Strategic Partnerships “Org” In Salesforce Paints Clearer Picture Of External Relations

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Hiring our students. Seeking professional development and training for employees. Sponsoring a research partnership. Establishing a scholarship fund.

There are many reasons why a business might want to develop a relationship with a world-class institution like UW–Madison. And it’s the mission of the Office of Business Engagement to connect companies of all sizes with the resources they need to build successful relationships across—and with—the university.

But with so many industry contacts engaging with faculty, staff and researchers across campus at any given time, keeping track of all that activity is a big challenge.

That’s where a constituent relationship management platform, or CRM, comes into play. In implementing and using the Salesforce CRM, part of the campus-wide OneBadger Initiative, the Office of Business Engagement (OBE) and its campus collaborators sought to more efficiently and effectively manage the strategic partnerships that OBE cultivates and nurtures.

“By connecting UW external relations professionals and providing a platform for collaboration and information-sharing, the result is less overlap and more development of strategic plans that span schools, colleges, institutes and other UW units—all of whom are looking to engage more with external partners,” explains OBE Managing Director Amy Achter.

Bridging silos, across UW and partner companies

From the outside looking in, a large, complex institution like UW–Madison can appear to be siloed and disparate across a vast campus. That’s where the capabilities of Salesforce can help form bridges between university entities. At the same time, large corporations can operate in a siloed manner, too.

Take, for example, a company that’s already in talks with the Wisconsin School of Business about recruiting graduating students for its workforce. While that relationship progresses, another company leader initiates talks with the College of Engineering about a technology collaboration to develop a new product. When those new opportunities come up, OBE is often engaged to help take those external partners “up and out,” exposing the companies to potentially beneficial relationships they may want to form across the university, OBE leaders say.

“It became clear to us that there’s an opportunity to begin to pull all of this information into one place, so there was visibility across our schools, colleges and units and the opportunity to collaborate and think about our external partners more holistically,” Achter explains.

Additionally, having all the information in one place provides UW users with context about a company’s prior campus engagements, including creating connections with campus contacts in other units who may be able to help with introductions or background about an existing relationship.

From fishing expeditions to dashboards and metrics

Prior to housing all that information in Salesforce, OBE staff would have to go on a fishing expedition to find information in multiple systems and applications, or spend a lot of time on the phone or sending emails to uncover all the activity across campus tied to a specific company.

“There was a lot of digging,” Achter said. “The only thing I knew for sure was something was probably missing somewhere.”

Perhaps the most well-known example of a multi-faceted, comprehensive partnership with industry is the university’s relationship with American Family Insurance. OBE manages this wide-ranging relationship with AmFam, which spans across multiple schools and colleges, data sciences, marketing, athletics, community relations and talent acquisition.

By using Salesforce to track all aspects of the relationship—with AmFam or other partners—campus external relations staff are better positioned to track the outcomes of the engagements, from revenue generation to the hiring of students.

“In Salesforce, we can watch the engagements, see how we’re doing and how they’re working,” Achter explains. “There’s a lot of ability to look at where we are and what’s in our pipeline.”

A virtual endeavor

The Office of Business Engagement’s Salesforce implementation began in March, led by Business Engagement Director Megan O’Rourke. Working with consultants from Huron, O’Rourke and a core team of campus stakeholders configured and developed UW–Madison’s first external-facing instance of Salesforce, which launched in June.

It was a complex task made even trickier by the COVID-19 pandemic: Two days after the project began, the university went virtual.

But even amid the complexities of working remotely, O’Rourke says several common themes immediately emerged in the discussions—involving OBE staff along with representatives from the SuccessWorks career center in the College of Letters & Science, the School of Human Ecology career center, the Wisconsin School of Business and the College of Engineering.

“When we bring companies to campus, these are the folks we’re calling first to meet with these companies,” O’Rourke explains. “They’re so often the ones who can offer the solution that company is looking for.”

In a half-day retreat, Division of Information Technology Senior Business Analyst Tamra Dagnon took the core team through an exercise to develop a variety of “user stories,” to help articulate how different Salesforce configuration options might provide value to the end users of the CRM.

“It was so valuable, having her expertise to tease out what we needed and what was important to us,” O’Rourke recalls.

The core group also made several key decisions about which data sources to pull into Salesforce, to help tell stories about recruitment, research and philanthropic activity.

“It was a fun challenge,” O’Rourke says, adding that the flexibility within Salesforce to be “endlessly configurable” made that particular CRM a valuable solution to meet the needs identified by OBE and its campus partners.

“We could create a system for us,” O’Rourke emphasized. “With other systems, it can be a lot more ‘out of the box.’ Whereas in our work with Salesforce, we could truly configure all of the nuts and bolts in setting it up.”

Growing the ranks

After getting past the initial implementation hurdle, O’Rourke says one of the big post-launch goals is to grow the number of users across campus of the Strategic Partnerships Salesforce “org,” or instance. Other Salesforce “orgs” that have gone live across campus as part of the OneBadger CRM Initiative include a Clinical Placement org in the School of Education and a shared Division of Continuing Studies/Office of Admissions and Recruitment org that includes UW–Madison Online and Graduate School Recruitment.

Initial users of the Strategic Partnerships org included about 35 campus entities representing 14 schools, colleges, units and research institutes in functional areas including career services, employer relations, community and state relations, data science and analytics, professional development and entrepreneurship. A second wave of users was onboarded in August, bringing the total to about 56.

When considering even more potential user growth for the Strategic Partnerships org, O’Rourke cites the many research centers across campus doing fee-for-service work with industry, or seeking out research collaborations with companies.

“We’re excited to really grow the number of people that want to use the system, input their data and share that information across campus,” O’Rourke says, noting the level of technological sophistication afforded by Salesforce.

Adds O’Rourke: “It’ll be nice to get rid of a lot of the spreadsheets people are using.”