Managing Relationships Is Hardly Academic

When CRM companies talk about CRM for higher education, they generally refer to a student relationship system that includes a data warehouse that stores information about students from many different sources. CRM student systems have proven to be affective and many higher education institutions have installed CRM systems to manage student data, however, there is another use for CRM in higher education that is rarely discussed.

Today, higher education institutions not only need to manage their relationships with students, they also need to manage activities and relationships with companies and foundations. Universities have many different types of relationships with large commercial companies. Common activities include: professors doing consulting projects; organizational executives conducting guest lectures at the University and serving on advisory boards; the placement of paid and unpaid student interns into the organization, sometimes from multiple academic disciplines; job placement opportunities for graduates; the tracking of alumni that may be working at a company; academic partnerships where higher education institutions offer specialized programs of study for company employees and executives; funded research projects ; grants; or the solicitation of funds for academic development.

All the activities listed above originate from different departments in a University and University departments are notoriously independent. Unless there is a special effort made, there is no coordination of contacts with outside organizations. It is not unusual for several departments in a University to simultaneously conduct activities with a company that would benefit from a more coordinated approach. Universities generally do not have a mechanism to share contact and activity information and they are usually unaware of the activity of other departments. University departments may also consider their activities and contacts to be proprietary and they may be reluctant to openly share detailed information.

The challenges that universities have in developing and maintaining a successful CRM program appear to be found in the culture, overall organizational structure, and inherent nature of academic institutions. Specifically, the academic environment fosters individualism at both faculty and 'school level'. Sharing and 'team goals' are not inherent in this environment. Incentives are designed to foster research and individual growth, as opposed to achieving common goals that support the overall advancement of the organization. Finally, there is a mixed orientation within the academic world. Faculty strive to please students, department chairman, the dean of their school and tenure committees. The focus is often internal, as opposed to external.

Academic institutions have a shared governance policy. To execute a multi-departmental project such as CRM there would need to be support from the administration of multiple schools and the faculty. This is in contrast to how most commercial organizations are managed. Commercial organizations typically have a hierarchical management structure. Senior management is expected to create a corporate culture and direction.

There are some common leadership activities that have proven to be essential for an effective CRM program. These activities transcend both the commercial and academic worlds. They include:

  • Senior management/administrator actively supports and is intimately involved in the CRM process. This is typically characterized by coordinating senior management interaction with their peers within the customer organization. Ideally, this relationship allows for sharing strategic insights and identifying opportunities for enhanced business opportunities.
  • A team/committee composed of a cross section of disciplines is formed. Team members are tasked with developing a plan designed to enhance the portfolio and develop synergies within the various disciplines. In addition, the team is responsible for coordinating all of the activities relating to the project. The plan should contain:
    o A thorough understanding of the project, business model and potential value to the organization.
    o Strategic and financial objective
    o An understanding of the decision making process
    o Key relationships and contacts
    o Team member assignments
    o A process to capture data
  • Stakeholders individually and collectively realize value from the project
  • A project manager is appointed

    CRM vendors and Universities should examine the potential benefits of using CRM as a tool to help manage their relationships with companies and foundations. The potential benefits could be substantial.

    The benefits of cross selling multiple products to a single consumer have long been understood by commercial organizations however Universities often have no mechanism in place to coordinate activities with large commercial companies. A CRM system that tracks the activity of multiple departments could be beneficial to all departments concerned.

    In summary, the university is designed to foster and support individual and departmental growth and development within the academic community. The term 'customer' is not a recognized entity and therefore little if any coordinated activities are undertaken. Strong leadership and the establishment of a relationship orientation will be required to make an organizational relationship management system a success in higher education.

    Dr. Richard Lutz is a full time professor and administrator in the Organizational Leadership Program at Quinnipiac University, and Prof. Leonard LaBonia is the Director of Academic Partnerships for The College of Professional Studies and part-time marketing professor at Quinnipiac University.

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