Believe it or not, a wide-reaching student recruitment strategy can have its downsides. Dealing with student inquiries from multiple channels, regions, and languages can quickly become overwhelming for recruitment and admissions staff, who are under pressure to follow up in a timely and effective manner to engage with every new prospect, and ensure that all the hard work your school has put into generating new leads pays off.
Customer Relationship Management (CRM) technology offers a readymade solution to this problem, allowing schools to keep track of leads more easily, automate some of their follow-up processes, and measure the effectiveness of their lead management more accurately.
While using CRM for higher education is not a new idea, a global study conducted in 2015 by StudyPortals and iE&D Solutions revealed that 59% of 176 institutions surveyed did not use a CRM system for recruitment, with only 36% of those schools saying that they were considering implementing one.
So why should your school consider using CRM? What are its potential benefits? And how can you integrate it into your existing lead management activities? Read on to find out more.
How Do CRM Systems Work? An Introduction for Recruitment Pros
For those who are unfamiliar with the concept, CRM software platforms offer a wide range of functionalities designed to allow marketing and sales professionals to manage their contact with customers more effectively.
Essentially, CRM systems collect any information you have gathered about a lead to build a comprehensive online database. You can then organise and track these leads at every stage of the inbound marketing lifecycle, group them into different segments, and automate certain functions of the inbound marketing process.
There are a wide range of CRM systems available, and the right option for your school will depend on your individual needs. Some of the most popular general CRM systems like Hubspot, Salesforce, and Microsoft Dynamics are great options for everyone from beginners to experts, with intuitive, user-friendly interfaces and comprehensive integration and functionality.
Schools also have the option of using CRM platforms specifically designed for higher education, such as Ellucian, Hobsons, and CampusNexus. These offer the advantages of having readymade, customised features for student recruitment, but can be more expensive to implement.
Getting Started: Segmenting Prospective Students Using a CRM System
To really get the most out of CRM for student recruitment, it is vital that your contacts are organised properly. Most CRM platforms have tools which allow you to easily import your existing contact lists, meaning you can start tracking your current leads right away.
From there, you can create calls to action and contact forms for your website, landing pages, and other digital channels directly from your CRM, which will automatically add new leads to your database. These can be as simple or elaborate as you want them to be, and can allow you to gather additional data about prospective leads to personalise your follow-up efforts.
Example: This form from US ESL providers English Language Center collects a lot of information from prospective students which could potentially be used for personalisation within a CRM system, such as their nationality, first language, and preferred study destination.
Advanced Tip: While you can easily create multiple values for your CRM forms, try and resist the temptation to request too much information from prospective students, as forms which are overly complicated, come across as invasive, or simply take too long to fill out can put prospects off and lead to lower conversion rates. You can perform A/B testing with different forms to ensure they are effective.
Once a lead enters your system, they can be grouped into lists with other, similar prospects for more strategic targeting. CRM platforms offer a lot of flexibility when it comes to segmenting your contacts, meaning you can use whatever criteria you feel will get the best results for your school. For example, you could segment prospects by location, program, or age, or even create customised lists for leads who attend events such as open days and recruitment fairs.
All of this can be fully automated based on the info prospective students give you when they contact your school, and allows you to plan your follow-up processes more strategically, as well as automatically assigning leads to specific members of your team for improved efficiency.
In addition, it can also be a valuable safeguard against common mistakes. For instance, you can build a smart list that automatically segments prospects who respond to multi-lingual campaigns, ensuring they never accidentally receive a communication in anything other than their chosen language.
CRM systems also allow you to assign values to any action a prospective student takes in relation to your school, which can include anything from attending a campus tour to simply liking a Facebook post. These values can be used to calculate a ‘lead score’ for that prospect, which can help you predict how serious their interest is in your school. This process allows you make better judgements on when and how to try and engage each potential recruit.
Scoring leads is essentially a subjective process, and how you choose to assign value to certain actions will depend on your recruitment practices and how students typically interact with your school. Laurentian University’s Director of Digital Strategy JP Rains produced an excellent SlideShare on the topic, which includes this example of a typical lead scoring system:
As you can see, recruitment professionals will also often assign an ‘initial score’ to new leads, taking various factors into account to estimate the likelihood of them becoming seriously interested in making an application. This process can be refined over time by analysing data from your ongoing campaigns in order to make more accurate predictions in the future.
