Our VP of Partnerships Zak Pines interviewed Mickey Baines, Partner and Technology Services Practice Leader at Kennedy and Company, as a part of our Partner Interview Series. Their conversation covered many topics, like CRM usage in higher education fields, shared school platforms, and partnering with Formstack. Here is an abridged transcript from their discussion.
About Kennedy and Company
Zak Pines: Can you start by telling me about Kennedy and Company? What sets you apart?
Mickey Baines: About 50% of what our company focuses on is higher education strategies—for example, strategic planning, enrollment planning and modeling, net tuition, and many more of the types of services that higher education institutions are looking for. The other half of the company is balanced by what we call technology services, which is really CRM-rooted work.
We are an agnostic firm, so we work with most of the platforms serving higher education like Salesforce, Slate, LeadSquared, Element451, and other tools schools are using for their CRM, admissions, enrollment, student success, and workforce development.
Our team comes from higher education. We’ve all worked in that space, and I think that gives us an advantage to truly understand the in-use cases that our clients share with us. We don’t just come from IT higher ed. We have staff who have been academic advisors, who’ve run advising offices, or who’ve been admissions counselors or deans and VPs in an enrollment management space. Because of that experience, we can ask slightly different questions that help more accurately build out that user story or use case faster. When our team goes in to build and deliver that for a client, we’re more likely to get the results they are intending from it.
The other thing we typically do is we're very strategy-focused on technology work. We want to help our clients deploy better technology. But we won’t implement technology our clients do not know how to use. Our job as consultants is to close the gap between knowledge and functionality.
Zak: I would like to get in the mindset of a typical customer. Who is the individual or team that champions these initiatives?
Mickey: It varies a little bit. Our use cases typically are enrollment-related, whether it's admissions, student success, or workforce development. The key project sponsor would typically be a dean or vice president of student success, enrollment, or academic success. We also have some chief information officers (CIOs) who are project sponsors. Those are typically from schools who are looking to grow CRM beyond a single department or divisional use case.
We work with nonprofit higher ed community colleges, private liberal arts colleges, and R1-based institutions all across the United States, as well as Canada and the United Kingdom.
Problem Solving in Higher Education
Zak: How would you describe the current challenges your clients face?
Mickey: Schools are really embracing the concept of bringing on CRM technology beyond admission. We're seeing more schools willing to move off of point solutions, but they find value in having a single platform in terms of efficiency, effectiveness, and shared knowledge across a campus. What does that do to existing functionality that admissions has, or how do schools plan to scale that? That's a challenge I have come across much more frequently now than I saw two years ago.
Another challenge we come across is gauging a school’s threshold of knowledge and functionality. Are you using this tool at a CRM 101 level? Do you want to use it at a 301 or 401 level? What does that really mean? What's the gap between where you are and where you want to be?
There is a threshold you cross between 201 and 301 where the amount of data you have to have in order to enable 301 functionality dramatically increases. If you don't have your architecture and data strategy in place, you won't be able to use the tool at a 301 level. It won't work, especially when you start thinking of advanced functionality like predictive components.
I see schools starting to struggle there because they don't know what those data points need to be. They don't know if they have it, how to go find it, or how to start collecting it. But the key for us is knowing a client wants to be at that level. Our focus right now is completely on growing and scaling the use of CRM and looking at those foundational pieces like data that you have to have in place in order to enable advanced functionality.
Zak: You talked about using CRM beyond admissions. What is behind the broader view of technology than was present before?
Mickey: I think there is a greater awareness of what CRM can do beyond admissions. Schools are seeing more of the automations they can accomplish. I don't just mean back-end operations. I mean front-end conversations that are being automated, collected, and understood about a prospective student. They start to ask “Can we do that with our current students?”
Ten years ago, selling that technology to an admissions person would be very basic. They didn't really understand CRM, and you had to teach them that in the sales process. Now, we don't have to teach it, but when you start looking at other use cases, you have to go back to that introductory conversation and translate it to “student success” or whatever the use case and start teaching again.
Schools are starting to embrace data culture, asking “How do we more proactively connect with students?” Some of these solutions are showing those tools and functionality, and people are starting to understand how that could work.
Partnering with Formstack
Zak: Can you talk about accelerating work in the context of schools as they adopt CRM and products like Formstack?
Mickey: We're creating the possibility to remove the mundane things to become more efficient and build momentum. It’s one thing to implement a new tool. But when you talk about changing the process, it can feel like you've jumped over the fence into someone else's backyard. You've got staff who have been operating in their own world, doing their things, their way to achieve the outcomes that other people need of them. And now you're saying, “I need you to still be successful, but I need to do it in a very different way.”
Some people are accepting, saying, “Let's do it. I'm excited!” Then there are times you can't get the perfect buy-in. But you have to find some level of willingness and contribution, or that outcome you're trying to work for will be very difficult to achieve.
Zak: How did you start working with Formstack?
Mickey: Typically, we have a client that's already on your tool, or we have a client that has a specific use case need, and we know that you can solve for that with your tool.
We work with 25-30 vendors across all different types of use cases, from forums to events to integration agents. I would say Formstack is by far the most engaged partner we have. Formstack consistently and proactively reaches out to understand where we are in our business, how things are going, and what we could do better together.
Your team is phenomenal in that effort. You’re always trying to connect, to be sure that we have the relationship in the right place and the right way to best support our clients together. That’s why we have so many conversations with your team and try to find more opportunities to work together.
Want your business to start gaining momentum? Explore Formstack's partner program designed for consultants, agencies, higher education institutions, and tech partners.