What is Customer Relationship Management and why would Extension care?

Stephen Judd is serving as the eXtension Foundation Customer Relationship Management Fellow. This post is an update on progress on this funded Fellowship from the USDA-NIFA New Technologies for Agricultural Extension (NTAE) Cooperative Agreement.


Customer Relationship Management (CRM) software is used to keep a record of an organization or company’s interactions with a person or business, record information about the person or business, such as, contact information, and share that information with other users. The overall goal of CRM is to increase an organization’s knowledge and understanding of the people they deal with.

In a recent survey (June & July 2019), people (188 responses) from approximately 63 different Extension organizations responded to questions about CRM usage at their organization. When asked about current usage of CRM at their Extension organization, respondents reported 30 currently use CRM, 36 are evaluating using it, and 35 have no plans at this time. The numbers don’t add up to the 63 total organizations, likely because the usage is not uniform across each organization.

I’ll delve into the details of the survey in a later post, but consider that over 45% of the Extension organizations responding report currently using CRM and another 30% are currently evaluating using it. Approximately 20% of the Extension organizations represented indicated they had no plans to use CRM. This would seem to indicate that most Extension organizations perceive some value in the use of CRM.

Where’s the value?

If a company sells widgets, and they implement CRM, and profits or sales increase, then they may be able to attribute the increase to CRM usage. They may track metrics like lead conversion, time to close deals, opportunities won and lost, and more. In Extension, we rarely have similar metrics that we track. The widget company may be able to justify the cost (licenses, support, training) of CRM with the increased sales. Extension may incur similar costs, but since we tend to be less revenue-driven, the benefits may come in less tangible terms.

So if it isn’t, necessarily, about increasing revenue for Extension, what benefit is there? Here are some of the “biggest wins” that survey respondents listed:

  • People / Relationships / Marketing
    • better understand how people are engaging with us
    • streamlined categorization of stakeholders
    • working especially well for our government relations team
    • useful for volunteer management
  • Data
    • allow significant amount of data on individual or company
    • improved security of data
    • collecting info that quickly accessible on our prospects & clients
    • stable and sustainable system for documents, contacts, records
    • merge many lists and platforms into one list
  • Sharing / Consolidation
    • provide access to shared data that once was stored separately
    • consolidation and management of contact data in one place for remote access by multiple admins
    • allows us to track everything in one place
  • Marketing
    • coordinating marketing and public relations with programmatic work
    • data- driven decision making about marketing and ability to use data to describe impact (intro graphics and professional graphics backed up by real-time data)
    • having emails for campaigns to market upcoming programs
    • streamlining our communications, giving a consistent look to all of our email marketing, and quantifying the impact of our communication efforts
  • E-Commerce
    • ability to take payments and no longer need to handle cash/checks at workshops and events
    • leaving behind the “cash” culture in favor of online electronic payments

Given the diversity across Extension organizations and the large number of CRM systems available to choose from, how would one go about the process of evaluating CRM usage for Extension. That will be the thread woven through the subsequent posts in this series. I will forewarn you that there is no cookie-cutter template to pull off the shelf, but there are some guiding principles and processes that can be used.

I welcome feedback and questions at stephen.judd@unh.edu or in the comments section below.

Stephen Judd is serving as a funded eXtension Fellow this year to investigate and report on CRM applications in Cooperative Extension.