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CRM Pioneers: One Decade Later

Reflections of an Associate Vice Provost at early adopter institution Cal Poly SLO

Working at a university that gets 45,000 applications for 3,800 spaces, Cal Poly-San Luis Obispo Associate Vice Provost for Marketing and Enrollment Development James Maraviglia (photo, right) is grateful every day for the efficiency and effectiveness of the institution's Constituent Relationship Management system.

It was just a little more than ten years ago that the university identified its need for a CRM system that would allow it to develop high-touch relationships with its constituents using the types of communications technologies that fit them best--and handle high-volume communications with great accuracy, timeliness, and customization. The university's groundbreaking work was recognized with one of the Campus Technology Innovator program awards in 2005. Maraviglia, who led the development of the university's CRM from its conception to this day, gives CT an update.

Mary Grush: What has changed most over the last decade for CRM in higher education?

Jim Maraviglia: Communications methods have changed radically. Since students moved into the 4G world, using devices like iPhones, iPads, and Droids to communicate, there needed be a corresponding shift in how we communicate and manage our relationships with them. Our CRM system allows us to customize these information exchanges to a high degree and provides the kind of immediacy today's students expect, with the communication tools they use. We build in choice and preference options--so we communicate with our constituents on their turf, in their time, and with their tool sets.

Grush: Could you give me a brief sketch of CRM development over time at Cal Poly SLO?

Maraviglia: Just over a decade ago, higher education was at the very nascent stages of CRM. Cal Poly worked with a venture capitalist, Hobsons, to help the university develop its own CRM system, which we launched in early 2000. Initially, the system focused on recruitment, but over the years it has expanded into other areas, helping us communicate better with enrolled students and alumni and providing us with many new applications of CRM.

Today, we have a full-blown CRM that uses current communications channels and includes not just e-mail, but video messaging, text messaging, broadcast messaging, instant messaging, VIP microsites, Web casting, virtual viewbooks, GPS guided tours, 4G phone apps, and more. All of this communication is centrally managed through our CRM system, which allows us to use our data as institutional intelligence as well as to drill down all the way to the individual student, applicant, or prospect. And our CRM lifecycle maintains these relationships well past an individual's graduation.

Grush: What are the implications for costs and budgets?

Maraviglia: Our CRM strategy has helped us through the dire budget cuts of the early 2000s and the worst budget cuts of today. We don't have to spend a lot of "man hours" on traditional, paper- and phone-based outreach. We have shifted all our efforts to fostering the relationships through the CRM--which in fact allows us to deliver better, more timely services.

Grush: Can you leverage analytics with the CRM?

Maraviglia: That's an absolutely key element of our CRM strategy. We find that we now have the ability to measure everything we are doing, from the overall efficiency of our campaigns in general, to the effectiveness of specific communications with individuals. With all the digital touches we have with our constituents, we are now in a whole new realm of data acquisition. And we can use real data to trigger follow-up campaigns and engage in better-informed institutional strategic planning.

Our CRM is relatively easy to use: We are building filters with attributes consistently and are able to move data around much more easily than ever--this is not like working with an impossibly complex data warehouse or ERP. And the technological advances in the communication tools and applications we use have allowed us to capture data from all the various communication channels--and to use analytics to trigger messaging as well as measure results from specific channels.

Grush: Do your communications policies and tools change significantly for various constituent groups, such as enrolled students versus applicants?

Maraviglia: Very much so. You have to consider and plan out your communications strategies and tool sets carefully to address specific requirements at different points within the constituent lifecycle. For example, once a student enrolls, it actually becomes a lot more complicated for the university to communicate with them than dealing with prospects or even applicants. FERPA protections, who has the right to access a student's information, and what is considered sensitive data are certainly critical issues. The CRM and communication tool sets are there; they are available. It's plugging them in and utilizing them in an appropriate way that's critical. At all points in time in the student lifecycle--from before they are enrolled to long after they graduate--the person responsible for any communication has moral, ethical, and legal responsibilities to take into consideration and assure that no one's rights are violated.

As an example, in looking at strategies, I consider the sometimes vast differences between applicants at the "front door" and graduates at the "back door," the road ahead for the registrar with enrollments, or alumni and corporate relations--these are not simple pictures. But for a campus that believes in building relationships and fostering connections throughout the constituent life cycle, it's an absolute necessity to stay current and pay attention to the new values and affordances a CRM system brings.

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