Five Things Higher Ed Leaders Should Know About CRMs 

Senior Analyst

Top of Mind: Five Things Higher Ed Leaders Should Know About CRMs
Estimated Reading Time: 4 minutes

In the last decade, constituent relationship management (CRM) has grown exponentially in both capability and user adoption across higher education. The market is progressing from primarily departmental to enterprise CRM, which requires deeper forethought for institutions, especially during selection and implementation. Higher education leaders considering a shift in their campus CRM strategy should keep the following advice in mind. 

1. Consider the Big Picture 

It is common knowledge that CRM adoption started in higher education at the departmental level with solutions focused on specific functional areas. Today, Tambellini research indicates that approximately 88 percent of US institutions use some type of CRM solution. Recruitment and admissions is the largest market, followed by service management (i.e., help desk), student advising and retention, and advancement. The market is also seeing an increase in the number of institutions declaring an enterprise-wide CRM (ECRM) and are in varying stages of their digital transformations. The leading packaged solution in the recruitment and admissions space is Technolutions Slate.

In the early days of CRM, institutions generally made selections at the department level—and often without assistance from IT. However, we are now seeing institutions take a more enterprise-wide, holistic approach that includes the foresight to lay a foundation for ECRM and data governance. This new mindset is the result of lessons learned as institutions grapple with the lack of data continuity that is the byproduct of multiple, disparate CRMs. Institutions are finding value in ECRMs to aggregate disparate data and provide campuswide constituents with a central system of record and a consistent user experience. Moving to ECRM is a phased and ongoing transformation, and institutions generally follow a roadmap starting with the greatest area of need and one that can drive immediate success and value.

ECRMs are on par with enterprise administrative systems, and the selection and implementation of these platforms should be given the same level of due diligence and planning as an institution’s finance, HCM, and student systems. Salesforce has the largest collective CRM footprint in higher education, owning more than 36 percent market share, and is the CRM of choice for enterprise-wide deployments. Other vendors in this market include Slate CRM and Ellucian CRM, and the Microsoft Dynamics 365 CRM partner solutions have less than 1 percent market share. 

2. Think Outside the Box 

When campus leaders think of CRM, they often think of packaged solutions for core functional areas. CRMs are also expanding their offerings to provide higher education with more options and greater value. For example, Enrollment Rx (Salesforce), Salesforce Admissions Connect, TargetX (Salesforce), and Technolutions Slate are all leading packaged solutions for student recruitment and admissions.

While CRM-based solutions are prevalent across all sizes and types of institutions, there is also widespread usage of native CRM products, especially Salesforce. Hundreds of institutions are using native Salesforce products (Experience Cloud, Marketing Cloud, Pardot, and Service Cloud) to support custom recruiting and admissions applications, marketing and communications, unified student services portals and engagement platforms, student onboarding, and more.  

Likewise, Slate institutions are expanding their use of Slate CRM to build custom solutions for advising and retention. While institutions may start with a packaged solution, many expand its use at the department level and across the enterprise, especially when Salesforce is the CRM. 

3. Consider Custom Solutions 

Institutions that want to improve student retention are seeking innovative technologies to support their student success initiatives. Most institutions still use non-CRM solutions—such as EAB Navigate, Aviso Retention, or Civitas Learning—but are increasingly augmenting or replacing these systems with CRMs.

Leading advising and retention CRM solutions include Salesforce Student Success Hub and custom applications leveraging Salesforce Experience, Salesforce Marketing Cloud, and Salesforce Service Cloud as well as TargetX Retention Suite.

Institutions currently report functionality gaps in advising and retention solutions, such as early alerts, appointment scheduling, case management, unified advising communications and tracking, and academic advisor portals. Therefore, an increasing number of institutions are creating custom student success applications to support these requirements.  

Salesforce CRM institutions also use the product set to extend CRM functionality to support event tracking, communities, communications tracking (web, social, mobile), student services and knowledgebase, reporting, and metrics and productivity dashboards. Likewise, Slate for Admissions institutions are leveraging the Slate CRM to build custom student success applications stored in the same instance as recruitment and admissions and readily support data integration. 

4. Advancement CRMs Are Trending 

Institutions are also evaluating their legacy platforms for advancement. Tambellini research indicates that less than 30 percent of higher education institutions have selected a modern advancement CRM. Viable advancement options for those institutions seeking to modernize include Blackbaud CRM; Blackbaud Raiser’s Edge; Ellucian CRM Advance; Salesforce custom applications leveraging Salesforce’s Nonprofit Success Pack, Gift Entry Manager, and Elevate; Affinaquest; and UCI ascend for Advancement.

In addition to advancement CRM packaged solutions, hundreds of institutions and foundations are using the Salesforce Experience Cloud, Marketing Cloud, Pardot, Sales Cloud, and more to support marketing, personalized communications, alumni portals and communities, alumni engagement tracking and scoring, volunteer tracking, event management, campaign management, and more. 

5. Prioritize Data Governance

In the earlier days of CRM, institutions often lost sight of the big picture and how CRM data needed to be shared and accessed across the institution. Many institutions have data stored in multiple disparate CRM platforms and other enterprise applications, which makes sharing that data challenging. A common example is institutions that use Slate for Admissions and Salesforce for student advising and retention.  Data is one of the biggest impediments to ECRM. Institutions can address these data challenges with data governance and integration initiatives to provide accurate and controlled data access that allows institutions to have a consolidated view of their constituents.    Some institutions moving toward ECRM use master data management (MDM) tools to facilitate data aggregation and integration across multiple disparate CRMs. Data governance and MDM work hand in hand, and both are key to any digital transformation. Data governance defines and manages the data from a business perspective, including organizational structure, data standards and rules, data privacy, processes, retention, and more. The MDM technology is used to enforce an institution’s data governance by creating a common definition for disparate master data and hence a single view of constituents based on defined governance, compliance, and security policies.

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Senior Analyst
As a senior analyst for Tambellini Group, Mary Beth Cahill focuses her research on CRM and advancement initiatives. She has led numerous research efforts, specifically in vendor administrative systems and student information systems (SIS) software solutions, data and learning analytics, CRM, learning management, and social networking. Mary Beth is also the co-author of several published industry reports, including Tambellini Group's "Upgrade or Replace" and "Vendor Review" series of reports.

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