Lifetime Lifecycle

If you've hopped in on any of our EMchats, you'll know that there is no secret that I'm amazed (potentially in love? too much?) with CRM.  Combining that with my passion for higher ed, I can't see a more perfect position for myself than one that involves enrollment management, whether that's with an institution or firm.  Is this a plug to hire me? Perhaps.  Mostly though, I'm writing this post to share my experiences with CRM and one big potential idea for institutions to consider.

I was first introduced to CRM via EMAS, the software my institution brought online during my sophomore year.  I trained on entering basic information during telecounseling sessions with prospective students.  For the next three years, I used the system to update communications with these students, largely transferring written notes and forms to the program.  Not incredibly fulfilling.  But, that's what you do when you're a student.  And looking back, I realize that this seemingly meaningless task laid the foundation for where I want to be as a professional.

I had my second experience with CRM during my MBA program at the same institution.  I was lucky to have a phenomenal advisor who offered me the opportunity to design my own class as an elective.  I worked as a grad assistant for my institution's foundation and had the chance to see how relationships were tracked with prospective donors.  The idea of a different type of prospect (combined with significant experiences in other departments across campus) made me think about CRMs in a different way.  I no longer saw this as a solution for admissions offices.  I saw (and see) CRM as a lifetime solution as the student lifecycle never ends.

After designing the course and picking a few sources to study, I needed to think about a project.  As the Office of Advancement wasn't prepared to shell out a significant (and let's be honest, it's usually significant) amount of cash to purchase a system to replace excel spreadsheets and other software already in place--none of which provided CRM capabilities--I was left with a basic solution to show the potential.

Developers cringe.  Access.  And while the end product couldn't possibly offer the suite of options that come with a phenomenal product, think @Intelliworks or, now @HobsonsInc (check it out), it provided a glimpse.  I left the institution before data could be fully integrated, and although I'm just three hours away, without constant presence and pushing projects forward, they tend to remain stagnant or die.  It was a disheartening experience in the end, but we've all seen projects go by the wayside and realize it's just a fact of business.  In the end, I got an A in the class because my advisor believed in the project (and product) and because I expanded both of our knowledge when it came to CRM.

But, my idea isn't to come up with an Access program or have your grad assistants jump in with ideas that they think work better than yours...although it never hurts to listen.  My idea isn't really my idea at all.

One of the final IT courses in my program called on the students to create enrollment management plans for traditional and non-traditional prospective MBA students, connecting these with the EMAS system mentioned earlier.  For me, my experiences came full circle.  As far as definitions go, "traditional" students here were those matriculating immediately from undergrad.  "Non-traditional" were those  working professionals, distance learners, etc.  It's important to make this differentiation when it comes to grad programs because really, there are no "traditional" students.

So our class was split into teams focusing on either traditional, young local professionals, distance learners, and another group or two I can't remember now.  Our campus CRM manager came in and talked about how the admissions funnel worked, how it changed for graduate programs, and current tactics used to reach out to these prospects.  We learned about the CRM system and how it wasn't currently being used for graduate students.

That's when it hit us.  They wanted us to design the strategy.  And that idea? That idea was genius.  We were the research subjects.  We had one another's experiences with recruitment to look on.  We knew what worked for us.  We knew what communications worked and what didn't.

So we developed marketing plans for reaching out to these target audiences.  While we saw the end product of our plans, you can't implement suggestions over night.  This program was continued with the next cohort of students taking the next steps in the process.  I'm presently checking up with my institution to see the current progress/sucess with this program and will update on a future chat.

I know this post was long--thanks for hanging in--but the takeaway here should reach far beyond utilizing MBA students to craft EM strategies with CRMs.  It should reach to an area that touches on putting a great deal of trust in our students.   So, hold focus groups on residence hall layouts with freshmen, bring marketing and comms students on board to help create content for your SM, or ask them to come along on a few admissions road trips. Students are your best asset. They're looking for experience.  You're looking for advice.  In the end, you're looking at one another.

Feel free to leave your comments on both here and Twitter.  We love to keep the conversation going.

-Alex