Interview of Carrie Marcinkevage(Ph.D. in CRM) on How to transform Corporate Relations in Higher Ed with happy CRM

Could you tell me how you got started in your career and ended up in your current role?

I’m an accidental IT-adjacent professional. My role is in the Dean’s office leading our CRM strategy a business process rather than straight IT. That’s important, because if we think of CRM as being driven by IT, it loses its business imperative. Let’s be clear, though, I love the technology. But like many, I didn’t start there. I was a philosophy and policy & management studies major. My masters is in organizational dynamics. I started my career in a company that designed and made computer-based simulations of business processes and organizational dynamics as aids for management consulting and training. It was gamification long-before that was a thing, and it was amazing. Over 12 years, I got to work with clients, do instructional design, code computer programs, write scripts, hire and direct actors on film at QVC studios, and facilitate client workshops. It was a fantastic demonstration of technology enhancing people and learning, and that’s where I really discovered the power of people + process + technology.

When I moved to academia, I was the MBA admissions director and later the MBA and other graduate programs managing director. The need for connected systems and better connections to our constituents was blazingly clear to me, and I wanted to be a part of filling that need. That’s what led me to the CRM space – the whole way to a Ph.D. on the topic. So for me, people, processes, and technology were all woven together along the way.

What was your childhood dream career and why?

If computers existed then as they do now, maybe I’d have found my calling sooner. As it was, I wanted to be an anesthesiologist. What kid wants to be an anesthesiologist? By college I was pretty sure that wasn’t a good fit. I honestly had no idea what I wanted to do. But there was a common thread through everything I’ve done since: valuing the interdisciplinary nature of work and people. That involved curiosity, respect, discipline, and a penchant for connecting dots that nobody else saw. I suppose I can still put people to sleep, but in the boardroom rather than the operating room.

What is the one habit which you tend to do on a regular basis which has made you successful in your career?

I’m a certified Appreciative Inquiry practitioner, and I’ll explain that further later. It has helped me develop skills for reframing questions that are forward-thinking and positive, so it keeps us all moving ahead. As they say, an inquiry is an intervention – the moment we ask a question, we create change. Our questions matter!!


Can you talk about your most recent project which you completed recently with or without Salesforce, what business results did it achieve, obstacles or challenges you faced, and how you overcame it?

In higher education, corporate relation is a function that’s been a late-to-the-table in Salesforce. Well, let’s face it…higher education has been late to the CRM table, and this area lags even further behind. There’s a great innovation opportunity here. I wanted to be able to provide high-quality data on the companies and contacts we work with. This is quite difficult when there are so many disparate systems with home-grown data. I determined our best route was to use external source data where we could. We undertook a major project of aligning all our business accounts to Dun & Bradstreet DUNS numbers, and all our contacts to LinkedIn Sales Navigator profiles. This meant significant data cleaning and integrations and, of course, budget approvals. We made a strong business case, and our dean approved funding. Through lots of teamwork and testing, we are about to finish.

We now have an amazing and seamless system – the first time I saw it in action, I did a happy dance. For example, our old process would have a person fill out an event form, and an internal resource would have to manually look that person up, try to match them to a company in our system, and go out to LinkedIn or the company website to get more information. It’s likely that the contact information was incomplete or wrong, and the company remained unmatched. This process could take 15 minutes per contact, which adds up. Now a person fills out an event form that automatically matches them to a D&B company, which automatically matches them to their LinkedIn profile. The contact info and company info are both automatic and complete.

In addition, now that the contact is matched in LinkedIn Sales Navigator, if they leave their company and change their LinkedIn profile, we’ll be notified immediately instead of learning later or never. It’s made our users very happy, increased productivity, and we’re awaiting some real numbers such as development opportunities or new partners.

What is your leadership philosophy and how do you keep the team engaged and motivate them?

My leadership is built around Appreciative Inquiry principles. This is a strengths-based approach to organization development that focuses on how we identify and build our organizational assets toward our goals. Appreciative, meaning to value our current strengths and then purposefully amplify and direct them toward our goals. Inquiry, meaning to be intentional about our dialog and who does most of the talking (not the leader). As a society, we tend to focus on deficit-based thinking. Everything is a barrier, challenge, or problem. While that can be competitively motivating, it can also be tiring and drain energy.

The “what went wrong?” question is just as effective but more productively asked as, “how would we get it right next time?” You end up covering the same ground but skip the wallowing negativity part. Every gap can more positively be addressed by talking about what we want more of. Done with focus and intention, appreciative inquiry is not pollyanna, it’s productive.

With the current COVID 19 situation, what are 2 or 3 key challenges you faced and how are you managing them effectively?

Our team went virtual in March. I’d only been back at work for one day after shoulder surgery when they sent us home. Fortunately, my team was already adept at using online platforms for communication, and we already had frequent check-ins to help us stay connected. The challenges were not in our work, but rather in the surrounding environment. What will happen to higher education? How will we fare in this new environment? What will work look like in six months, a year? Two main elements have helped us stay productive. The first is the demonstrable ongoing support of our senior leaders, from our steering group to the dean. Throughout our work, we have made strong business cases for budget activities, and every one has been supported. In the midst of this crisis, our dean approved adding a new staff member to our team. That’s a major show of support in such challenging times. This helps our team feel valued and know that what we’re doing matters to the college.

The second is the incredible crisis leadership within our college. Our dean implemented weekly community Zoom sessions to update us on university and college progress, and our CRM team debriefs issues from those sessions. All leaders have demonstrated transparency and compassion throughout this time, from COVID-19 issues to the issues of social justice facing our campuses. Our dean even arranged for everyone in the college to have a one-year subscription to the Calm app to encourage self-care. That may seem like a small gesture, but it’s a visible demonstration of our values in action.

