and take care of the maintenance and fine-tuning the product in the long run, as well as onboarding of new employees who need to use the system, and regular training and knowledge sharing among the relevant stakeholders. A system is only as strong as the members who use it on a regular basis.

Don’t be overwhelmed, though, once you can make these tough decisions, you can go ahead and start keeping track of all student data, from the first contact through alumni, set automatic information campaigns, application reminders, application documents, enrolment replies, course registrations, grades and graduation ceremonies. Institutions with great CRM systems have higher enrolment rates, better student engagement and empower their employees to focus on larger scale strategies than day-to-day small tasks.

With great power, comes great responsibility.

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