Today, a good customer relationship management (CRM) platform is the backbone of many successful student recruitment efforts. A CRM is a customer-centric system that can help education professionals nurture relationships with prospects and enrollees, produce data-driven insights to illustrate progress towards goals, and streamline their admissions and marketing initiatives to save time and effort.
In the right hands, this is a tool with immense value. For those who are new to the concept of CRM, though, or are in the process of adopting and exploring CRM platforms, it may not be readily apparent exactly how to harness the power of this type of system.
Curious about what CRM can do for your school? Here is a beginner’s guide to what’s possible.
What Does CRM Involve? A Brief Intro for Schools
Even if you are familiar with the basic idea of a CRM, understanding exactly what it can do to help your school can take some thorough research. CRM software offers a wide range of applications to help you manage and interact with leads, with different systems including a variety of different features. However, there are a few common functions that most CRMs will include:
- Contact Management– This will usually include the ability to build and store individual contact profiles, segment them according to your needs, and track your interactions with each one.
- Team Management– Most CRMs will also offer tools for your team to better collaborate, schedule tasks, track your lead pipeline, and plan your workload.
- Communications Tools– Most CRMs will offer facilities to log and detail communications with contacts via phone, email, SMS, instant messaging, physical meetings, and even through social media. Many will also offer integrations for some (but not necessarily all) of these communications channels, so that you can use them directly from your system.
- Reporting– Because CRMs collect such valuable, granular information on your audience, as well as your own team’s work, they also offer the facility to synthesize this data into reports that can be used to improve your efforts.
Another important aspect of the CRM spectrum is marketing automation, which enables your team to automate certain processes across different digital channels. While they are technically two different areas, CRM and marketing automation often intertwine, as they both serve to provide tools to help nurture leads down the funnel towards conversion.
Because of this, various marketing automation functionality, such as email marketing, lead scoring, campaign management, and the building of lead capture forms and landing pages, are often included in many modern CRM systems. Many of these features include personalization options to ensure that your automated activities retain a human touch.
Build Relationships With Prospects Using CRM for Schools
The process of building connections with prospective students may feel more like an art than a precise science, but with CRM, it’s possible to shift that balance.
Consider what an ideal series of interactions with a prospective student would look like. At a basic level, it would involve reaching out to them soon after they express an interest in your institution. It would also mean following up with them enough times to offer assistance with any obstacles they are experiencing during the enrollment journey, but not so many times that they feel undue pressure.
Being able to achieve this kind of prompt, courteous, and effective service manually would require constant verification of new inquiries and tracking of interactions between prospects and a recruitment team, but to do that for even one potential applicant would involve a fair amount of effort. Multiply this by dozens or hundreds of leads and the workload can quickly spiral into something totally unmanageable.
With CRM, however, this work can be done for you. The software can build lists of new prospects who have submitted inquiries, which can be segmented by location, course, or any other parameter that your school wishes. Each contact’s profile will include detailed information based on what they have provided when completing your inquiry forms.
Example: A typical contact profile in HEM’s Mautic CRM system. The profile includes personal details, contact information, the lead’s educational background, and even a section for details about their education agent should it be needed.
As your leads progress through the enrollment journey you can track your follow-up activities so that your team will always know who needs to be contacted, and how often your team has interacted with each individual lead. You can also track the total number of meetings scheduled, how many calls have been completed, and many other useful metrics for your admissions team. All of these features greatly reduce the information management burden placed on recruiters, allowing them to focus more time and energy on building stronger relationships with prospects, and less on tracking productivity and prospect status.
Example: HEM’s customized Mautic CRM makes it easy to track the general productivity and progress of each individual member of your recruitment team. Consolidating this type of information in one place and making it understandable at a glance can speed up the process of analyzing important data.
You can also go a step beyond that by filtering and segmenting prospects according to their interactions with your institution. In CRM systems that incorporate marketing automation functionality, it is possible to assign a quantitative value – called a ‘lead score’ – to interactions a prospect might have with your team. This might include anything from visiting a landing page and filling out a contact form for more information, to signing up for an email newsletter, to scheduling a call with one of your staff members, or any number of other activities that could help them move through your recruitment funnel.
The accumulation of points associated with these kinds of activities makes it easier to determine which prospects should be high priorities. Somebody who has had multiple phone calls with your admissions team, for instance, is almost certainly a higher value lead than someone who requested an information package and then never engaged further with your institution. Using a CRM for higher education takes the effort out of sorting these prospects and determining which ones are serious about their interest in your school.
Using CRM Workflows to Manage Leads Through the Enrollment Journey
Arguably one of the useful features of a CRM is the ability to create workflows –referred to as campaigns in some systems– to plan your management and nurturing of specific segments of your audience from the point of their initial inquiry through the enrollment journey.
