New CRM Course Offered to Undergraduate Marketing Students

DEO and Professor of Marketing, Dhananjay (DJ) Nayakankuppam, is teaching a new CRM course this semester for undergraduate Marketing students. As the world of marketing continuously evolves, so do the skills and knowledge needed to succeed in workplace. CRM has been around for decades, but continues to advance in its applications for the increasingly digital marketplace. DJ provides an inside look at the course he is teaching this semester and why it’s more relevant that ever.


Could you start by telling me a little bit about the CRM course you’re teaching this semester? 

CRM (or Customer Relationship Management) is really a rather old idea but has burgeoned recently because of a slew of new tools that make it possible to practice in a much more powerful way than before. In the past, a ‘mom and pop’ store where the proprietor that knew all customers by name and their needs and shopping habits was, in a sense, practicing CRM. However, all the knowledge resided in his/her head. The explosion (and reduction in cost) of database technologies and computing power now makes it possible to employ similar concepts in a much more powerful fashion.

One way to think of CRM is that it is the marketing idea of segmentation on steroids. Segments of size 1. Instead of a focus on a purchase process, the focus shifts to customer lifetime value. The course can be thought of as equally divided between discussing marketing ideas in the CRM space and analytical tools for someone looking to work in this space.

Students can expect to be exposed to a range of analytical techniques for dealing with data typical of the CRM world. I should also point out that marketing jobs are increasingly shifting from the mass media/advertising orientation towards a more CRM orientation. If you work for Amazon, iTunes, banking (and many more…), there is CRM in your future.  

Is this the first time a CRM course is being taught at the undergrad or graduate level? Do you plan to continue teaching/offering the course in future semesters? 

I believe it is. Assuming there is demand for the course, we certainly plan to continue offering the course.  

In your opinion, why is understanding CRM important to marketing or overall business operations? 

The marketing world is increasingly shifting towards a CRM focus. I’ll not engage in the usual hyperbole of ‘X is dead, make way for Y…’. For many decades now, there has been an increasing shift away from mass markets towards more and more highly segmented markets. This process has accelerated over the last 15 years or so. Look, for e.g., at the rise of online retailers – Amazon, Suitsupply, iTunes, Spotify etc. are not interested in the money they make on their first sale to you – it is your lifetime value to them that they are interested in managing. Arguably, this has always been the case but it was operationally difficult to do in the past. In other words, while the principles have always been known, it was difficult to actually put into practice – we had to wait until database and computing technologies caught up. But that has happened now.  

Why do you think undergraduate Marketing students should have an understanding on this topic?  

Jobs….. in one way or another, this is likely in your future. The more prepared you are for it, the better your prospects.  

What do you hope your students will gain from completing the CRM course? 

Analytical skills for managing CRM and a greater appreciation for the creativity that is possible with a mix of analytical skills and marketing principles.

How is this course similar and/or different from the PhD courses you’ve previously taught? 

Ph.D. courses are designed to prepare one for a career in academia. You can think of it as the difference between basic science and applied science (like the difference between physics and engineering – physics may want to understand the nature of force, engineers want to build bridges). We often seem to imply that one is better than the other, depending on our individual proclivities. There is, in actuality, a back and forth between those two things in human knowledge. However, to do either well requires a very specific way of thinking – the constraints and challenges are unique to each discipline and getting the two mixed up can result in not doing either thing well.  

Ph.D. courses are designed to help you tackle questions in basic science – the emphasis here is on control. The real world is messy and everything is moving at the same time. So we build artificial laboratories that do not resemble the real world at all but they hold everything constant except the things we want to vary. This allows very clear inferences from studies. Are the findings useful in the real world? Sometimes, but sometimes not – sometimes, it might have to wait for other discoveries and creative combinations of various findings to make something useful in the real world. Einstein’s theory of ‘time dilation at near light speeds’ made mostly for interesting science fiction for a long time till we came up with GPS satellites that were 20,000 km above the ground, experienced weaker gravity and the clocks on these satellites ticked about 38ms faster than clocks on the ground. May not seem like much but it can really mess up someone in a car in rush hour traffic in Chicago if it is not accounted for.  

This course is different in that it is more applied in nature. We start with ‘Here are things we are pretty sure about as of now because we did these things in those artificial labs etc.…’. If you want to be able to use it in the messy, fast moving, real world, here are techniques that you will need. A bit like saying, “Here is the theory of force. Given that, here are equations and models you will need to build bridges.” 


A huge thank you to DJ for taking the time to provide an overview of his new CRM course.

McKenzie Fuller

Fuller, McKenzie - Graduate Research Assistant

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