Synchronizing Marketing & Admissions Data: CRM Shopping List

Synchronizing Marketing & Admissions Data: CRM Shopping List

The quickest way to get a rowdy conversation going with a group of higher education marketing and enrollment professionals is to ask them what CRM their school uses. In my experience, no one is completely happy with their current software solution, and the challenges facing their current teams. The tricky thing about Enterprise software for higher education institutions is simply how entrenched the school becomes with the company and with the solution. The contracts are generally 3 to 5 years long, and the cost of implementation is so high that many schools will simply renew their contract indefinitely in order to not have to pay that upfront cost again.

Once the situation becomes untenable, of course, a school may begin the long and tedious process of purchasing a new CRM system. This is usually done through a RFP process because of the complexity and size of the purchase, which is a nightmare in its own right. I’ve had many conversations across the industry with people who are excited about a new path forward, but are frozen by the enormity of the task at hand. As I said before, CRMs are behemoths, their structure can be labyrinthine, and the correct internal support system can be just as complicated.

Buying a CRM can feel like this — Go in with a plan so you don’t get overwhelmed.


So, here is a shopping list for buying a new CRM. While this list is not meant to be comprehensive, it should be a great starting point for a team that is considering jumping back into the RFP fray. First, we’re going to start with a list of integral questions you should have answers to from the relevant decision maker before you even start asking for proposals.

1. Who is this CRM for, and what will it be used for?

  • This is an important question that rarely has a complete answer before the purchasing process begins, and it can be a critical error. What offices will be using the CRM? For what purposes? Is this simply a communications tool for potential students? Does it need to drive an application? Multiple program applications? Make sure you are absolutely sure about the Who and What of this purchase, before the process goes off the rails immediately.

2. Who will be on the Implementation Committee once this is purchased?

  • There needs to be enough representation to get the correct goals and needs across, but this group cannot be too big. The entire group may be ten people, but the day to day decision makers need to be smaller than that, possibly no more than four. Do not let your group get bogged down with too many cooks.

3. Who will own the Administrative backend of the CRM once you have purchased it?

  • This is generally shunted to IT. While this is good practice, I would highly encourage any team to include someone from Admissions, and someone from Marketing in the Admin process as well. Broadly speaking, IT does not move at the pace of Admissions and Marketing, and does not understand or anticipate the needs of those offices. You need someone at the table that can speak to those needs.

Do you have a support structure in place to encourage/demand buy-in of the system?

  • Your school is potentially using a boatload of money to buy this CRM. Do you have a plan in place to get people on board with using it day to day? Have you defined use cases and roles that will require training?


Once you know that you’re internally prepared to make the change, that you have the buy-in, and that you have a plan in place, you’ll need to make sure you’re ready to evaluate the different companies who answer the call for proposals. The different systems will start to blend together, and most of them will have similar functionalities. While the RFP document can be a cumbersome beast, let it do some of the work for you. Do not ask vague questions. Demand specific descriptions of functionality to help you pare down the list of possibilities. Here are some examples of a good CRM Shopping List:

1. How does data importing work, can it be automated?
2. Can data be easily silo’d between offices?

  • This is an incredibly important question if the CRM will be an Enterprise, cross-campus solution. Make Sure that the company knows this is priority if that is the case.

3. Is there a robust set of permissions for multiple levels of users?
4. Is there a locked in set of values for data entering the system to check origination?

  • One of the primary uses of a CRM is to get a better reporting picture of the Admissions Funnel. If you cannot be certain how a contact got into the system, you cannot track them through it.

5. Can it run applications? If so, can it run multiple variants of requirements, questions and fees based on dynamic logic?

  • This is critical for most institutions, but if the CRM is going to be used for Graduate Admissions, not having this is essentially a non-starter. An application that adjusts to multiple parameters using dynamic logic is absolutely necessary for an office trying to juggle dozens of programs with wildly different requirements.

6. Can it run events? If so, same question as 5. Also, can it create multiple/repeating events?
7. How easy is the software to integrate with other systems? Is that part of the onboarding process?
8. How much dynamic logic can Communication Flows handle? Can it trigger off of any set of values, are there exits rules to get someone out of a Prospect Communication Flow once they apply, etc.
9. What is the support structure from the company, and is there an associated cost? What is the timetable for response when there is a critical error? Will we have dedicated support personnel?
10. What does the implementation process look like, and how long is a typical implementation? Same for Data Migration? What do you consider best practices for migrating data from a legacy system?
11. How robust is the reporting of the CRM? Can I do analysis of year-over-year results as well as “snapshot” reports based on SQL logic? Are data fields easily created/modified? Is there a dashboard or other tool to see multiple reports?

There are millions of other questions you could ask. Price, accessibility, privacy, security, lead generation – you could write an entire book on how to navigate the purchasing of a CRM system. But these questions should help you develop your scope, your needs, and your path to success with your chosen CRM partner. Interrogate the company about reporting and functionality, and interrogate yourself on your long term plans and goals. Hopefully, at the end of the blood, sweat, and tears, you’ll have a powerful asset helping you grow, instead of a liability holding you back.

Jesse Homan
Jesse Homan
March 14, 2019