With the current COVID 19 situation, can you list 1 key project which was given more attention, the reason for it, and what results did it achieve for your business?

Although many classes resumed live delivery this fall, non-curricular events did not. That meant we’ve expanded the scope of Zoom and other virtual platforms exponentially. We have changed event registration methods as well as how we record event participation in Salesforce. While we didn’t generally support Zoom as part of the CRM suite before, we’re now deep in the world of webinars.

With COVID 19 was there a project which was pushed to the back burner , given a low priority in your company and the reason for it?

skipping this question as we’ve literally not missed a beat…still pursuing everything we were working on!

With teams working remotely now, what 1 or 2 key activities do you do more with your team to increase engagement with the teams?

Because our team worked in different building areas before going remote, we had already established strong virtual communication practices. We even had norms for which meetings used video and which were audio only – a delicate dance for newer remote transitions. We had a weekly check-in that was live, but we transitioned easily to virtual. That’s actually gotten easier, because we share the screen of our agenda and workshop live projects. We can all focus on what we need to see.

We use chat functionality constantly, and it shows the fabulous mix of work and humor on our team. You’ll see a string about a technical issue followed by a gif of some funny reaction. I think our most frequent gifs describing 2020 are variations on a dumpster fire.(virtual conference table)

With remote teams, what activity have you stopped doing or doing less which seems to be less effective in this situation?

When we were in person, we tried to make everyone feel included in our larger steering group and operations group meetings. We purchased a Meeting Owl swivel camera and would set it up to use in our meetings, which were part live for those on-campus and part Zoom for those remote. Since remote has always been a normal part of our work, this wasn’t as big a change for us.

But I have to say, I’m rather glad not to have to carry the Owl around anymore.

What is the one trend you see in Higher Ed happening now and how do you think institutions should adapt to this new trend based on your experience?

What I love about this time in higher education is our opportunity for creativity and innovation. Crisis usually brings about the most change. And we’ve needed a pretty big shakeup for ages. I used to joke that only a global crisis could move some parts of the institution to online learning, and look what happened! Within weeks last spring, everyone was online. That was incredibly jarring, but there was a time over the summer to regroup and redesign, and things were ready to go by fall.

At what other time in history could that have happened so fast and at such a massive scale? We have miles to go, but there are so many innovations possible now. Please understand, this year has been devastating in so very many ways. I find it most helpful to keep moving forward, to seek the opportunities, and as Fred Rogers said, to look for the helpers.

Career Guidance

If you want to advise students who are looking for an IT career or people who want to shift their career to IT like sales, marketing folks on Salesforce products as an example, What would be the 2 or 3 things you would advise them to follow now to get a job quickly?

As we’re hiring right now, I definitely value the idea of career guidance. So many IT people I’ve met didn’t start out that way. They migrated into it either purposefully or accidentally. To add intention, it would be very useful to start accruing credentials and experiences that demonstrate capability. Even if experiences are volunteer, knowing someone has practical application is incredibly valuable. At the same time, equally valuable are relationship skills. Few IT resources can sit in a back office without any customer interaction today. Frankly, the best ones value and create a great customer experience. That’s a skill to highlight and hone.

Can you list 1 or 2 tips that you have used in your career to differentiate yourself from your peers which have helped you to position yourself and move up the career ladder?

I grew up learning that good work spoke for itself – a meritocracy. At some point, I learned that good work needs a good voice. A little later I learned that good work needs a choir. I don’t mean to sing your praises, but collective voices who contribute to great work. If you’re the conductor, the product is the great work done by those around you, and you’re facilitating it. When it comes time for the applause, you take a bow, and you immediately step down and sweep the baton around the choir. For me, that’s allowed a measure of both desires for performance as well as humility for who’s really creating the outcomes. That balance allows me to advocate for my team and myself. Most importantly, I always try to create value for the organization. It’s not just about the choir singing well, but are they singing the right song?

For folks who are aspiring to become the next directors or CXOs, Can you list 1 or 2 challenges the current leaders face which prevent them from going up the ladder?

A book called The Leadership Pipeline talked about the skills, values, and use of time that help or hinder people who are moving up in the organization. The authors suggested that at each step up the ladder, a pivot is required. New leadership roles require new skills, such as being an individual contributor versus a manager, new values, such as valuing the highest quality versus quality reflective of cost, and new time allocations, such as time spent on technical project work versus team meetings. Too often, an aspiring leader trips by not recognizing or adapting to the new need in skills, values, or time. For each step up the ladder, it’s critical to think about what the next role will require and how to identify, learn, and demonstrate those elements quickly.

Can you list  1 or 2 skills that you highly recommend folks to develop or learn  which will help them move up?

Technical skills are incredibly valuable, and having them passes a basic resume screen. What sets someone apart is their communication, passion, and performance with the team.

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Carrie Marcinkevage

Author: Carrie Marcinkevage

Carrie Marcinkevage, Ph.D., is the Constituent Relationship Management (CRM) Strategy Director at the Smeal College of Business at the Pennsylvania State University. Following a corporate career in management consulting, she led the Smeal residential MBA and graduate programs. Seeing a need for deeper stakeholder engagement in those programs, she experimented with CRM processes and systems before they were widely used in higher education. Her experience with and interest in the field led to a Ph.D. focused on higher education CRM strategy and adoption. She now leads the strategy for aligning people, processes, and technology to create valuable relationships with Smeal’s many constituents. Carrie received her M.S. in Organizational Dynamics at the University of Pennsylvania and a dual bachelor’s degree in policy and Management Studies and Philosophy from Dickinson College.

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