For higher ed marketers, prospective students are really prospective customers. It comes as no surprise then, that in recent years colleges and universities have rushed to adopt the customer relationship management (CRM) tools that have long been used by other industries to centralize and streamline their communications.

We recently had the opportunity to chat with Kris Hardy from Messiah College, a small, private, Christian institution located in Central Pennsylvania. As Messiah’s director of web and digital marketing, Kris oversees the college’s public-facing website and is responsible for managing digital marketing efforts for the school’s academic programs.

Since Messiah moved to a CRM system two years ago, Kris says the platform has grown to play an increasingly important role in his work as a digital marketer. During our interview, he detailed how making the switch to a CRM has helped Messiah take their digital marketing efforts to the next level, outlined the challenges his team encountered post-rollout and shared a few of the things they learned as a result. Here’s an abridged version of our conversation:

One hub to rule them all

Kris says one of the biggest benefits his institution has seen since introducing a CRM is the overall consolidation of data. Higher ed digital marketing plans often have a lot of moving parts, from online applications and request for information forms, to automated email drips and “schedule a visit” widgets. CRMs take all of that data and wrangle it into one, easy-to-manage platform. What’s more, they make it much easier for schools to provide a well-organized user experience, which goes a long way toward eliminating problematic bottlenecks in the admissions process.

Unifying tactics and teams

Anytime your organization starts thinking about rolling out a new piece of technology, it can be tempting to focus exclusively on the product’s features and what role they’ll play in supporting the broader goals of your institution. But there’s another important element that technology can influence, and that’s the working dynamic between your internal departments. Adding a CRM to your school’s marketing arsenal not only equips individual teams with powerful tools, it also creates an opportunity to rethink the way those teams can interface with one another to accomplish more.

Cutting down on conflict

When so many new capabilities become available all at once, it can be hard to decide what your institution should prioritize first. Don’t dive in without a game plan! Introducing a CRM to your processes without thinking through the entire student journey first can actually add a lot of inadvertent conflict to your communications, rather than helping them run smoother.

For example, suppose one of your admissions counselors reaches out to encourage a prospective student to submit their FAFSA. The student promises they’ll get right on it and have their FAFSA completed by the end of the week. Sounds like smooth sailing, right? But what if, two hours later, that same student receives an auto-generated reminder email from their counselor asking them to wrap up their FAFSA by five p.m. that very evening?

Mixed signals like this often result in a confusing and frustrating experience for students. In the case of admitted student communications, Kris’ team found that limiting automated emails to general topics, and relying on admissions counselors to send one-on-one messages, made navigating the CRM learning curve much easier.

Ready for a deeper dive?

My discussion with Chris went into way more detail than I can cover here—from how CRM technology has helped Messiah make their messaging more targeted across multiple social media platforms, to the brilliant (and cost-effective) way they’ve used Google Tag Manager to add personalization to their school’s website. You can check out the full interview here.