How to buy a CRM System for Higher Ed

How to buy a CRM System for Higher Ed

Many universities are not totally sure how to buy a CRM system. They’re not sure exactly what they’re looking for within a system, don’t completely understand how it works, or are scared of making a mistake. Wouldn’t it be so much easier if these educational institutions had some guidelines to follow when purchasing a CRM system? Below we will highlight a few of the best tips and practices in the CRM buying process from research, to pre-planning, to actual purchasing for colleges and universities.

  1. Define the Problem

Don’t jump to solutions before you define the problem. Many higher ed institutions haven’t defined what they are going to solve yet. To define what you are going to solve, you have to ask yourself, “what do you want?” and “what do you need?”  It’s OK that you don’t know everything about this. User stories are a helpful way to determine these needs and understand your pain points you want to fix. Do not define your wants and needs by the features of the CRM alone.

  1. Check References

Talk to references – if you haven’t talked to current customers of the CRM system and implementation partner you are considering to see if they’re happy, then you’re missing out. Ask them what they wish they would have known and find out from them what worked and what didn’t.  You check Amazon reviews before buying a book, so do the same thing when shopping for a CRM.  Biggest takeaway is that you don’t have to decide alone!

  1. Don’t focus on a product – focus on a Partner

People like to think that there is an easy button when buying a CRM system. Many organizations want to buy an off-the-shelf product because they think that will ease their problems immediately. The reality is a lot of those product companies will simply get you through the implementation, and then you’re left to use a product without enough long term value and you may not understand how to use it fully. Simply put, these companies only offer a short term solution that may not fit you down the line. Best practice is to focus on a partner – someone who can help customize your system, not implement it from a one-size-fits-all approach, and is more focused on your success with the CRM than just getting the system turned on.

  1. Understand how your CRM will fit with other campus systems

Certain systems (Slate, etc.), only solve problems for the admissions department and the admissions department only.. Focusing on the connected campus vision and how your departmental CRM solution will fit together with other departments and campus systems is key to long-term CRM success. When selecting a CRM tool for your university, consider integration to connect multiple systems at your university:  housing, bill payment, admissions, etc. A solution like Salesforce is a stronger platform because it is expandable with the AppExchange and customizable to a multitude of schools.  Don’t get sucked into a departmental solution when you need a university-wide solution with room to grow.

  1. Focus on Total Cost of Ownership – Not Just First Year Sticker Price

Some people buy a car with monthly payments and some people buy a car all at once. Same for schools that purchase a CRM, but if you are renting vs. buying you are going to pay more. Schools need to focus on not just the first year payment but the total cost of ownership (ROI) as a 3-5 year cost. Ask yourself how much this solution is going to cost you in this 3-5 year time frame and then determine if paying on a yearly basis will cost more long-term (you will also have less control and ability to customize if you purchase on that level).

  1. Understand that Go-Live is not the end – it’s just the beginning

When a baby is born, it has all the potential in the world, but it needs to grow to maturity. In the short term, it will need assistance to get there. So if your expectation is that you’re going to plug in your CRM and have all your problems solved, you are setting yourself up for disappointment. A CRM needs to be planned and parented just like a child; upon implementation, most schools will invest in a CRM administrator to make custom tweaks and daily feeding.  You also need good governance practices to enable all important users to give feedback and find out where problems are so they can be solved, and a partner who continues to be engaged and support you as you grow with the system. The #1 reason why CRM systems fail is because organizations don’t understand that you have to train people to use it, actively engage in change management, and not just plug in the tool and expect it to work.

There you have it – the top 6 best practices for Higher Ed institutions when wanting to purchase a CRM system! If you are looking for more information, contact our Higher Ed expert, Jim Hubert, at


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