The Opportunity Gap in Your School's CRM Strategy


A customer relationship management (CRM) system is standard practice for most higher education institutions today. In fact, it’s by far one of the most effective practices for recruiting and marketing, according to a new report released from Ruffalo Noel Levitz. Of the 89% of private four-year schools and 85% of public four-year schools that are using CRM, 97% and 100%, respectively, say the system is effective for managing and tracking recruitment communications, online applications, etc. Most of these institutions are also using CRM to send mass emails.

But if your CRM strategy stops there, you’re missing a big opportunity.

There’s a new face of CRM, but many schools are still using outdated systems or not fully utilizing the capabilities of new systems. Destination CRM says, “Once thought of as a type of software, CRM has evolved into a customer-centric philosophy that must permeate an entire organization . . . If customer relationships are the heart of business success, then CRM is the valve that pumps a company's life blood.”

So how can you pump more life into your processes?

Critical System Functions

First, it’s time to take a look at your system and your strategy. Be sure you have these foundational components in place:

  • The right administrator. Traditionally, CRM has been simply an admissions database run by a competent database manager. Taking hold of today’s more robust system capacity requires an entirely different skill set. A CRM manager needs to have a blend of technical skills (used to configure and maintain the processes within the system), a clear understanding of recruitment communications (to contribute to the communication planning process), and a talent for strategic thinking (to recognize opportunities to creatively use the system’s resources in your school’s unique context).

  • Up-to-date email capabilities. Because of system limitations, many schools are still sending plain-text or non-responsive email messages. This pretty much looks like spam to a Gen Z-er, and (if they even notice the message), it makes a very negative impression. If they view your communication as outdated, chances are they view your school this way, too. Their world is colorful, bold, and interactive—and they’re often viewing it on a screen the size of their hand.

  • Ability to publish forms. A system that creates standard forms can be pure gold for admissions. Information from RFIs and applications is automatically captured inside the CRM, reducing the need for manual data entry (and human error) and improving timeliness in generating reports. Additionally, schools that invest in this system capability reap the benefits of a host of other creative possibilities for engaging with prospective students.

Creative CRM Engagement

Once you have the fundamental structure in place, the sky’s the limit on creative use of the system. These are just a few ideas for more effectively engaging with prospective students:

  • Tier applicants based on their desirability for your school. For example, students with test scores above a certain level could get your “top tier” strategy. Some CRMs even identify the best-fit students for your institution.

  • Add layers of communication or touch points based on segmentation. You might have specific communication pieces for first-generation students or special-event invitations for legacy students. And so much more.

  • Set up logic for form respondents and pair submissions with targeted communication. You could promote special-interest organizations or programs to identified groups, for instance, like minority students or those who have indicated a particular area of interest. For students focused on a specific major or career track, you could communicate with an acknowledgement from a faculty member in that area.

  • Automatically follow up with prospects who attended an on-campus event. If they’ve visited your school, it’s likely that their interest is increasing. Seize that moment to keep the momentum going.

Is it time to reconsider your CRM strategy? We’re available to help with a comprehensive assessment and action plan.


Destination CRM. “What Is CRM?”

Ruffalo Noel Levitz (2018). 2018 marketing and student recruitment report of effective practices. Cedar Rapids, IA: Ruffalo Noel Levitz.