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Higher Ed Admissions: Navigating CRM Options

  • July 11, 2016|
  • 2 years ago

by Sam Morris

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Global Education Solutions Architect

Higher education institutions are increasingly leveraging customer relationship management platforms (CRMs) to collect, streamline and share prospective student data. These tools not only replace manual processes, saving admissions teams time, but they also enable real-time, often automated, communications flows to engage and track recruits. Staff members are then able to focus their time on more high-touch engagement opportunities on the phone or in person.

Dozens of vendors offer CRM solutions targeted for recruitment, admissions, and enrollment, each with different strengths, technologies, pricing structures, and levels of implementation and ongoing support. Because of this, engaging in your search process or RFP prior to defining the key CRM features, scope and critical success factors for your particular institution will likely be extremely challenging. If you have priorities and a checklist in place, navigating the choices can ensure a far better outcome.

Here are some of the key questions around CRM features that you’ll want to weigh so as to best evaluate your options. Included is guidance on how some of the most successful education CRM platforms—Salesforce’s Education CRM, TargetX, Slate, Hobsons, and Jenzabar—line up with those features.

CRM to Fit Your Program Needs

For institutions setting up a CRM across multiple programs, flexibility and customization implementation as well as actual admissions stages, requirements and deadlines are critical. It is imperative to determine if the platforms you are considering can support multiple applications and processes. If so, does this represent additional cost and implementation scope for you?

From Automated to Personalized and Everything in Between

Many leading CRM products offer a variety of “smart” solutions that leverage the data or web engagement behavior of prospects to deliver tailored real-time information. CRMs are more than just a database, so when considering CRMs for your program, make it clear up front what kind of personalized or automated content you’re expecting the program to generate to ensure you find the perfect choice.

CRMs Beyond Recruiting and Admissions

A master CRM record can cover information across the board, ranging from prospects to students and alumni to social engagements. For example, Salesforce states that its Education CRM can tie in everything from first contact to meal plan software, registrar records, and donor and gift data.

If you intend to leverage the same CRM tool for recruitment marketing as well as student learning management system (LMS) and student information system (SIS), particular attention will need to be paid toward interoperability standards.

Mobile Options

As students, alumni and other stakeholders turn to mobile devices as a means of engagement, building a future-proof CRM might mean prioritizing for mobile from the onset. Even schools are leveraging apps and cloud-based platforms like Google Drive, Dropbox, and messaging services in place of internally hosted solutions.

Increasingly, prospects vet schools through mobile devices, so responsive and interactive templates and communications systems are becoming a necessity. App interfaces that work both offline and online across any and all devices provide maximum access and flexibility for staff.

Each leading CRM (Salesforce, Slate, TargetX, Jenzabar and Hobsons) has you covered in this respect, but their variations require comparisons in terms of flexibility, templates, design and style. For example, TargetX has put all its eggs in the mobile basket, developing what it calls the first mobile-first approach among education CRMs. Its admissions modules allow reviewers to score prospects without ever touching a piece of paper, while its decisioning module allows reviewers to work offline when not connected to the cloud.

On the student prospect side of the equation, with Jenzabar Prospects, students, parents and alumni can all search and register for interviews, campus tours, open houses, or any event with a smartphone via an easy interface.

Tech Support and Customer Service

One important feature that will require attention and consideration is technical support for the CRM. Each system has unique traits and will require different levels of support based on user interactivity.

Slate has a level of customer support that is more of a self-serve platform, with reliance on training videos and webinars through its Slate TV tools. Other platforms like Hobsons feature more extensive product support from customer service teams, but not every organization provides in-depth internal IT support—or has to do so. For example, with the TargetX app, custom applications can be easily built with drag and drop, no coding required, so no IT infrastructure is needed.

Security is also a consideration. Be sure to ask the provider for on-premise and cloud-hosted options, and in the case of cloud-hosted, what security and backup protocols are in place.

Factoring in Cost

While many factors will go into the CRM solution cost for your school, how vendors price their services is an important consideration. Some providers offer a variety of package and premium features, while Slate offers a one-price strategy, without add-on fees. A flat fee structure may be beneficial for you, but being able to opt into premium features or new pricing tiers year-to-year or program-to-program might make more sense.

Picking Your Perfect CRM Partner

New offerings are popping up all the time. The ecosystem has hungry startups with innovative business models and technologies as well as big name players. Among these are larger market leaders as well as more agile, lean partners. Determining your specific needs will aid in the decision-making process.

Takeaway: With dozens of players entering the higher ed CRM field, it can be confusing and challenging to select one. We recommend that you define and focus on the key features and workflows that will ensure success for your institution. With those unique goals in mind, the selection process will be a lot easier, and the ultimate decision will yield the best possible fit.


1. “Higher Ed” Salesforce. 2016.
2. “Use Social, Mobile, and Cloud to Become a Connected Campus” Salesforce. 2016.
3. “Slate” Technolutions. 2016.
4. “Make Purposeful Connections” Radius by Hobsons. 2016.
5. “Jenzabar” Jenzabar. 2016.
6. “Campuswide CRM for Higher Education” TargetX. 2016.
7. “Using CRMs in Higher Education Recruitment” Education Dive. July 20, 2015.