Depending on your team’s needs, these workflows might be relatively simple and straightforward – such as a workflow that assigns leads to specific owners. This example in Mautic does so based on the location of the campus the prospect is interested in:
Alternatively, you may want to create a more complex workflow, in which events are carefully timed over certain intervals, or the actions of contacts trigger different activities from your staff. A CRM will allow you to build workflows with various qualifiers so that you can plan your recruitment efforts as meticulously as you need to.
If your CRM system also has in-built marketing automation functionality, your workflows can incorporate a variety of automated communication features, helping to cut down on the amount of manual follow-up your team are doing. For instance, most schools will use at least some level of automated email marketing in their workflows.
Keep in mind, however, that contacting prospects directly by phone is often the best way to get results, while SMS and instant messaging are also growing in popularity as preferred communication options for those researching schools. For best results, be sure to incorporate a mixture of communication channels into your follow-up processes.
Example: This sample workflow uses a number of different channels to follow up with international leads, and incorporates both automated and manual communications.
Measure Your School’s Progress with CRM Reporting
One of the great strengths of the CRM model is in how it collects and organizes large quantities of useful data in a manner that is easily accessible. As a result, the CRM reports you can generate will make a valuable addition to your school’s recruitment measurement tools.
For example, HEM’s customized Mautic CRM comes with a readymade supporting suite designed especially for schools, including the following reports:
- Speed to Lead– A measure of how soon your staff members are following up with new leads once they enter the system.
- Meetings Outcome– A summary of any meetings your staff have held with leads.
- Leads with no Scheduled Follow-up– A quick view of any leads for whom no follow-up activities (calls, meetings, emails, etc.) have been scheduled, sorted by lead owner.
- Leads by Stage– All leads segmented by admissions stage showing the percentage and number of each.
- Leads by Program– All leads segmented by program of interest (if known) showing the percentage and number of each.
- Leads by Source– All leads attributed to their original source (e.g. organic website traffic, paid advertising campaigns, online sources etc.) showing the percentage and number of each.
- Lead Status– Leads segmented by status (Hot, Warm, Cold, Not Interested, Not Applicable).
- Lead Conversion– Details how many of your leads have been successfully contacted, held a meeting, made an application, or enrolled with your school over a given period of time.
- Calls Outcome-All calls made by specific outcome (Connected, Busy, No Answer, etc.).
- Admissions Activities Summary– A summary of all follow-up actions taken by your admissions staff (calls held, meetings, emails sent, etc.).
Mautic, as well as most other CRMs, will also allow you to build your own customized reports. This means you can tailor your data collection to your school’s specific needs and goals.
Additionally, CRM platforms use “dashboards,” which are pages on which your most important tracked data can be presented. Dashboards are typically highly visual, presenting information as charts, graphs, or lists which are easily understandable at a glance, and are often interactive.
Example: This sample dashboard from HEM’s Mautic CRM includes a quick view of a school’s leads by location, lead generation over time, top performing contact lists, and website visits.
A dashboard will be composed of many different reports, which will each focus on a unique type of information relevant to your recruiting efforts. Common examples of information recruitment teams might want on their main dashboards include:
- Lead status of prospective students
- The location of individuals who engage with your institution
- The number of applications per program at your school
Having all of this information available at a glance on a single page can make it much quicker to track the progress of your recruitment efforts, which could lead to a huge boost to your ROI. After all, how much more effective might each member of your team be if they always had up-to-the-minute data for all the metrics they care about? With CRMs offering the potential to create customized, even personalized dashboards for your various departments and team members, it’s easy to make huge leaps in efficiency.
Example: HEM’s Mautic CRM includes a report categorizing leads by what stage they are at in your recruitment funnel. This sort of report can be valuable to have available in your main dashboard.
CRM for Marketing ROI: Setting Up Proper Source Attribution
There is one caveat to the advantages of CRM data, which is that it is both incredibly important to ensure good data tracking and quite difficult to do so. At the heart of this issue is proper attribution of prospects’ activity while moving through your recruitment funnel. Without correct attribution of sources and activity, it is impossible to gain useful information from a CRM, as the numbers and charts in your dashboards will reflect incorrect or incomplete information.
For instance, in cases where no source at all is associated to any of your leads, it becomes difficult or even impossible to know which source is performing better. Without this data, how does your team decide which channels it should be prioritizing? How do they identify areas in your recruitment initiatives where improvements can be made? With proper source attribution in place in your CRM, you can access valuable insights into the quantity, quality, and interest levels of leads you generate through different channels, allowing you to make informed, data-driven decisions about your marketing strategy.
Example: After setting up source attribution in HubSpot, your school can see the average number of days a lead took to become a student by source.
