How to Choose a CRM for Your Institution

Posted: December 9, 2015

Matt Walters Chief Services Officer

Recently, a growing number of our clients have asked for some tips to begin exploring customer relationship management (CRM) options. Many institutions use some type of CRM software to help organize and keep track of prospective student inquiries. It’s a great way to streamline and automate the engagement process.

Whether you’re investigating your institution’s first-ever CRM, or you’re evaluating whether a different CRM might better serve your needs, the process of evaluating and selecting the best CRM for your institution can be a challenge. You might be asking, “Where do I start?”

There are dozens – maybe hundreds – of CRM choices out there. At VisionPoint, we don’t privilege any one CRM over another. No matter what CRM you may be exploring, here’s a quick list of things to think about as you begin the search.

Considerations When Choosing a CRM

We often see the CRM decision boil down to the following factors, so starting your exploration process with these in mind can be helpful:

  • Cost of installation, training, maintenance and support
  • Ease of use (intuitive platform, mobile access, etc.)
  • Opportunity for multiple stakeholders to access
  • Capacity to replace or integrate with current data systems
  • Capacity to send mass emails and manage email lists
  • Capacity for marketing attribution (does it allow you to track where the lead came from and what content they’ve consumed through the process?)
  • Quality of CRM’s customer and technical support

A Step-By-Step Process for Your CRM Evaluation and Selection

Step 1: Pull together a small task force of stakeholders comprised of people who will need to use the CRM. The success or failure of a CRM comes down to whether it’s institutionalized, understood and used consistently by everyone involved.

Step 2: Document the various data systems you already have in place that the CRM should either replace or interface with. For example, if you send emails through a separate provider, your CRM should work in collaboration with that service. Keep in mind what those other systems contain and what they help you accomplish. It’s possible that the CRM could do it as well or better.

Step 3: Draft a brief “Functional Requirements” document. This document explains what the CRM needs to do for your institution. Specify what data you currently track.

Step 4: Determine the potential budget to purchase a CRM. Think about the time involved in manually gathering and tracking leads. Those implicit “costs” could be saved with a more efficient CRM solution. Can you quantify how much a CRM would save in order to justify a certain annual cost?

Step 5: Outline the process you currently use to follow up with leads. CRM vendors can use that to model how their platform can help you. Insist on demos that are tailored to your situation.

Step 6: Begin thinking about your implementation process. Once you’ve chosen a CRM, you’ll need a plan for how to educate stakeholders about using the CRM. Think about who those stakeholders are and the time of year when it would be easiest to offer a series of training sessions. Talk to vendors about how long their implementation process takes. Do they offer training, education and support for your campus?

Step 7: Ask what systems your peers are using. Find out what CRMs your colleagues at similar institutions use and how well they are working. Be sure to ask questions like, “What’s your favorite feature,” “What’s the most consistent headache you face,” and “How did you go about implementing your CRM and training your community?”

Doing Your Homework

Here are a couple of great resources to unpack the process of considering CRMs, including an overview of several CRMs specific to higher education.

Making a Profitable Choice

Your CRM software should improve your prospective student relationships, save time, and increase profitability. If it doesn’t do all three of these things, it may not be worth your investment. Keep these tips and questions in mind when searching for a solution and you’ll make a much smarter decision.