This post is going to continue deconstructing Student Search myths. Last week started with the myth of buying more names, and now, we’re turning our myth-busting efforts to the promise of CRM in Enrollment Management. The appeal of these three letters can be so captivating. Most of you know of someone who has been disappointed by the promise made by software companies positioning themselves as the secret sauce of enrollment management.

Years ago when I first started learning about the wonders of the one-to-one marketing I remember reading a study released by The Gartner Research Group, which shared that 60-percent of all CRM initiatives failed. At that point in time, I could hardly believe the statistic because everyone (and their brother) was jumping on the CRM bandwagon. It slices! It dices! It puts your small children to bed! How could such large, expensive, comprehensive systems be so unsuccessful meeting their bold claims? I soon learned, from my own personal experience, that the people-process behind the system has to be buttoned up and working well before technology can really work. The software isn’t magic.

New digital contact management systems collided with the concepts of sales force automation (SFA). Next, Tom Siebel left Oracle after his unsuccessful attempt to persuade Oracle leadership about new possibilities in the world of data. This new founded industry finally had a name that evolved from enterprise customer management (ECM) in its early days to CRM or Customer Relationship Management.

Soon the marketplace was flooded with competition to produce broader services around this promise of marketing automation. With all of this newfound efficiency, the thing that remains the same today — even after CRM started floating on clouds — is that most initiatives still fail. Enrollment leaders started comparing who had what software suite much like some VPs will compare Student Search response rates over coffee at conferences. A need for more data automation was created. This was a new panacea to enrollment management challenges.

This is another spot where enrollment management started going “soft.” Inquiries were in abundance. Automation replaced relationship building and the automation and volume that it could tackle has created some of the challenges that we are struggling with today.

Our observations show us that success comes from strong leadership with a solid plan of where you’re headed.

Without strong leadership and a solid plan, you’re going to be criticizing your CRM, its provider, and even its whiz-bang features and technology, because you will still be disappointed. Here’s where the myth of the “fix it all” CRM gets busted. Only your people can establish the right intimacy with your inquiry pool to be successful. If you rely on a CRM system above your people ecosystem, your time and money investment is probably misdirected. FINDERS understand this. Searchers, well, not so much.

CRM has to be understood as a strategy installation as opposed to a technology installation.

Over the last several years I’ve heard enrollment leaders blame their troubles on not having a good CRM system or suggesting things could be better if they only had a better CRM system. This is usually not true and it is often an excuse. Currently we work with nearly 25 schools in the area of enrollment marketing and communications and the amazing thing to us is that we almost see the same number of different CRM software packages.

We even have a client that doesn’t have CRM software at all. And surprisingly, they are doing okay. (But they do want a CRM system.)

The reason that a non-CRM equipped school is still doing ok is because they have their people-system really clicking along. The people-system in your organization is much more important than your CRM system. That is, it is more important that your team understands the process of recruitment, your school’s enrollment strategy, and their role in the whole ecosystem than it is to have a CRM system that can put cream cheese on your bagel.

Some CRM systems are truly created better than others. It’s true there are some real dogs out there. H·A ThirtyOne is CRM system agnostic, but because we hear feedback from so many of our clients about which ones are working (and louder feedback regarding which ones aren’t) we’ve come to look at the whole concept a bit differently. A strategy that relies on just getting a bigger, better, faster CRM system (or one at all) won’t help if the people-system inside the admissions office isn’t sewn up.

We know which enrollment shops are working well, and they are usually a result of good leadership and sound strategies and less about software automation and features.

I’m reminded of a phenomenon that’s been witnessed in the sales and marketing arena for many years — the best sales people aren’t the ones that are the best at filling out all their sales paperwork. I can make an argument, too, that the best admissions offices aren’t always the best at doing CRM implementations. Don’t let CRM guide your culture and strategy. Establish your culture and strategy and build your CRM initiatives around it. CRM systems will come and go, but your culture and strategy should be something upon which you can confidently build.

If you’re struggling with CRM implementation, getting ready to purchase, or wondering how to improve what you have, try these three rules.

1. First, create or define your strategy. Decide why you need a new CRM system and determine how you’re going to use it to make your organization better. Remember, CRM is a strategy implementation, not a technology implementation.
2. Ensure that dollars for ongoing training are in your budget (and protected). The trainers and consultants will leave. It is your team that will stay and need the wherewithal to make the CRM system sing.
3. Be bold and courageous with your CRM. If you’re going to make a significant cash outlay, you and your team need to do something (or to stop doing something) to achieve remarkable results. Many schools spend too much time strategizing and analyzing and never move to actionizing. This is sad. This is the area where FINDERS differ so much from Searchers. The same Searchers who hide behind buying 300,000 names or outsourcing their entire Student Search strategy are the same ones who fuss about getting a new and improved CRM system. Then they rarely have the discipline to do anything with the resource.

Like what you’re reading? Join us for more ideas and discussions at our pre-NACAC Ideastorm on the campus of Marian University, September 17. Few seats remain, so register now at: or find us in Indianapolis at booth #1238 in the NACAC exhibit hall. We’d love to meet you and hear what you’re thinking.

You can also join our geographic directory of FINDERS by putting yourself on the map at: FINDERS unite!

Next week, MYTH #3. “We need more applications.”