CRM for Extension – Step 0

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.

Over half of the Extension organizations, recently surveyed, report considering the adoption of customer relationship management software (CRM). This post will describe the considerations that need to be in place before a CRM evaluation should take place – this is step zero.

CRM is not a goal, outcome, or strategy

CRM is one tool, among many technologies, and is not a goal, outcome, or strategy, in and of itself. Therefore, prior to even evaluating the use of a CRM, the Extension organization needs to have clearly stated goals and objectives. In examining these goals, you should ask yourself, “what strategies do we need to implement to achieve the goal?” Then, ask if CRM is one of the tools that might help you implement the strategy.

If an organization starts considering CRM without identifying how it fits with their strategy, they risk implementing a shiny new technology that creates extra work, with no relevant results.

Example: To better understand our reach: how many people (unique count) do we serve, how do they interact with our programs (do they access offerings from multiple programs/efforts?), and are we serving a representative portion of the population?

This example may lend itself to the use of CRM to aggregate the information about clientele, their participation in events, and their demographic profiles.

Current processes may need to change

Often, implementing a CRM drives changes to existing business processes. It is important to assess your organization’s willingness to change the way it does business before embarking on a CRM evaluation. It is highly unlikely that a successful CRM implementation can be done, without also evaluating and changing your current processes. This requires buy-in from across the organization and participation from a diverse set of stakeholders in the evaluation process. While there is a tendency to view CRM as just another IT tool, its impact will be widespread.

Example: How do you currently register people for your events, or do they just sign-in when they arrive? If you intend to use CRM to track participation, you’ll need to consider how that information will be captured in the system. Does your current registration system have the ability to integrate with other systems, do you need to change registration platforms? Will you use web-based forms to allow registration and bring the data directly into CRM? If you use paper-based registrations, who will enter the data into CRM?

One strategy with CRM implementation is to identify one or two priority areas to address first, and incorporate other processes later. Trying to modify too many business processes at once to fit with the CRM can doom a project to failure and create confusion and frustration.

CRM isn’t free

Even if a CRM is open-source and doesn’t have a licensing fee, it won’t be adopted by your organization without cost. Implementing CRM requires significant time and effort, both by those who support it technically and those who will be interacting with it. Before evaluating CRM, determine the resources your organization is willing to commit to an implementation, in the short-term and long-term. Unlike a business that may see a CRM as a way to increase sales and revenues, most Extension organizations will not be able to quantify monetary gains or savings from a CRM. 

Example costs:

  • Licensing / hosting fees
  • Technical support, configuration, integration, and administration
  • User training
  • Assessing and modifying business processes
  • Communication with internal and external stakeholders


While CRM is only a tool, it can have a widespread impact on how your organization gets things done. Part of evaluating a CRM is determining how it fits with your organization’s goals, how ready your organization is to change processes, and what your organization is willing to invest for those changes. The evaluation process should involve a diverse set of internal stakeholders who will be impacted to ensure that the impact is understood and that the CRM chosen fits the needs, goals, and capacity of your organization.

It’s probably a good idea to think beyond the Extension organization, as well. Does your university use CRM, or are they considering it? Should you be part of the university’s CRM or independent? These considerations add to the complexity of the process, but thinking about them from the start can avoid potential deadends in the future.

I welcome feedback and questions at 

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