Who Is Educating the Next Generation?


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CRM may have become one of the Top 10 tools used by managers, according to a recent Bain and Co. global survey, but that cuts no ice with our higher education institutions. We are still producing streams of graduates and post-graduates who have little or no knowledge or understanding of CRM. Not only do they not know why it is important, but also they don’t even know what it is. Indeed, they might join the world of business without even hearing the expression, “customer relationship management.”

Of course, there are a few noble and notable exceptions that only go to prove the rule. Table 1 lists some of the schools that offer educational programs in CRM.

USA Europe
Duke University (Fuqua) Cranfield School of Management, England
Purdue University De Montfort University, England
Northwestern University (Kellogg) Strathclyde University, Scotland
Australia Asia
Macquarie Graduate School of Management, Sydney Chinese University of Hong Kong
University of New South Wales, Sydney Nanyang Technological University, Singapore
Monash University, Melbourne International University of Japan, Tokyo

Table 1: Educational institutions offering CRM courses

Most of these schools offer single or half-units dedicated to CRM, which can take between 15 and 40 hours to complete. Other institutions include some CRM subject-matter in courses on information technology, database marketing, e-business, strategic marketing, business-to-business marketing or relationship marketing. You can try your own Google search; you’ll find there are very few opportunities to learn about CRM in institutions of learning.

So, what’s going on? Why is a fundamental and widely applied business discipline—CRM—not being taught in our universities? I think there are three reasons: structure, networks and resources.

I think the answer lies mostly in the structure of business disciplines within universities. The tradition has been to organize academic departments on conventional business functional lines. We have marketing, accounting, operations, human resources, business strategy and finance faculty. These may be enhanced by some technocrats in economics, IT, statistics and law. There might be a few staff from business disciplines such as organizational behavior and leadership.

CRM, is, of course, a cross-functional business discipline. It sits nowhere, but it belongs everywhere. It could be claimed by marketing, IT, operations or strategy subject-matter experts, but it is generally owned by no one. Structure should follow strategy, the experts tell us. These rigid structural divisions—silos, stovepipes—in universities can only inhibit the development of cross-functional educational offerings.

Professional bodies
Another reason for the lack of CRM offerings in our universities is the absence of professional bodies in the field. Marketing faculty are members of discipline-based professional associations such as the American Marketing Association or the Chartered Institute of Marketing. They attend conferences where they network with, and learn from, other marketers. Finance, operations and IT specialists have their own forums. Where is the equivalent association or network for CRM academics? It doesn’t exist.

You can try your own Google search; you’ll find there are very few opportunities to learn about CRM in institutions of learning.

I’m sure that many people think of academics as earnest searchers after truth, doing original research, creating new knowledge and passing on the fruits of their experience and wisdom to their students. Isn’t this what scholars do? In truth, most universities are midsize, bureaucratic enterprises that demand much of their people in terms of teaching, research and service. Faculty members often use the teaching resources that are readily available to them: books, case studies and interactive games, for example. There are several hundred books aimed at Marketing 101 students. It’s the same for IT, finance, operations and HR.

The faculty’s needs for a convenient, well-structured, proven solution to their teaching requirements are well met—as long as they sit within the conventional academic disciplines. There are few equivalent resources available to those who wish to teach CRM. Most of the books on CRM are produced by consultants and vendors whose readerships are not fee-paying students.

Adrian Payne, director of the Centre for CRM at Cranfield School of Management, noted when I spoke with him, “Until recently, no credible, academically researched models or frameworks encompassing all the diverse elements that comprise CRM have been available.” That is, however, only a first step. Teaching resources that make it easy for faculty members to instruct the subject have to follow. That will allow the faculty with an interest in, but little knowledge of, CRM, to teach the subject with some degree of competence.

Merlin Stone, one of the most prolific CRM authors, reckons that all MBA-level students should have a clear understanding of what CRM is and what it can deliver. Beyond this, he suggests that, “All marketing students should understand direct marketing, database marketing, e-marketing and CRM—each one is inextricably tied to the others.”

The lack of resources, networks and supportive structures means that the educational needs of those who lead and implement CRM programs are not being satisfied in the traditional way, through higher education. Is there a vacuum? Yes—but only a partial one. Online communities such as CRMGuru.com have filled the gap. Being a self-help community, it provides the resources and networks that leaders and managers need. Add to this the hands-on training offered by vendors to clients’ users and the odd training program from professional bodies such as the Institute of Direct Marketing and Chartered Institute of Marketing, and you have pretty much covered the territory.

We wouldn’t educate our finance or marketing people this way, let alone our engineers, doctors and lawyers. Must this remain the status of CRM education?

Francis Buttle
Dr. Francis Buttle founded the consultancy that bears his name back in 1979. He has over 40 years of international experience in consulting, training, researching, educating, and writing about a broad range of marketing and customer management matters. He is author of 15 books, has been a full professor of Marketing, Customer Relationship Management, Relationship Marketing, and Management.


  1. Great article, Francis!

    In a perverse sort of way, it’s comforting to know that academia suffers from the same silos (marketing, sales, IT, etc.) that have hurt the adoption of CRM in business.

    With your help, along with Adrian Payne and a few other academic leaders, we can ensure future business leaders are well schooled in CRM as a business strategy that cuts across departmental boundaries.

    Bob Thompson
    CEO, CustomerThink Corp.
    Founder, CRMGuru.com

  2. You make an excellent point. There are a number of other critical real world concepts that aren’t addressed in most MBA courses. The ones that come to mind are the essentials of web-based sales and marketing, building a solid technical foundation for your web 2.0 company, and organizational structure for the next generation of businesses.

    What courses do you think should be part of the MBA curriculum?

  3. Francis,

    Great to see some Australian input. I could not agree more with your article. I have been a CRM advocate for 12 years, intially selling software products and followed by consulting and implementation. In all that time I have not run into a university graduate that had been trained on CRM principles. There is a need to educate academia in Australia and the rest of the world. If you know of a way that I could be of help, please let me know.

    Nicholas Daly
    National CRM Manager
    Star Track Express


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