CRM for Education Made Simple: A Beginner’s Guide for Schools

Date posted: November 1, 2017

higher education

A good customer relationship management (CRM) platform is the backbone of many successful digital marketing efforts in modern student recruitment. 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 recruitment efforts? Here is a beginner’s guide to what is possible.

CRM Contact & Lead Management Tools Help You Build Relationships With Prospects

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 enrolment 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 automated. The software can build a list of new prospects who have submitted inquiries and who need to be contacted, and detail 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: CRM platforms like Hubspot make 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.

education CRM

You can also go a step beyond that by filtering and segmenting prospects according to their interactions with your institution. With many CRM systems, 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, signing up for an email newsletter, 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 student recruitment takes the effort out of sorting these prospects and determining which ones are serious about their interest in your school.

CRM Dashboards Help You Measure Progress & Make Informed Decisions

One of the great strengths of the CRM model is in how it organizes and delivers large quantities of useful data in a manner that is easily accessible. To accomplish this, 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 Enrolment Manager dashboard from Microsoft Dynamics includes offers a quick view of a school’s leads by campus, source, and the stage they are at in the recruitment funnel, among other useful metrics.

higher ed CRM

Source: Microsoft

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: CRM platform Mautic can be customized to allow you to segment 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.

higher ed CRM

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.

education marketing CRM

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.

Campaign Management Helps You Align Your Recruitment Efforts Around Specific Goals

Most CRMs will also include valuable campaign creation and management functionality designed to help you create and monitor recruitment efforts for your institution. A CRM campaign essentially segments all of your activities relating to a particular project into its own unique section in the platform.  

As with dashboards, much of the strength of this feature lies in the opportunities to create customized campaigns within the CRM. What do you want to accomplish with a new campaign? What do you want to track, and for how long? Just as a CRM itself can be tailored to the needs of your organization, so too can it facilitate the creation of campaigns designed for the unique needs of your school.

Commonly, professionals using CRM for education will create separate campaigns for specific programs, or targeted at specific countries or regions. In addition, it is possible to make unique campaigns for specific events, such as an open house, campus tour, or information session. You can also build campaigns around specific dates, like application deadlines.

Each campaign within a CRM should have its own unique dashboard, allowing users to see at a glance how they are progressing in real time. Commonly, a campaign dashboard will track and display the number of contacts generated by the campaign, the number of visits to web pages – like blog posts – associated with a campaign, and engagement by prospects through the campaign. However, any other metrics deemed relevant to the effort can be tracked and reported on through the campaign’s dashboard.

Example: This campaign page on Hubspot displays important information about website visits, email open rates, and other data relating to a campaign built around content marketing.

CRM for education

Using Email Tracking in CRM to Measure Student Engagement

Email tracking can offer great benefits as part of a CRM system, but it is important to note that this feature is not included in all CRMs by default. Email tracking capabilities technically fall under the umbrella of “marketing automation,” and though many modern CRMs recognize the value that they offer and therefore include marketing automation features, not all do. This is an important point to keep in mind when choosing a CRM for your recruitment efforts.

Email tracking can provide your school with a number of valuable metrics that can help you to track the success of your follow-up efforts, such as email open rates, click-through rates, and unsubscribes. This data can be valuable in helping you to identify improvements that can be made to your process, as well as allowing your team to gauge the general level of interest of individual leads based on their engagement with your mails.

Example: Hubspot allows you to quickly view the delivery rates, open rates, and click rates of your most recent emails.

crm for higher education marketing

How to Choose a CRM for Education Lead Generation

Making the choice to put CRM at the core of your recruitment efforts is just the start. There are many CRMs out there, each offering their own different advantages and disadvantages. It’s important to do a careful comparison before making your ultimate choice, as 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. 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.  

With these platforms, 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.  However, they can be more expensive, and their specialized design can sometimes make them less intuitive for new users than more general purpose platforms.

By contrast, general purpose CRM systems like Hubspot, Salesforce, and Microsoft Dynamics might 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.

CRM for higher education

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 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.

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