Conference Report 2015: CRM - overhyped private sector fad or innovative opportunity for HE growth and resilience?

Sue Hatton, Head, Research Development Unit, Coventry University and member of PraxisUnico Conference Committee, reports back on this session featuring speakers Karen Race, Deputy Director of Academic Enterprise, Teesside University; James Fry, Partner, Eversheds LLP, and Carl Dempsey, Vice President, Solutions Engineering, Salesforce.

Private sector organisations have experienced significant commercial benefits as a result of adopting and embracing customer relationship management (CRM) practices. Some have found value in simply structuring, formalising, prioritising and planning their customer contact. Others have taken CRM to its fullest extent: segmenting markets by present and future value, prioritising investment accordingly and designing customised contact and account management programmes that successfully encompass very extensive and often fragmented customer bases. Higher education institutions (HEIs) are increasingly facing the challenges of effectively managing complex enterprise relationships cross-university and also in developing multi disciplinary research partnerships on a regional, national and international basis. The aim of the session was to establish to what extent the adoption of customer relationship management practices can support HEi’s to effectively develop and build a mix of appropriate and enduring relationships to deliver growth and resilience. The audience heard from three speakers:-

  • Karen Race, Deputy Director Academic Enterprise, Teesside University
  • James Fry, Partner at Eversheds LLP
  • Carl Dempsey, VP, Solutions Engineering, Salesforce

 Speakers shared first hand their experience of adopting Customer Relationship Management practices, including what had worked well, the benefits delivered and key learning points. Karen Race, Deputy Director, Academic Enterprise outlined the 8 year journey Teesside has been on from design, roll out and embedding of CRM across the University. CRM was implemented with the primary objective of growing business engagement and with the clear scope of capturing all business interactions from start to finish as well as to monitor and manage all externally funded contracts and recording of contract activities. With senior sponsorship from the Vice Chancellor, Karen led this significant project which has delivered many benefits including the more effective management of customer relationships to deliver business growth; the ability to deliver mass communication; the provision of more robust management information as well as ensuring compliance with data protection regulations. In June, Teesside launched The Forge “where companies can make the most of all the knowledge, insights and networks that Teesside University has to offer”. The work Karen and her team have done on CRM will clearly play an important role in the success of this new venture. James Fry, Partner at Eversheds described how over the last 10 years the firm’s CEO has successfully initiated and led a key account management (KAM) approach to manage client relationships. This is at the heart of the firm’s client strategy and has become a culture and way of working, where colleagues from across practice teams, in offices based nationally and internationally work collaboratively to address client needs. This way of working has delivered many benefits including the segmentation of its client base into 7 key sectors allowing it to specialise and effectively compete in these sectors; as well as this has allowed a more strategic and coordinated approach to be taken to the winning of new clients and development of existing client relationships. It has also been a key vehicle in enabling knowledge sharing between the firm’s partners. From a client’s perspective, there have been many benefits too including being able to access relevant experts and from the fresh and innovative services that have been developed from the knowledge sharing that is in place across the wider firm. Carl Dempsey from Salesforce outlined how CRM enables businesses to become customer focussed, by putting whoever the key stakeholder is at the centre of the relationship. Key to the success of this is the connecting up of a range of what are sometimes silo activities (researchers, donors, partners, projects etc) onto one connected platform. In adopting this approach an organisation is more likely to fully understand its customer needs and be able to delight them. In having a customer platform the organisation will also more able to access and act upon what Carl described as “the dark matter”, which is the key data held on individual laptops, spreadsheets, etc, and in accessing and appropriately sharing this be more agile in responding to customer needs. Some key takeaway messages:-

  1. Customer Relationship Management (CRM) can deliver many strategic and operational benefits including building competitive advantage, effective management of fragmented customer bases, revenue growth, provision of management information and so on.
  2. There are many definitions of Customer Relationship Management but one message that came out from the speakers is that it CRM is more than technology. It is a way of working and set of behaviours which are underpinned by robust processes and enabled through technology.
  3. In implementing CRM top level executive sponsorship is critical to success – Vice Chancellor /CEO to visibly lead and drive this as part of the organisations overall strategic objectives
  4. From the start be clear on aims and objectives.
  5. Consult widely to inform the scope of programme and any system specification.
  6. There are no shortcuts. From the outset this will require a significant investment of time and resources, and it will take many years to fully embed in your organisation.
  7. Start small and grow organically. Pilot in one business area/department/function of your organisation and roll out from there.
  8. Keep it simple! For example, you do not need to capture and track every single relationship – pick a scope of data/customer group that reflects your aims and objectives and stick to it!
  9. Communication with relevant stakeholder groups (staff, customers, commercial partners, etc) throughout is key.
  10. Build in milestone goals and celebrate success!