CRM Class Is in Session

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CRM in education is often discussed in terms of solutions to drive student recruitment, retention, and fundraising (see this month's Market Focus: Education). What many have missed, however, is the rise of CRM-specific curricula.

Yet CRM education isn't entirely new. Paul Greenberg, president of The 56 Group and cofounder of CRM training company BPT Partners (and a CRM columnist), says that what' been missing was an end goal, or degree. "There were courses in CRM in a few academic institutions, but they weren't for certification," he recalls. He adds that the entire idea of creating BPT was to reward those who kept up on CRM knowledge -- a certification respected by industry groups designed to distinguish the haves from the have-nots. Courses include CRM strategy, customer experience, customer value management, vendor selection and implementation, and social media. Upon completion, attendees are officially recognized as "CRM-certified professionals," a designation that can be found on the CRM Association's Web site.

Nancy Rauseo, CRM consultant and instructor at Florida International University (FIU), has taught undergraduate CRM courses for years and agrees that certification was overdue. "We needed to take it to the next level and develop professional-type programs." Four years ago, Rauseo opened a CRM certification program within FIU's office of executive and professional education. She then helped design an online version in order to, as she puts it, "expand the audience" beyond local recruitment. She reports that, since the online course began 18 months ago, 20 people have completed or are finishing the modules -- taking, on average, 14 weeks. (Most also have full-time jobs.) And the course reflects shifts in the industry: "I'm constantly updating the material as things change in the marketplace," she says. "If I see new types of software coming out, new kinds of applications, obviously I incorporate that into the program."

At North Carolina State University (NCSU), Michael Rappa, distinguished university professor and director of the Institute for Advanced Analytics, started a degree program for a master of science in analytics. "Most organizations today...collect vast amounts of data on just about everything that they do, and we have to understand and draw meaningful insights from it," he says. "There seemed to be an opportunity to develop a very targeted program that dealt specifically with culling very large amounts of data." The 10-month program opened in July 2007, and graduated its first class this past May.

Employers, Rappa says, want prospective workers to have a practical background in the software tools used in the real world -- not just ones that a university may have on hand. Rappa says SAS Institute -- headquartered in nearby Cary, N.C. -- has provided NCSU with tools that allow students to learn on industry-standard technology. (The program also includes non-SAS software.) "Our students graduate much more employer-ready, and can hit the ground running, which is great," he declares.

But will certification ever become a prerequisite for getting a job or advancing in the CRM industry? Most don't think so. "It's [not] to the point of a requirement yet, but I do think [certifications] will distinguish the successful CRM initiatives," Rauseo explains. "Someone who's had this type of training will...already know -- prior to getting into any type of initiative -- what works, what doesn't, and best practices you need to follow as opposed to walking into a CRM initiative and then learning by the seat of your pants."

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