Sustaining universities’ vital business ecosystem

Sustaining a relationship with the business world brings undeniable value to universities. A modern CRM system can highlight these opportunities, bringing universities and businesses together to pursue a common goal.

CRM can enable data-driven decisions, helping universities grow and retain student recruitment and engagement. They can also assist in increasing industry engagement. They offer a pan-university 360-degree visibility with awareness of all touch points with students, alums, NGOs, funders and industry partners. Positive and proactive industry engagement can impact every aspect of a university’s delivery.

In the Business of Transformation

Universities are great repositories of knowledge. With that knowledge, they unleash the potential of the next generation of leaders and followers in society. Universities are in the business of transformation, transforming undergraduates into graduates, graduates into post-grads and PhDs. They apply knowledge to specific problems, dispense advice, filter ideas to distil innovation and combine skills and expertise to build intellectual property and entrepreneurial opportunities. Universities enrich society by fuelling society’s transformation process.

They don’t do this in isolation but by engaging with society: with students, alums, businesses and governments. The depth and breadth of a modern university’s relationships can be overwhelming. Getting the most from them can only happen when the university understands those relationships and can unlock the latent potential.

Successful Relationships with Business

Successful cooperation between businesses and universities starts with a willingness to devote both time and resources to exploring possibilities. Without the data to decide which relationships to start this with, a university has an impossible list to choose a potential suitor.

Engaging the senior management in these relationships is critical to demonstrating the university’s commitment to partnership. Senior leaders want to see clearly how the relationship works for the university and, more importantly, for the business. Which colleges and schools are involved? Where else does this business contribute to the university lifecycle?

It starts with a dialogue and communication between organisations. Speaking with one voice makes it easier to be understood, so you must know who else within the university is involved in the conversation. A local employer or globe-spanning multinational can have many touch points with a university; research partner, CPD customer, Executive education contributor, student project or placement provider, alums, and the list goes on.

We get comfort from knowing how a partner goes about things, recognising the stages in their process, and understanding them by comparing them with our own. Having clarity around processes be it for the development of IP or agreeing on a contract lets a business understand a university’s driver, what’s important to them, and how they “think” as an organisation.

Demonstrating an understanding of a business’s goals and objectives and how they can be delivered through collaboration is the greatest signal that for a university to succeed, its partners must be successful. Universities are not selling jeans and shovels to gold prospectors but are instead helping push the cart up the hill, collaborating with partners so both can move forward.

Trust comes from being able to communicate clearly, knowing your partner has knowledge, skills and abilities, and seeing examples of those resources working positively for both. The closer you see a partner’s goals aligned with your own, the more confident you feel that your success is intertwined.

Data-Driven Decision making

Using a system to capture a university’s engagement with business is the key to achieving all these elements. A university-wide CRM system can show you exactly where the partners with the most significant potential are already working with your university. Why have you had a fantastic research partnership with a local employer but not student placement opportunities? Why is the management team of a potential strategic partner with 50% of your alums not part of your executive education program?

The siloed data means that, as an organisation, the university wasn’t conscious of it. A CRM system is a neuromuscular junction, connecting the knowledge with the organisational muscles.

Engaging senior leaders with data across the whole organisation helps them understand the value of the relationship. Simple daily dashboards illustrating whatever metric they have a specialised interest in makes them part of that relationship. They can see without asking what is being delivered with a partner and understand it has a knock-on effect in another school or college. They will never be out of the loop again.

Using CRM can help a university think about how it manages relationships. Looking at the existing data makes it clear where relationships could be best represented for the university. Which school or college has the deepest relationship in which activity area or has the most interaction on placements or projects? This makes speaking with one clear voice a genuine data-driven decision.

Employing a CRM system starts with understanding our existing processes: what we do, how we do it, and, why? That internal confidence about the process is communicated through actions to partners, and the system makes its potential visible to both. Creating an online social platform to connect directly with partners and any data or records they need to complete tasks, all captured within the system. The adoption of common processes and an underlying system will enable common reporting and sharing of information. It gives the diverse university a common language.


Across Europe, funders expect universities to contribute to economic growth through increased demand stimulation and simplified business access to university innovation. The value for institutions of a sustainable relationship between business and academia has been recognised. An academic engaging with business has the potential to undertake research that demonstrates tangible impact; examples during teaching become up to date relevant to the students giving them a practical demonstration of the application of the skills they are learning.

The CRM system can highlight these opportunities, and show where similar approaches might work, bringing universities and businesses together in pursuit of a common goal. CRM can deliver improved communications, information sharing, decision-making, and reporting. It provides access and analysis of the data that universities require to make decisions. Most importantly, it puts partners at the centre of that decision-making process as contributors, increasing the potential impact of those decisions by demonstrating that universities are in the business of transformation.


Join us for Edutech 5-6 October – we’ll showcase all that is great in education technology innovation

Alan Hughes


Read next


Employee experience as a fuel for innovation

Contact us

Contact us