Marketing Automation and CRM in Higher Education
Marketing automation is also a big part of using CRM for education lead generation. One of the main elements of this is email lead nurturing campaigns, which many schools use to foster relationships with prospective students and gradually encourage them to take the next steps towards making an application.
The lead segmentation CRM allows makes this process easier, allowing you to develop personalised email campaigns for prospective students which take into account key information about them such as their interests and background, resulting in more targeted email content that really speaks to their needs.
For example, students who requests information about a specific program can automatically be sent an email which tells them more about the course, perhaps even linking to additional content such as blogs and articles from your website which might be of interest to them.
Example: Blogs like this one from university pathway program provider ONCAMPUS Global, which offers an overview of the process students need to go through to qualify as a lawyer in the UK, would work well as complementary content in an email for leads who have expressed interest in the school’s law pathway.
CRM platforms allow you to build as many lead nurturing campaigns as you want, and send follow-up mails to students automatically on a specified schedule to encourage them to take the next step. As they move down the enrollment funnel, for example by making an online application or arranging an interview with an admissions team member, your emails and any accompanying content can be personalised to resonate with their needs and concerns at each stage of their journey.
As students become more familiar and open to communications with your school, CRM can also be used to schedule and track other communications with them, such as phone calls and instant messaging, allowing your team to easily see when and how students have been contacted and helping ensure you keep in touch regularly while not bombarding prospects with too many massages.
Example: Mautic, which is one of the platforms HEM use when managing CRM for higher Education, allows users to follow-up with leads by SMS.
CRM is also ideal for engaging with prospective students who attend recruitment events. For example, after registering a contact for an open day or campus tour, you can send personalised messages welcoming them and giving them any information they need for the event. Afterwards, you can send follow-up messages thanking attendants for coming, or even encouraging those who didn’t show to attend a future event or speak to an advisor to find out what they missed. The same can be done for online events such as webinars and virtual tours.
Example: This is the booking form McMaster University uses for its campus tours. Using CRM, the school could automatically create lists for any leads who complete it, using the information they have gathered to create automated, personalised communications.
CRM isn’t just effective during the recruitment process. It can also be a valuable tool to automate communications with current students, and even alumni. You can create lists to send automated mails informing your student body of important announcements, encouraging graduates to get back in touch, or even targeted student retention campaigns for at-risk students, reminding them to study for tests or encouraging them to make assignment deadlines.
Integrating Social Media with CRM for Student Recruitment
CRM can also be integrated with social media to gain additional insights into your prospective students, and many platforms offer a number of interesting ways to do this. Hubspot’s social media lead intelligence, for instance, can automatically link the Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn profiles of your leads with their contact information, allowing you to potentially learn more about their interests, tastes and motivations.
The platform also allows you to create social media follow and sharing buttons, and link your own social accounts in order to monitor all your activity in one place, making it easier for your admissions team to respond to comments and messages quickly, and keep track of any social media conversations that are pertinent to your school. Other CRM platform also offers similar services.
CRM data can also be used for Pay-per-Click campaigns on social media. The ad platforms offered by social sites such as Facebook and Twitter give users the option to upload their own contacts lists, which the platform will then attempt to match to the email addresses of its users. This allows you to easily develop strategically targeted remarketing campaigns.
Pro Tip: Using Facebook’s Lookalike Audiences function or Twitter’s Tailored Audiences, you could also opt to launch a campaign that targets users with similar profiles to those already in your CRM, potentially creating more streamlined and cost-effective PPC campaigns for your school.
Using CRM Reporting for Better Insights Into Education Lead Generation
In addition to helping you streamline your admissions process, the reporting tools offered by your CRM can also provide additional insights to refine and improve your campaigns going forward.
Most platforms provide a comprehensive dashboard which allows you to quickly view your contacts lists and recent activities. You can also enable custom reports which provide insights into your lead generation activities. Everything you create using your CRM is automatically tracked, meaning you can easily view click rates for calls-to-action, as well as open rates and click-through-rates for emails to determine how successful your approach is.
You can also compare the traffic from your website, social media accounts, and offline initiatives, to see where you are generating the most potential leads, and which channels are producing the most seriously interested prospective students.
All of this data can be analysed alongside your Google Analytics and AdWords tracking, social analytics, and any other reporting functions to paint an incredibly detailed picture of the effectiveness of your campaigns. And with the ability to easily modify and improve your lead generation efforts at the touch of a button, your school can continue to see the benefits of CRM for years to come.
Do you use a CRM system for your school? Which platform have you found to be the most effective? Leave a comment below and tell us about your experiences!