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March 18

How Otterbein Transitioned to a Multi-Platform CRM to Drive Marketing Insights


This week, my co-host Troy Singer and I got to speak to Data Analyst Jeurell Smith of Otterbein University on The Higher Ed Marketer Podcast. He shares what they learned during their recent CRM migration.

It won’t shock you to know it was a massive undertaking for Otterbein University when they transitioned from their previous CRM of seven years to a more robust, multi-platform CRM.

All these years, Otterbein has leveraged marketing, student, alumni, and donor data to inform their institutional and marketing initiatives.

Yet in spite of their prior success in using “big data” to drive marketing and recruitment decisions, Otterbein suffered from many of the same problems as any higher education institution.

Each of the institution’s many divisions used their own data systems.

Of course, this created departmental silos where their data team had to create data flows between the systems so that executive leadership could see the big picture.

That meant every month, data analysts consolidated massive amounts of information between Otterbein’s divisions such as academic affairs, enrollment, and marketing.

Although they had successfully done this for years, they realized that transitioning to a multi-platform CRM system could save the institution thousands of hours and dollars every year.

One Does Not Simply Meme | ONE DOES NOT SIMPLY; CHANGE CRM'S | image tagged in memes,one does not simply | made w/ Imgflip meme maker

via Imgflip GIF Maker

That’s why I was so excited to have Otterbein University’s Jeurell Smith on The Higher Ed Marketer Podcast.

Jeurell Smith is an Institutional Data Analyst in Otterbein’s Academic Affairs Division.

With over 15 years of experience working in higher education, Jeurell recently led the Otterbein team through a massive CRM migration that touched the data centers of multiple divisions within the university.

In this interview, Jeurell gave us a peek into their process and how they transitioned to a multi-platform CRM to drive marketing insights.

1. Determine what you need.

It was becoming apparent that after seven years with their legacy CRM, it was time to make a big shift in Otterbein’s approach to using big data.

The first step was to determine what they would need out of whatever new CRM system they chose to implement.

So we knew we needed much better reporting from the marketing and the mission side of things from our communications. We also wanted to leverage hosting applications.

And we wanted to also be able to collect behavioral analytics. A lot of these new, more modern CRM’s tend to collect a lot of the behavioral interactions that they have within that system.

For Jeurell and his team, having behavioral analytics baked-in to the system was high on the priority list.

Just being able to hook your database system into your website, landing pages, email, and other digital marketing platforms can really give you a really clear picture on what prospective students and their families are interested in.

2. Take your time.

It’s natural that when you want to change CRM’s to want to get it done now.

But in talking with Jeurell, we saw how Otterbein approached their migration slowly.

They took some time to work out the process in different phases.

Putting a project timeline and migration plan together helped see the project through with little to no fuss.

3. Bring all the stakeholders to the table as quickly as possible.

One thing I really liked about Jeurell’s story was how they formed a leadership committee to steer the CRM migration from the beginning.

One secret to their success was how they made sure all the CRM stakeholders were represented on this committee.

We first started with a request for proposal process, which brought together kind of a committee of leadership… anything from the top level VP of enrollment management, to our marketing directors, admissions counselor managers, graduate office, and front end users who actually have the hands-on responsibility with some of the data.

And, of course, IT was a part of this, but we put together that group just to start the process of inquiring what systems to even look at.

So as we started to put that list and information together from these pre-meetings, we then went into a demo process.

4. Use a consistent “question structure.”

Something I learned in the interview with Jeurell was the value of creating a consistent “question structure.”

Basically, this is a list of questions that will be asked by all the representatives of each division as they demoed the various CRM candidates available.

And one thing I really do want to point out to people is make sure that you have a consistent question structure.

So every time you go into these demos, each subject area expert will ask or at least make sure that we have some documentation of that exact question. It just keeps it a lot more even.

This list of questions, kind of like a survey, ensures that each CRM candidate is being evaluated in the same way every time.

I like how that makes the purchasing decision more methodical and less subjective.

5. Count the cost. Add up all the extras.

It’s easy to fall in love with one CRM system or another.

But Jeurell warned us to keep our eyes on the details.

The cost of all the “extra features” and modules can add up quickly.

As we started to work through it, our options narrowed down pretty quickly. Then we start to dive deeper even into the RFP cost calculations, because they’re all unique in how they charge you.

And all of them are not unlimited. There could be cost per text, cost per geo track. I mean, it’s really starting to build.

When you start to “crunch the numbers” you’ll be able to see the real cost of the CRM.

So be sure to count the cost before you commit to any candidate!

6. Listen to the experts in your team.

To get the right CRM for your educational institute, you need to listen to the expertise of those on your team.

How will admissions be using the CRM?


Academic affairs?

Alumni relations? Advancement?

Each of these divisions is it’s own area of expertise. They all need something different from the CRM.

So as we start to really hash it out with that leadership committee to make sure that we have a good communication structure, because there’s so many different expertise!

The marketing content expert is not going to really know much about the data. The people who are actually interacting, physically talking to students or meeting with students, build in another aspect of marketing communication that you might want to leverage.

So really try to connect all those people together so that as you start to implement the product, you have the data which you need with the marketing plan.

7. Create an Implementation Map

After the leadership team has had enough time to vet the various CRM candidates, Otterbein created an implementation map.

Then, of course, [we made an] implementation map. When I say multi-system platform, we are a “common app” school. So we have a common app application data that goes into our CRM. Then that data goes into our ETL. And then as I say, you start to get a very complex series of data transfers that start to happen. So we really got to lay that out.

From marketing to enrollment to academic affairs to alumni relations, all of the extraction, transformation, and loading (“our ETL”) of the data makes for a complicated interaction between the data systems.

This is why an implementation map is helpful.

Having an implementation map will help you choose the correct CRM system.

After the big purchase, it will also help you implement the new CRM in the most effective way to keep all the different platforms speaking to each other.

So much more in the podcast!

Like all of our blog post reviews of our podcast episodes, there’s so much more to learn in the podcasts themselves.

Listen to our interview with Jeurell Smith to get even more insights into:

  • Designing an implementation timeline
  • Keeping your department stakeholders happy
  • Integrating your digital marketing channels with your CRM
  • Avoiding one of the biggest mistakes schools make when purchasing an enterprise, multi-platform CRM

Honestly, that last point is worth listening to the entire 20-minute interview.

Don’t want to miss a future episode?

Subscribe to The Higher Ed Marketer podcast today!

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Featured image via Otterbein University website
Jeurell Smith image via Otterbein University website

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