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How the ICPSR at the University of Michigan Gathers and Archives Research Data With a CRM

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Author photo: Grace Lau

Grace Lau

Did you know that the University of Michigan has one of the oldest and largest social science data repositories in not only the United States, but also the world?

That’s a lot of research data.

And yes, you guessed it, its team uses a CRM to not only track communication with researchers, but also find and gather data to add to the archives.

CRMs really aren’t just for sales teams anymore.

Meet the ICPSR.

The Inter-university Consortium for Political and Social Research, or ICPSR, is a center within the Institute for Social Research at the University of Michigan. Its mission: to gather, preserve, and share scientific data with students, policymakers, and researchers.

Not only that, the ICPSR also provides leadership and training in data access, curation, and analysis for the research community. Though it started out in election studies back in 1962, today its archives contain research that spans pretty much every field. That means that if you’re doing research, teaching, or learning, the ICPSR is most likely going to be your go-to—regardless of your research discipline.

Shane Redman, a Data Project Manager at the ICPSR, wears a few hats. He manages the topical archive for disability data (the ICPSR contains specialized, or “topical archives*,” with data on topics like healthcare and criminal justice), and is also part of the general acquisitions team. With the general acquisitions team, Shane is responsible for gathering data outside his topical archive.

It was thanks to Shane and his team’s creativity and willingness to experiment that the ICPSR was able to customize a CRM to streamline its workflows—and also make its project managers’ lives easier.

*Did you know? Topical archive projects are typically funded by government agencies or private foundations.

Life before Copper: decentralized inconsistency.

Before going through an institutional reorganization about two years ago, ICPSR projects was pretty compartmentalized: each project had its own director, its own project manager, its own research staff, and so on.

Not only that, there also wasn’t a consistent acquisition process. This meant that depending on the project, some people used a CRM, others used Excel, and some people used a combination—or none at all to track communication with scientists.

“Without a centralized software, it was difficult to bring all the data together efficiently,” Shane explains.

“There was also quite a steep learning curve for all these different programs, particularly for reporting and setting up workflows. So that was another challenge Copper solved, in addition to centralizing our processes.”

A CRM that’s so customizable, even non-sales teams can use it.

Along with four other teammates on the general acquisitions team, Shane tested and customized Copper before introducing it to the rest of the organization. After thinking through what their pipelines would look like for various projects, it became apparent that even though ICPSR wasn’t a sales team, it would still be able to put Copper to good use in different scenarios.

To maximize efficiency, everybody in every project needed to be using the same system. To start out, Shane and the general acquisitions team worked primarily in Copper, familiarizing themselves and tailoring it to fit the ICPSR’s needs. Within a month, they’d rolled it out to the rest of the institution and trained the rest of the project managers to use Copper.

Here's how a typical pipeline looks in Copper:

It’s all about relationships.

Like in sales, the world of academia is connected by a range of diverse and rich relationships. “Relationships spring up in different ways,” says Shane. “Researchers can contact us with a data set they want to archive with us. That’s one starting point.””

The ICPSR team can also approach researchers directly. Someone may refer the team to a specific data set that’s important to a particular discipline and that would be good to archive. “In these cases, we might cold-call researchers who collected data and approach them about archiving their data with us.”

Looks like cold calls aren’t just for sales teams.

Having relationships with scientists also comes in handy. Often, these connections can make it easier for Shane’s team to get in contact, as opposed to just cold-calling. (Warm leads, anyone?)

From that point, if all goes well, the project manager will work with the researcher to figure out what type of data they have, what formats it’s stored in, if it's ready to be archived, if they've shared it before, and so on. The goal? To see if the ICPSR is a good fit for housing data from that study.

Finally, the researcher officially shares their files, depositing their data in the ICPSR’s archive.

In other words, a successful close.

Closing opportunities isn’t just for salespeople.

Yet another different-but-similar trait that the data acquisitions team shares with sales teams: their goal is to close opportunities.

“Opportunities are what we're really focused on—and these aren’t sales, but data sets. That’s why we like Copper so much, because it’s customizable,” Shane explains. “Even though the team doesn’t place a dollar value on opportunities, we can still track everything in Copper. It’s really important for us to know where these opportunities and data sets come from.”

Curious about what a non-sales pipeline for an acquisitions process looks like? (We were.) Here’s what Shane’s looks like:

“We have a field in Copper called ‘Source’ where we can report on how we discovered this data set, whether it was from another staff member at ICPSR or through a contact we made at a conference. This helps us see which ones actually pay off, and how they make their way all to the end of the pipeline.”

About 25 of the 110-ish employees are involved with acquisitions, but there are also people on the team who use Copper like a traditional CRM (for example, to track membership payments).

“Because we aren't doing monetary sales, we need something that we can customize for what we do, and Copper gives us that. The interface and the user-friendliness, the dragging and dropping of the opportunities, and the ease of recording are all incredibly useful. But what we really like is that it’s customizable enough that our acquisitions, membership, and communications teams can all use it—and use it effectively.”

Teamwork makes the dream work.

There are often multiple people in ICPSR collaborating on the same acquisition or project. “It actually happens quite a bit,” says Shane. “Collaboration is crucial.”

Different projects at ICPSR can interact with the same organizations and sometimes even the same scientists who are running multiple studies that collect data. Being able to collaborate across ICPSR and see what data have been acquired is helpful, and having everyone in sync has been a huge productivity win for the team.

"We've closed 10% more acquisitions in the last three months since we started using Copper.”

When asked why he thought the team was getting more new data sets into the archives since implementing Copper, Shane believes it’s because of Copper's interface and how easy it is to see recent interactions. Having a pipeline for acquisitions that the team believes it can close within 30 days has helped everyone focus on worthwhile negotiations. Before, those opportunities were lost among other slower-moving negotiations.

And of course, it helped that Copper already worked with their existing tools.

“We use G Suite for everything. It’s really helpful because it's all in one place, right in front of us—we don’t have to dig through our emails to see the last time somebody was contacted. It’s easy to see who we need to follow up with.”

“We’ve actually created a report that we send around once a month to our users that shows how many opportunities you've had over the past 30 days without an interaction. It’s great,” says Shane. “Copper’s the only tool we need for acquisitions.”

In the Relationship Era, relationship management isn’t just for sales teams anymore—and neither are CRM tools. There’s still a long way to go as companies continue to adapt and learn, but let’s just say we’re excited to see how other industries use CRM to create richer and more meaningful relationships.

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