Funnel Vision … and the Rise of CRMs for Enrollment Management

In the pre-CRM era, recruitment teams often relied on paper files and endless spreadsheets, with handwritten notes scattered across desks and filing cabinets overflowing with applications. 

It was not until the late 1990s that CRM technology — by this point already transforming the business world — began peeking into the halls of academia. These early CRMs were clunky and expensive. However, they offered a glimpse of a future where student data wasn’t just inked on paper but a dynamic web of interests, interactions, and potential.

CRM technology and applications have come a long way from their humble beginnings in the 1980s as a contact management tool for sales teams. While the core concept of nurturing relationships remains, the technology has evolved significantly, finding its way into diverse industries, including higher education.

[Customer Relationship Management (CRM): The process of managing interactions with existing and prospective customers during the sales process.]

Large, well-resourced universities were among the first to embrace CRM for recruitment and enrollment operations. The 2000s saw a wave of CRM adoption, with systems becoming more user-friendly and richer with features.

CRMWhile a first-year English major at Yale in 2000, Alexander Clark developed and introduced Slate, now the leading CRM in higher education, supporting enrollment, student success and advancement operations at more than 1,700 colleges and universities worldwide. (Its parent company, Technolutions, was founded by Clark in 1994 while he was a seventh grader in Mississippi.)

As CRM technology became more affordable and accessible, universities of all sizes embraced and adopted it. Today, it approaches ubiquity — approximately 70% of institutions have either selected a CRM or developed their custom application, according to an analysis by the Tambellini Group.

Pushing the Limits of CRMs 

While CRMs have become foundational infrastructure for higher ed recruitment teams, the evolution of student recruitment and marketing has created a need for innovative solutions —opening the door to marketing automation. 

CRMs primarily focus on managing and organizing data. They are designed to centralize prospective student information and interactions, and they help institutions maintain a comprehensive view of the enrollment funnel.  

While many CRMs include communication tools, few can deliver the segmentation, personalization, and automation needed to deploy modern marketing programs at scale. 

marketing automationMarketing automation platforms, on the other hand, are designed to automate marketing tasks and workflows. They focus on streamlining and optimizing marketing processes, including lead generation, lead nurturing, and campaign management – and they are revolutionizing modern marketing.

Globally, the marketing automation market reached $6 billion in 2023, and forecasts estimate by 2032, the market will surpass $20 billion. While research varies widely across industries, most report more than 70% of organizations today utilize marketing automation, and 60% plan to grow their investment in the future.

Higher education has been slow to adopt emerging marketing technology, but marketing automation tools, especially those enriched with AI, present a significant opportunity for higher ed marketers to scale marketing programs and improve outcomes.

And enrollment and marketing leaders are taking notice.

When institutions use both CRMs and marketing automation platforms together, they can create a holistic approach to student engagement, combining data management with automated marketing processes for more effective recruitment marketing.

By Kevin Hyde, Senior Marketing Content Manager, Capture Higher Ed