Read this long post before you implement your next CRM

CRMs cost a lot of money and take a lot of time to implement, but the right one drives enrollment and makes communication better. The wrong CRM hurts more than it helps, and without a good CRM, you’re just flying blind. Is it a bird? Is it a plane? Whatever it is, it’s crashing and burning!

CRMs are essential for enrollment managers, marketers and fundraisers. Don’t have one and get left behind; get the wrong one and let the pain begin.

I’ve seen many tales of CRM failure: The CRM wasn’t fully implemented, doesn’t integrate or has to be integrated manually. The CRM hasn’t produced results because staff doesn’t like using it. I’ve heard rumors of schools who love their CRM, but these can’t be substantiated.

Many CRMs never get off the ground or become bottomless money pits swimming with tech consultants, project managers and “integration specialists” who don’t know their you-know-what from a you-know-what.

Most of us aren’t part-time IT geniuses, but here’s the good news: You can successfully implement a CRM without being a tech whiz. Implementation is a process.  


 There is no such thing as a “technology solution.” Let me say it again: There is no such thing as a “technology solution.” That’s just a B.S. term salespeople came up with to sell you junk you may or may not need.

If you are not defining clear, documented processes through every step of your admissions or fundraising funnel, no “technology solution” will solve anything for you except where to spend all your budget money. That doesn’t mean there isn’t great technology – there is, and you should use it. But consider this:

You are the technology solution.

That’s right. There is no greater technology out there than your mind. Put it to work. Get this stuff written out on paper before you do anything else:

  • What are our office’s goals and how do they tie into our university strategic plan?

  • How do we measure them in cold, hard numbers that increase university revenue?

  • What actual, physical actions do we need to move those cold hard numbers up or down?

  • What is our step-by-step, written-down process for repeating these activities consistently?

  • What information do we need to collect to do those actions quicker and better?

  • How do we collect this information, who needs it, and when?

  • What do we do with this information once we collect it?

  • Who is responsible for each step in each process?

Ignore this step at your own peril. Remember, no matter what some salesperson tells you, there is no such thing as a technology solution. You are the technology solution.   


Choosing the right CRM is critical. From Salesforce to Hobson’s, there are a lot of great platforms out there. One may be right or wrong for you. Fortunately, you already know what you want your CRM to do. This is the time to ask lots and lots of questions. It’s also time to get those questions into writing via a well-scoped request for proposal (RFP).

Here are a few key early activities that can help you to better define your CRM needs before you move into the RFP stage. Clearly define the CRM’s scope

  • What information it needs to collect?

  • What it needs to do with that information?

  • Who will use it and what are their essential tasks?

  • Who will maintain it and service the system?

Having a concise set of expectations buy-in helps when your implementation devolves into a series of endless questions about (1) what data to track (2) where to put it and (3) how to get it there. The classic mistake too many institutions make is trying to make their institution fit their CRM rather than making the CRM fit their institution. Know exactly what you need.

CRM salespeople will tell you that their platform cures cancer because they are selling you a CRM. I’m sure there are honest salespeople out there, but you won’t know if yours is until it’s too late. Do your research. Call other schools who use the product. Read online. See if they will let you have access to their support community to see common issues. Do your due diligence. Like the old newspaper adage goes, “if your mother tells you she loves you, calls three sources and check it out.”


Once you pick a CRM that serves you (and not the other way around), you’ll work with your project manager to draw up a realistic implementation plan. This plan should be complete, should involve others and should be somewhere in the timeframe of six months to one year. Make sure others have seen this plan and given input, but don’t let it get railroaded by “good ideas.” Remember, we’ve set clear goals. You will not be able to do everything before you launch. This is a version of what Silicon Valley types call minimum viable product. Your goal is not to make it absolutely perfect, it’s to get core services running perfectly. You can perfect it later.  

  • Set clear goals for milestones and don’t move them.

  • Create a timeline that is realistic and won’t be adapted too much.

  • Set clear responsibilities and make sure everyone knows their role.

Don’t settle for an implementation plan that isn’t user-friendly. Your goal is a CRM that is fully integrated and automated.


I hope you like pom-poms because you’re about to become a CRM cheerleader. Remember, everyone else has something more important to be doing than helping you put together the CRM. Make sure these folks become your best buddies:

Executive leadership – Without executives to back you up, you’ll have no recourse when Marge, Chief Obstructionist in the Office of Slowing Things Down, makes you her target. Make the case to executive leadership, keep them updated and use them to help clear obstacles.

IT – Involve IT fully in the process. Most likely, they’ll want to be consulted, and you’ll need them to help integrate systems. An added bonus is that many IT professionals are experts in project management and ITIL – they know how to bring these services to life.

Marketing – Remind them that helping you reach your goals helps them reach theirs. Marketing is very digital these days – they’ll want the information as well to create better communications, and you’ll want their help to understand data collection. They will also help you by updating key information on the web. If you’re in marketing, and reading this, involve yourself in the discussions. You need to be there.

Other Stakeholders  – Remember, this is a loose guide, not a fixed road. Your situation is or will be different. Involve anyone who can help you achieve your goal of standing up your CRM.


Your CRM can’t do everything. In fact, the dirty secret that most tech experts won’t tell you is this: Technology does exactly what you tell it to do. It doesn’t read minds … yet (though some think that’s coming soon). It doesn’t fix problems. It simply does things you could do on your own, faster. Way faster.

There are so many data questions to answer – what data goes in what module and how it translates to another module, how to collect data, who looks at it, what data matches with other data, what data matches with data you’re already collecting, how that data moves between systems … it goes on and on. That’s why we set clear goals and processes earlier.

Keep your end user in mind. What data do they need to do their job? What would give them a little edge? Focus on those data points. Don’t try to do everything. The end result should be a system so simple that literally anyone could be trained on it in a few hours.


You did it! You implemented your CRM. That leads us to an essential part of the CRM implementation process: It never ends. You now are the proud parent of a baby CRM, and it’s your job to make sure the village helps you raise it.

Keep training your staff and keep them training other offices. Keep selling the value of the system. No one cares about the million features you just successfully implemented. They want to know exactly two things: What can it do for me and how easily can it do it? Show what it does.

Take a value-based approach. Think about every training audience and what their goals are. Show them how the system helps them accomplish those goals. Keep building, keep training … it’s almost time to implement a new CRM.

P.S. One very important thing to remember: When you change something in one place, it probably means it’s got to change in other places, too. Keep a committee or group that discusses these changes. You don’t want to be the one that presses a button that sends everything crashing down.

Darren White is the principal consultant for D. White & Company, and the former Associate Vice President for Marketing & Communications at Texas Wesleyan University, where his team implemented a fully-integrated CRM. DWCo. helps make higher ed more effective. Want some help in building an implementation plan or defining your office processes? Let’s start a project today.