Graduate Management News

August 2014

The Newsletter of the Graduate Management Admission Council

Making Process and People a Priority: CRM Best Practices from Babson College

Already proven in other industries, customer relationship management (CRM) has become more entrenched in higher education, helping graduate programs get closer to the holy grail of “full visibility across the constituent lifecycle.”


CRM is not the be-all, end-all, but one – albeit essential – tool in the toolbox to transform your relationship management processes. If you’re surprised to hear that from a CRM vendor, you shouldn’t be; technology is only as powerful as the business processes it supports and the people who use it. 

One example of this comes from the F.W. Olin Graduate School of Business at Babson College, which implemented the Enrollment Rx cloud-based CRM system in 2012. Driving organizational change is not always a simple task. Only by dedicating time and attention to both the business processes and people that support the CRM system was Babson able to achieve its goals: to unify recruitment and admissions, improve efficiencies across departments and support high-quality communication with students. 

Babson’s attention to detail, structure, and commitment to the project offer a glimpse into best practices that can be applied to various programs. 

Let’s start with best practices around business processes. 

1. Establish clear goals and expectations. Of course, a successful CRM implementation requires that you set clear goals, yet the vision state may be more powerful than the original mandate for simply a new technology system. By engaging in some organizational soul searching, you will be better prepared to take full advantage of the system and allow for greater change that delivers more value.

Petia Whitmore, dean of Graduate Admissions at Babson College, viewed the effort as an overhaul of the entire enrollment system. According to Whitmore, having a clear, compelling charge for the project was key, including a smooth process where marketing and admissions activities were aligned; where the people and the technology serving these constituents were aligned; and where constituent information was all in one place and flowed well between all departments.

2. Examine business processes. Technology should support, not govern, business processes. To that end, it’s critical to scrutinize existing business processes from the very start in order to design and adapt new business processes that exploit the capabilities of your CRM. Babson took a “deep, honest look” at what wasn’t working well in their complex admissions process during two major iterations of business process review. This resulted in 40 visual, easy to understand documents describing processes that could then be used to fine-tune the CRM.

3. Design with a focus. Never lose sight of your mission; every business process evaluation and goal setting exercise should map back to the institution’s larger mission. In the case of Babson, the guiding principle was supporting the candidate: “Every time we envisioned how a process worked, we had the candidate experience in the center of the design,” said Whitmore. As a result, the CRM system has enabled Babson to have a richer relationship with candidates and communicate with them in a much more tailored way.

Make Sure the “People” Part of CRM Is Delivering Maximum Value 

Technology is only as powerful as the business processes it supports and the people who use it. CRM is no exception. With the implementation of a CRM, the F. W. Olin Graduate School of Business has been able to accelerate how quickly it processes applications, improves efficiencies across departments, and nurtures richer relationships with candidates. Yet technology alone was not the answer. 

Below are some key best practices as they relate to the people involved in any CRM project. 

1. Secure executive sponsorship. Yes, getting executive sponsorship is often a recommendation, but Babson took it seriously and made sure the executive team, including the president, the CIO, and the dean of the graduate school bought off on the CRM project. While viewed as a nice-to-have for some, the grad programs that heed this advice will be more successful in the long run.

We went in with a clear understanding that this would be a tremendous amount of work,” said Whitmore. “The team knew how important it was to the very senior leadership of the graduate school and we had a plan to keep them engaged.” Once the team got on the same page with a common goal, they then needed to allow enough time for systematic conversations to happen.

2. Determine the players… and get them talking! To ensure imminent change is understood and accepted, identify all key decision makers and gather them in the same room to agree on project goals and benefits. Having a combination of expertise – from admissions/recruiting to marketing and IT, to even someone with a strong project management background who could direct them down the right path – was critical to Babson’s success. The five-person team spent a couple of hours every week (“sacred time” according to Whitmore) discussing the project goals and process.

3. Capitalize on the “Aha!” moments. Once you realize and agree on how you are defining the challenge, be hyper-aware of the “Aha!” moments. Continually document both the discovery and vision state in order to adequately connect processes with the CRM system. For example, there were discrepancies in how recruiters vs. operations team vs. marketing were counting inquiries and applications; in order for Babson to establish a fair assessment of what the pipeline looked like, they needed to determine a consistent way for naming the different stages of the application process and establish uniform reports.

For certain knots to be untangled, it took two to three meetings with a department to figure out how they’re working now and how they should work in the future,” said Whitmore. While time intensive and deliberate, this level of commitment minimizes churn and propels forward progress.

4. Design for mobile. For candidates and staff alike, mobile is a must-have today. Babson met this demand with the “Babson Bridge,” an online portal that lets candidates see their application status in real-time, and that lends itself to being used from a mobile device. Whitmore often accesses the system on her iPad when traveling, and even her iPhone for delivering quick reports to management. “We’re often asked for a quick status,” she said. “Response is expected to be fast, and you never know when that’s going to catch you.” From the perspective of admissions and recruiting staff, if the CRM wasn’t accessible in a user-friendly way via mobile devices, it wouldn’t have been effective.

No matter what phase you’re in – evaluation, new deployment or fine-tuning an existing CRM – never lose site of the fact that people and processes are equally important to the technology itself. Find a long-term partner who goes beyond simply handing over the technology and instead, who understands your needs, speaks your language and becomes an invested player in the project’s success. 

About the Author

Marc Satin is COO of Enrollment Rx, a provider of cloud-based CRM solutions.