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The challenge of developing student leads into registered students is at the core of the higher ed marketer’s objectives. With generally flat or declining marketing budgets, managers must focus their efforts to identify ways and means to improve their institution’s lead conversion-to-student rates to drive enrollment growth.

Here are four marketing tactics that will help you improve your ability to convert leads to students.

1.  Follow up as quickly as possible with new leads

Most institutions don’t do a very good job at this because they generally are not set up with adequate call centre resources to follow up on leads quickly. Regardless, the research is quite conclusive in general marketing, as well as in the higher ed vertical. If you follow up quickly you will get better results. Following up within an hour is optimal but even within that period you can see how quickly the quality of leads erode in the chart below. It may take a student six months to ultimately register with your institution but the simple truth is that if you don’t establish a relationship with him or her within the first hour of their inquiry, one of your competitors might just get there first.

Response decay over timeSource

2.  Leverage student communication preferences

Thanks to Noel Levitz’s ongoing research and E-expectations reports, it is pretty clear how student prefer to communicate with higher ed institutions. Direct phone contact with high school seniors continues to drop in preference but many institutions still rely heavily on advisers speaking directly with prospective students in person.  Institutions who adapt their follow up processes and tools to digital means are connecting more effectively with prospects and are much more likely able to influence their final enrollment decisions.

communications preferencesSource 2014 Noel Levitz E-expectations report 

3.  Focus on lead nurturing 

The concept of the student recruitment funnel is well known to higher ed marketers but the idea of nurturing leads through that funnel is less commonly applied. Lead nurturing flips the approach from a sales centric approach to a much more customer driven, symbiotic relationship with the prospect. Using content marketing and a much more personal approach, lead nurturing cultivates a relationship with the prospect through a process of education, informing and engagement.

This tactic has a particularly good fit into higher ed recruitment marketing given the length of the sales cycle, the complexity of our ”product” and the historical “anti-sales” culture of much of the traditional post-secondary education sector.  I particularly like this approach as it acknowledges the complexity of the student’s needs and decision making and puts the onus on the institution to engage in a helping relationship with the student that is much more solutions driven.

lead nurturingSource 

4.  Invest in your capabilities to track and market to your prospects

To market effectively across today’s higher ed landscape, marketers need to have the appropriate tools that allow them to manage the complex relationship that they have with prospective students in the ever changing digital marketing landscape. At a minimum this involves web analytics, CRM and a range of other possible tools from Email Service Providers to Marketing Automation. Those schools who fall behind in these capabilities, either through lack of knowledge or budget, will fall seriously behind in their competitiveness and ultimately in their enrollments. Tools like Hubspot, seen in the example below, provide marketers with a well-integrated platform that tracks prospect engagement across a wide range of digital touch points and enables them to deliver very sophisticated and personalized marketing messages to them.

Hubspot exampleExample of Hubspot marketing automation tool interface 

These four related tactics, when leveraged together, position an institution to more effectively develop leads into registered students.  Rapid follow-up, using appropriate communications channels, managed through sales and marketing automation tools allows you to educate, inform and engage with prospects on their terms, in a very efficient and effective manner.

Does adopting these tactics fit into your department’s strategic marketing plans for the future? Do you agree that these approaches will be required of higher ed marketers in the coming years. What do you see as your biggest challenges to moving forward in these directions?