How to convert more Applicants into enrolled Students

    How do student information systems (SIS) and customer relationship management systems (CRM) compare?

    CRM, SIS, LMS, ERM, ERP: when it comes to managing data and communications in a university, the list of software options available can be confusing. In this article, we decipher the differences between a Student Management System (SIS) and a Customer Relationship Management system (CRM).
    Last updated:
    February 15, 2024

    CRM, SIS, LMS, ERM, ERP: when it comes to managing data and communications in a university, the list of software options available can be confusing to anyone who isn’t well-versed in the language of tech. In this article, we decipher the differences between a Student Management System (SIS) and a Customer Relationship Management system (CRM).

    Before a higher education institution decides to implement a new software system, it’s important that any team using it are educated on the basic functionalities of the package so that they understand what it’s for and how to use it properly.

    Most universities already use an SIS and many are beginning to utilise, and see the benefits of, a modern CRM in a higher education context. Once implemented, a CRM complements well with an admissions suite, and becomes the centre point of a university’s operations and helps to drive university admissions through a targeted and streamlined approach. 

    SIS vs CRM: How do the two systems differ?

    The fundamental difference between an SIS and a CRM is that, process-wise, the former is data-focused and driven by the user (staff member), whereas the latter is business and marketing-driven and is responsive to the customer’s (in this case, stakeholder's) actions or behaviour.  

    In other words, an SIS is more of database, a space in which to store information relating to students and the institution for professionals to access as and when they need to. It is ‘inner facing’, meaning it retains information, rather that ‘outward facing’ -- like a CRM, which has the ability to message out.

    An SIS deals in data-specific communication and can measure institutional metrics, whereas a CRM’s purpose is to drive brand communication. It can also measure marketing ROI and track stakeholder activity and engagement through reporting.

    Although both software systems have comparable merits, a SIS has very little communication functionality compared with a CRM and processes can be disjointed; it can often be difficult for departments to synchronise. However, universities who have a SIS and want to adopt a CRM can do so without losing their data, as long as the two are compatible and able to integrate, which a good CRM will do.

    A modern CRM for higher education is multifunctional: it’s what universities need if they want to really optimise their communications with prospects, students, alumni and donors and what they need if they aim to nurture and retain engagement through personalised interaction.

    A CRM’s reporting functionality helps to do this by allowing departments to monitor performance and see how they can improve their strategy in an admin-light, digestible way. Despite the initial set up cost, the efficiency of the system will save the university money in the long run.

    The segmentation functionality of a CRM enables institutions to group data into cohorts based on demographics, subject, location, etc. This means different groups can be messaged in alternative ways, depending on the level of engagement required. In turn, underrepresented groups can be targeted with specific campaigns intended to increase applications or encourage retention.

    FULL FABRIC: A working example

    The FULL FABRIC CRM is an integrated software solution that helps universities deliver a world-class experience across the whole student journey, in part by optimising the application process and recording successes. 

    Next steps: How to implement a CRM for higher education

    Step 1: Building your gap analysis

    The team will work with you to identify what is missing from your current system and how it can be improved. This is what makes a CRM like FULL FABRIC bespoke, and therefore, more efficient and responsive.

    Step 2: Design your process and application journey

    Again, we'll work alongside you to design a process and application journey that suits your institution and applicant, ensuring it is as user-friendly as possible and optimised for engagement. 

    Step 3: Set-up and customization

    The tech team will integrate and implement your new CRM and customise it according to the institution's needs, preferences and branding. 

    Step 4: User acceptance testing

    The tech team will implement your new CRM, and allocate time for your team to test it thoroughly before taking it live. 

    Step 5: Go Live 

    As soon as everything is in order, the CRM 'goes live' and the journey towards streamlined success begins.  


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    Kate Tattersfield

    Kate Tattersfield is a former teacher turned content creator at FULL FABRIC, specialising in writing for the education sector.

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