How to convert more Applicants into enrolled Students

    Choosing the Right CRM for Higher Education

    Last updated:
    July 10, 2024

    Every university and higher education provider will understand how challenging it can be to juggle the complex web of relationships day-to-day. From prospective students to alumni to donors, it's a huge undertaking, so anything that makes this easier is a godsend.

    This is why picking the right Customer Relationship Management (CRM) for your university is such an important decision.

    When you google “CRM” a few usual suspects show up — Microsoft Dynamic, Salesforce, HubSpot, Sugar, etc. But are these CRMs actually a good fit for your institution?

    That’s what I’m going to help you with today. I’ll guide you through the different things you need to consider when choosing a CRM for your university, so you can make an informed decision by the end.

    In case you want to skip ahead, here are the 4 factors we’re going to focus on:

    1. Ease of implementation
    2. Support & updates
    3. Cost
    4. Industry-specific features

    By the end of this guide, you’ll know what to look out for, and be able to make the best decision for your institution.

    Need to boost your higher education marketing? Schedule a demo and start transforming your outreach today!

    1 - Ease of implementation

    When you’re deciding which CRM to use, an important consideration is how easy it is to roll out. You don’t want to decide on a CRM, only to find out you can’t use it for another year!

    Unfortunately, this is more common than you might think.

    This is one of the biggest flaws with popular options like Microsoft Dynamics CRM and Salesforce. It’s super powerful because it can be configured any way you like, but only through extensive development, which can take more than a year.

    That’s because it’s not designed for higher education, so you need to hire extensive resources, whether in-house or external, to configure it to meet the specific needs of higher education. Some companies even need to hire full-time developers solely to work on maintaining and customising their CRM installation.

    The timeline and complexity will vary from CRM to CRM, but it’s important to keep this in mind as you make your decision.

    On top of the roll-out, you also need to think about how quickly the staff will take to learn the new software. If the CRM has been heavily customised, there won’t be any documentation or training materials, so you’ll need to create and deliver your own training.

    If you’ve not made any customisations, it should be an easier process. But if the CRM isn’t designed for higher-education, it still might be a big learning curve. 

    You also need to consider the usability and ease of use for your team. Generic CRMs are often not user friendly or intuitive, and will require extensive training to get everyone up to speed. 

    Related: How to make a higher education CRM project successful

    2 - Support & Updates

    The next thing you need to consider is how well the CRM is supported by the vendor.

    If anyone on your team comes across a problem, issue, or bug, you need to be confident that there’s a support team available to help you through these moments.

    This is another problem area for heavily customised CRMs. The more it’s changed from its out-the-box settings, the less the software provider can reasonably be expected to help. They would need to learn your bespoke processes every time there’s a problem, which can grind things to a halt.

    You also need to be mindful of version support and updates. You won’t need to worry about this with most CRMs because there’s only one ‘live’ version at a time. You probably won’t ever need to know what version you’re on.

    But certain big-name CRMs, you can actually get stuck on an old version or unsupported version of the software. This is normally because your customisations are made specifically for a version, so as years pass you can’t easily (or affordably) upgrade.

    This isn’t a problem in the short-term, but it’s not uncommon for a vendor to completely stop supporting a version after a few years, leaving some customers in a tricky situation.

    Top Tip: If you choose a CRM with this kind of versioning, make sure the vendor agrees to support your version for a specified amount of time

    3 - Investment

    As much as we wish it wasn’t, cost is an important factor in most decisions we have to make.

    The most immediate cost you need to think about is how much you’ll have to pay for the CRM — the implementation and then for the licence. Sometimes this is a monthly fee, sometimes a yearly fee, and sometimes it’s a one-off fee (this option is increasingly rare).

    If it’s an ongoing cost, you need to consider the affordability in the long-run. Can you still afford it if the purse-strings get tightened a bit? Or if the pricing is per-student, how much will it cost if your university grows?

    Some CRMs have a per-licence/programme payment model, and others will charge you per-student. If it’s the latter, you want to look for a CRM that charges you on a marginal curve, so the more students you have, the bigger the discount.

    But there are also other costs you need to think about.

    I’ve already talked about the extra steps required to customise a CRM for this industry, and this comes at a cost. Whether you’re paying the vendor, or hiring external help, this work will add a sizable chunk to the overall cost.

    You also need to consider the training and support costs. Do you need to hire someone internally to do this work, or does the vendor provide this as part of the regular pricing?

    You need to answer all of these questions to get a clear idea of what the CRM will actually cost you overall.

    Related: The Benefits of Investing in Software for Higher Education

    4 - Industry-specific features

    It's time to address the elephant in the room — higher education institutions are very different to 'normal' businesses. Because of this, you need to also consider the industry-specific features you’ll need from your CRM.

    Ideally these features will come with the CRM out-of-the-box, but you could also consider bespoke customisations on generic CRMs. This comes with the extra time and investment I’ve already mentioned, but the important thing is that your CRM can support these key tasks.

    Two of these features you need are admissions and enrollment management. This is the feature every university needs, so you need it to be good.

    Specifically, you need to be able to easily see where each candidate is during the recruitment and admissions process, and be able to easily access the student details when you need them.

    You also want reporting specific to this, tracking things like number of started and submitted applications, conversion rate, etc.

    Another specialised feature you need to have is payments. Sure, there are other ways of solving this problem, but being able to view all student payments within your CRM makes your life SO MUCH easier.

    Whatever your institution's pricing model, you want to be able to open your CRM and know exactly who's paid, and what the payment terms are.

    Introducing Full Fabric — A CRM built for higher education

    The CRMs I’ve mentioned in this article all have their own strengths and weaknesses, but there’s only one CRM that was built specifically for universities and higher education institutions.

    We built Full Fabric with higher education in mind, dedicated to creating a CRM that does everything you need it to, and more.

    1. Ease of implementation: Because it was designed for higher education, you don’t need to worry about extensive customisations or extra development. We also offer data migration tools to make the transition simple, and our user-friendly interface is easy to learn.
    2. Support & Updates: We have a dedicated support team that aren’t just Full Fabric experts, they’re higher education experts. We also provide an extensive knowledge base, and the app is constantly kept up to date.
    3. Cost: Our pricing is competitive with other CRMs, but there’s no extra costs for maintenance and support. 
    4. Industry-specific features: We’ve built a higher education CRM, which means it comes with all mod-cons. You get admissions and enrollment management, built-in payments, student information and learning management, and so much more

    Full Fabric is more than a CRM, it’s a suite of tools created for you to deliver a world-class experience for your past, present, and prospective students.

    Interested to see how Full Fabric helps you to deliver an unrivalled experience, from communication through to enrolment? Schedule a free demo today!


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    Tania Roquette

    I am the Head of Solutions at FULL FABRIC. I am passionate about education and technology.

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