A practical guide to CRM for training providers


What is CRM?

Customer relationship management systems are designed to make it easier to collect and manage information about customers - the products and services they buy, the enquiries they make and what happens when you contact them. You collect data, do some analysis and then improve your sales strategy and increase your orders .

Coursedate admin home

A good CRM system will give you:

  • Easy reporting on joined up data;

  • Simplicity (feature overload is a CRM system killer);

  • Maybe a customer facing interface - so customers can enter data directly;

  • Links to your sales/order process system (though the boundary between CRM and sales/order processing is blurred);

  • Future proofing - you want a system that can grow with your business.

What about training providers and CRM?

In the training and education world a lot of data gets generated at various points in the learner lifecycle:

  • From initial sales campaigns (phone, email & social media);

  • Data about website visits - perhaps the courses people are searching for;

  • Enrolment and enquiry data;

  • Course attendance data;

  • Completion rates and course feedback.

There’s almost too much data and the challenge for training providers is to find and report on the data that really matters. You want the valuable insights that can then be put to work to increase course enrolments. The risks - and these risks are there for any organisation that wants to implement a new CRM system - are that the rollout, setup and configuration of a complicated new CRM system is disruptive and expensive. Vast amounts of data gets collected, but the insights are never really found.

What are the basic choices for a training provider that wants a good CRM solution?

  • Go off-the-shelf and implement one of the big generic systems like Microsoft Dynamics 365 or Salesforce. These systems are feature rich and super configurable. The downside is that consultants are expensive and you can end up with a CRM solution that’s too complex;

  • Stay off-the-shelf but go for something that’s industry specific. There are systems like Coursedate, Arlo or accessplanit - these are designed and developed for training/course providers. Here the benefit is that you get domain expertise from a supplier that knows your industry.

  • Pay a software development company to develop a bespoke solution. Bespoke software sounds expensive and complicated, but it can be very cost effective, particularly if you’re prepared to invest time at the start to get the requirements right. It helps to think ‘minimum viable product’ - build the core first and only add new features when you know you need them. Reporting shouldn’t be an issue - use a tool like Microsoft Power BI to explore the data you collect.

  • Stick with an ad-hoc spreadsheet based solution, but try to do it better. Identify a minimum set of data you want to collect and share with colleagues. Do it manually and accept that you’ll have to consolidate spreadsheets, clean data, fix errors and live with some gaps. Use a tool like Power BI to do the reporting. The problem with this approach is that it gets harder as your business gets bigger. Huge amounts of data is spread across different spreadsheets.

Many course providers could do more with the data they collect about customers. For example, you might sell CPD training to schools. It would be good to know what schools in an area have done which courses and then see at a glance the other schools in the area that might be interested in the same courses. That sounds simple enough, but without a single database it can be hard enough to mean it never happens. Who collects that kind of data in your organisation and where exactly is it? That is the kind of problem that a good CRM system can solve.