A CRM leadership journey

Cathy O’Bryan reflects on lessons learned while leading the charge to implement Salesforce across all of IU

The IU CRM Initiative officially became an enterprise project across all campuses, schools, units, and programs just a few short months ago on February 15.  

IU announced just a few weeks prior that the university and Salesforce.org were working together on the expansion of IU’s use of Salesforce as its university-wide constituent relationship management (CRM) system for interacting with students, faculty, staff and the many friends of IU. This expansion built on growing Salesforce.org success at IU for student recruiting to both residential campuses and IU Online programs.

For the three and a half years prior, the UITS-led implementation of Salesforce for IU’s constituent relationship management needs was achieved project by project, sponsored organically by key partners to resolve some tough challenges quickly.

In my role as UITS director of client support and now as associate vice president, I’ve reaffirmed and discovered some leadership lessons along the ever-winding way. 

Lesson 1: Given limited resources, don’t limit your aspirations. Strategy is the art of the long game. Despite the dynamic, ad-hoc nature of sponsored projects like our first three with IU Communications, the Office of Admissions, and IU Human Resources (IU CRM’s foundational “pillars”), I’ve always thought about the long game. What is it about this project that builds momentum that could ultimately lead to an institutional CRM charge?

Lesson 2: Finding a common goal with wide impact is essential. I learned this while reflecting back to our first partnership with IU Communications. The early implementation of the Marketing Cloud—with around 30 units across all campuses willing to onboard in the first year—provided the exposure that the nascent Salesforce project needed. It also provided a broad swath of data on which to build future pillars. Our IU Communications pillar remains a partnership that was born of common need and grew with mutual effort. Together, we’ve now onboarded over 230 separate units using the Salesforce Marketing Cloud. 

Each partnership brings a new gift. The undergraduate admissions pillar brought student data and focus. University Student Services and Systems brought experience and awareness. The Office of Online Education brought its overarching insight that IU students can, and do, attend courses from many campuses; a student can enroll at a specific campus, but takes courses at many and needs to be known across IU. IU Human Resources brought its HR2020 strategy for a unified and improved set of HR services, and with their partnership came valuable HR data. Salesforce even brought their head of HR to light the way with a demo of their own HR Service Center.

Lesson 3: Partners will trade perceived perfection for lower cost and greater speed. Perfection is very overrated. Salesforce is a vast platform-as-a-service, which makes for tricky enterprise resource planning development. The trick is not be overwhelmed by the options: 700+ branded Salesforce offerings, 4,000+ third-party add-ons, and myriad professional consulting services. This immense flexibility is both a strength and weakness. With a team of five UITS staff (for most of the last three and a half years), it was absolutely critical to leverage the vast configurability and avoid custom code at all costs.

Lesson 4: It’s OK to make an educated guess. While trying to explain the need for an enterprise CRM, we knew that IU was already spending a great deal on CRMs, including over a dozen Salesforce instances, among others. A vendor can be a great partner. Salesforce provided insight into the utilization of these non-UITS instances. IU Purchasing added additional insight on the costs for licenses, third-party applications, consulting, and more. After much trepidation, we were able to estimate the cost of only external expenses in CRM to already be over $2 million across IU.

Lesson 5: A picture is worth more than a comprehensive report. For me, this is new lesson. In December 2017, while gathering data, documenting progress, explaining needs and gaps, we created an in-depth, 32-page proposal. We later reduced it to a mere nine pages, but it was still not nearly as valuable as what we’ve taken to fondly calling the “measles/blob” diagram. One single illustration said it all.

CRM diagram showing a blob-like shape

Of course, the data gathering for the written report was vital, but this visual boiled it down. Executive leadership could see it, grasp it, and distribute it. The “measles/blob” grew its own legs. The report? Not so much. The visual is literally worth millions a year as it successfully launched the IU CRM Initiative, and it continues to be useful today as we meet with constituency groups. 

Lesson 6: Governance that is easily understood and places strategic prioritization at the institutional level is ideal. Large institutional projects need governance. No surprise there. That said, they need elegantly simple governance. Prior to February 2018, there were three sets of stakeholders and somehow the CRM team managed to avoid collisions in timing and prioritization. With an enterprise charge, the creation of a governance model that avoids putting competing project stakeholders/sponsors as priority brokers is crucial.

Lesson 7: The importance of communication can’t be overestimated. Use every channel you can. Now that the IU CRM is an institution-wide project, there is no such thing as too much communication. IT Communications knew it and offered us a project manager right away. Websites, infoshares, webinars, articles, and more must happen quickly—very quickly. We are still working to keep up with the rate of change in the last six months as there are five ongoing project phases, two new pillars on the way, and we’ve met face to face with over 40 individual constituency groups.

I am incredibly proud of the trailblazing accomplishments of every member of the IU CRM team, beginning with Chris Tompkins, now director of the IU CRM Initiative. They overcame some early setbacks, accomplished myriad deliverables, and all as a team of only five people. We celebrated the conclusion of the old legacy CRM with a large party. We celebrated the Excellence in Innovation award given to us by peer institutions at the Salesforce Higher Education Summit in March 2018. Soon we will celebrate establishing a full team of 15 once the last hires are in their seats.

So, the most recent lesson is this: Celebrate with as much persistence and passion as you use to scale each challenging summit. Big wins are made of lots of little victories, smart choices, and are almost always a team sport.