This process takes time, effort, and a level of familiarity and expertise with introducing correct and functional tracking to websites, emails, digital ads, and the other channels your recruitment efforts make use of. There is a level of complexity inherent in making all of this tracking work correctly within a single, centralized CRM, and you may find that your school needs assistance in order to set it up correctly. Nonetheless, once you have proper tracking in place, you can begin working with a CRM with confidence that the insights you are gaining are genuine indicators of what your next steps should be.
How to Choose The Best CRM for Your School
Making the choice to put CRM at the core of your recruitment efforts is just the start. There are many options out there, each offering their own different advantages and disadvantages, and choosing the best CRM for schools requires some careful comparison. Discovering a platform isn’t a good fit for you months into using it can be a costly waste of time.
As a first step, it’s worth considering whether you want to go with a general-purpose CRM platform or one that has been designed specifically for student recruitment. The advantage of an education-centric CRM is that initial setup should be relatively limited—this type of software solution is ready-made for the purpose of student recruitment. Platforms designed for education can often come with built-in features such as automated replies to student inquiries, the ability to use and repurpose email templates across numerous departments, and useful segmentation functionality to separate prospects according to various qualities – domestic vs. international applicants, for example – can help schools hit the ground running with their recruitment efforts.
Some popular platforms include Hobsons Starfish CONNECT, Ellucian, and CampusNexus. U of Admissions Marketing provides a helpful list of what is available in the sector, which is updated regularly. However, these platforms can be quite expensive. HEM’s customized Mautic platform does offer a more affordable alternative.
General-purpose CRM systems like Hubspot, Salesforce, and Microsoft Dynamics are also more affordable, but may take a little more effort and time to set up. These platforms are meant for sales and marketing professionals across all kinds of industries, meaning dashboards and reports will need a bit of customization before they will provide the useful insights that recruitment teams are looking for.
However, this investment could well be worth it. General-purpose CRMs tend to have larger client bases and greater revenues. This often results in a correspondingly higher level of polish and greater functionality, as well as a user experience that is more thoughtfully laid out and simple. Highly rated platform HubSpot, for example, has a clean, modern interface, with menus that ensure desired tools are never more than a couple of clicks away. A general-purpose CRM like this might take a little more time to set up in advance, but the time-saving potential it offers over months and years is compelling.
Example: This screenshot of the HubSpot CRM Dashboard offers a great example of the best qualities of a general-purpose CRM. Note the clean interface and intuitive layout – both conducive to greater usability.
Both a dedicated CRM for higher education and a general-purpose CRM platform can be highly functional solutions for recruitment. More important than picking between those aforementioned categories, ultimately, is choosing a platform that your team will actually use, and which can help you get results.
As a general rule, ensure you choose a CRM that integrates well with the software and digital channels your organization already relies on, to avoid needing to adopt additional new tools when getting started. You should also ensure you choose a CRM that includes all the features you want, and that is customizable so that you can easily run and monitor campaigns centering on your specific goals and activities. It can also be highly valuable to choose a system that is cloud-based, allowing for access outside of the office. Strong security features are an absolute necessity for protecting both your information and the information of your prospective students.
Finally, you should also choose a CRM platform that offers good customer support. If something goes wrong, or if you just want to make sure you have help if you need it, accessible and thorough customer service will make a world of difference.
Though adopting a CRM might seem like a miracle solution for improving recruitment efforts at your school, it’s important not to forget that the best results come only when the right CRM is selected, and is configured in a way that will genuinely help your team in their daily work. Making a good investment of time and resources when selecting and establishing your CRM is the best way to ensure you get lasting returns from this powerful tool.
As a general rule, ensure you choose a CRM that integrates well with software and digital channels your organization already relies on, to avoid needing to adopt additional new tools when getting started. You should also ensure you choose a CRM that includes all the features you want – email tracking, for instance – and that is customizable, so that you can easily run and monitor campaigns centering on your specific goals and activities. It can also be highly valuable to choose a system that is cloud-based, allowing for access outside of the office. Strong security features are an absolute necessity for protecting both your information and the information of your prospective students.
Finally, you should also choose a CRM platform that offers good customer support. If something goes wrong, or if you just want to make sure you have setup help if you need it, accessible and thorough customer service will make a world of difference.
Though adopting a CRM might seem like a miracle solution for improving recruitment efforts at your school, it’s important not to forget that the best results come only when the right CRM is selected, and is configured in a way that will deliver genuine insights and proper recommendations to your team. Making a good investment of time and resources when selecting and establishing your CRM is the best way to ensure you get lasting returns from this powerful tool.
*This post was originally published in 2017, but has been updated and expanded to reflect the latest trends and best practices in CRM and marketing automation.