Getting higher ed prospect students closer to ‘yes’

New strategies you can use to nurture students from interest to enrollment

In my last article, I discussed how digital media channels can reach prospective students and build a pipeline of candidates. This time, we’ll focus on nurturing those prospects to bring them closer to application and deposit.

Whether you are recruiting undergrads, degree completers, adult professionals or parents of prospective students, it’s getting harder and harder to connect. People often ignore emails and rarely answer or return phone calls.

Many show up on the radar for the first time when they start or complete an application (fondly called “stealth” applicants). They expect you to meet their schedule availability for calls and meetings. Sound familiar?

Well, here are some ways to cut through the clutter and close the deal with these elusive prospective students in the funnel.

Smart lead-scoring

When you shift from primarily traditional channels to digital channels, you’ll notice a greater influx of leads. But because digital media makes it easier for people to express interest, it means that not all your leads are a perfect fit, and many might not be ready to enroll.

The upside of this larger lead pool is that you can build a longer-term lead pipeline. With higher volume, choosing the criteria to include in an inquiry/lead form becomes important because it represents your first data set for lead scoring—the process by which you categorize and prioritize leads for outreach and further communication.

The challenge is that if you have too many fields, you risk losing leads who hate filling out forms (no more than six fields is a good rule of thumb). Include your most vital qualifying questions so you’re not chasing candidates to determine fit after the led-capture window.

For example, if you are marketing an MBA program that doesn’t require a GMAT, asking candidates if they are looking for a GMAT-free program allows you to target outreach to them.

Segmenting and tailoring

As you connect with students throughout the admissions process, use your CRM or other database to categorize and label student attributes. A good CRM allows you to track people who open emails, click on content, attend webinars, visit the app page or start an app. It can also collect other criteria such as degree status and timeframe for enrollment.

Many CRMs will also allow you to create custom categorization fields that can be helpful in recruiting for programs that have select criteria for admission. You will also learn things about candidates that round out their personas—are they single parents? Interested in only online offerings?

As you further segment prospects, you can tailor automated email content to match the personas of your audience.

Get creative with touch points

People expect easy processes, information at the ready and 24/7 accessibility. How can you modify your outreach to better meet these expectations? Start capturing phone numbers so you can use text messaging to reach candidates. Second, create convenience by:

  • scheduling off-hour info sessions
  • substituting videoconferencing for in-person meetings
  • offering webinars that are always accessible
  • arranging in-person meetings

Consider hosting regional events in top feeder markets. Why send an admissions road warrior out for a select few school presentations when you can hold a more engaging event for an audience you have cultivated? Once candidates can connect on their own schedule and get the information they need, it eliminates obstacles to enrolling.

Colleges that institutionalize these processes have an advantage in the marketplace as it pertains to nurturing prospects. As you finalize your budget for FY2019, consider if you have the right internal and external resources to reshape your approach. 

Tom Ryan is the vice president of brand integration at Schneider Associates, an integrated marketing firm based in Boston. Read more about recruiting in “Colleges should always woo would-be students.” UB editor Ray Bendici examines techniques school use to keep students engaged throughout the enrollment process. 

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