Getting Started with Marketing Automation for Schools

Date posted: July 7, 2021

In an ideal setup for navigating today’s hyper competitive landscape of student recruitment, your admissions team members would be able to handle every single query when it comes in—ready to offer assistance with the human touch that so often makes the difference in nurturing your prospects. In reality, however, your admissions staff clearly can’t be on call 24/7 to answer emails and calls from prospects. This is where marketing automation software becomes essential for schools looking to ensure no leads fall between the cracks. 

Marketing automation comes in a variety of formats, including email automation, SMS message automation, social media automation, and more. The tool offers many benefits to your school, improving lead response time, freeing up your team’s efforts from repetitive tasks, and enabling them to focus on more impactful actions.

Having marketing automation at your school is one thing, but knowing how to use it efficiently is quite another – especially if your team is just starting out with the system. If you’re in this situation, here are a few suggestions you might consider trying to set you on the right path!

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Define the Goals Your School Wants to Achieve with Marketing Automation

Before you can really hit the ground running with marketing automation, your school needs to get a handle on understanding what exactly it is you’re looking to accomplish with this tool. That means creating a marketing automation strategy, based on some key identified goals. Some examples of your school’s marketing automation goals may include:

  • Improving query response times
  • Creating lead generation forms
  • Designing more effective CTAs and landing pages
  • Monitoring with reporting tools
  • Converting more leads

Your school should also take the time to consider important details such as your target audience, what exactly you’d like to automate (email? SMS messaging? Social media?), and which of your school’s departments will be managing the software. Considering these points and listing concrete goals will ultimately help you design a plan for achieving them using your marketing automation capabilities. 

If one of the top reasons you purchased the software is to improve consistency and efficiency in replying to queries from prospects, your plan can be devised accordingly by using email autoresponders. If one of your goals is to identify high-value leads, you can focus your attention on using the lead scoring capabilities offered through many marketing automation systems.

Example: Many of your marketing automation strategies will be based on proposed workflows, as shown by this template for automating a series of emails to a target audience based on enrolment criteria.

Source: Finalsite

Ensure Everyone on Your Admissions Team Knows How to Use the Tool

Once you’ve gone to the effort of purchasing and uploading the marketing automation software to your school’s IT system, training sessions will be essential. Change can be a frightening prospect in the workplace, and some members of your school’s team may be wary of using the new software. 

Make sure everyone is comfortable with the new setup – starting with a thorough explanation of the benefits of marketing automation, so that everyone on your team understands the importance of learning and adhering to the system. Don’t just explain this in terms of how it will benefit your school’s recruitment efforts – also take the time to explain how the system can directly benefit your team by automating certain tasks, and freeing up more of their time to attend to more important matters requiring their personalized assistance. It makes their job easier, and helps your school increase conversions – a real win-win!

Example: More than 77% of marketers who’ve turned to marketing automation have seen a boost in conversions. You can combine the technology with Customer Relationship Management (CRM) to receive reporting that demonstrates the clear cut results of your efforts over time, as seen here:

Source: Demand Gen Report

When starting out with marketing automation, training your team on your school’s chosen software is essential. Even members of the school staff who have less to do with the system than others should have a basic understanding of its individual tools and how they work. The more your people have been trained in your marketing automation software, the greater chance your school will have to avoid errors and get off to a successful start.

Remember to also conduct follow-up with your school’s employees during the system’s implementation period to ensure everyone is using the software correctly. This provides a great opportunity for your team to ask questions early on in using the software, and to receive additional training if needed.

Lead Generation Forms: A Quick and Easy Tool Your School Can Start With

Your school purchased marketing automation software with a top goal in mind: recruiting new students. Recruitment starts with lead capture. With this in mind, one of the first and most useful marketing automation tools your school can take advantage of right out of the box is automated submission forms.

Your marketing automation software will likely let you create customized lead capture forms such as newsletter signups, generalized inquiry forms, application forms, and others related to your school’s own unique programs and courses. 

Example: This is what the form creation tool looks like in Mautic. Schools first starting out with marketing automation should find most automated form builders easy to navigate.

From there, your software lets you embed the forms in your school’s website so that any prospective student entering their contact details will automatically be imported into your system as a new lead. The key to success through automated forms is to ensure you’re customizing the design of each form to include all of the relevant details you’ll need from the prospect to be able to accurately segment your leads.  

Example: This form from McGill University in Montreal is designed to capture the details of prospects interested in taking a special “My Story” school tour with one of the university’s student ambassadors.

To quickly collect important details without overwhelming or frustrating your prospects (which could lead to aborted form-filling sessions) your school might like to keep many forms to the basic essential contact details. In some cases, however, it can be useful to ask for more details from the student to help segment your leads further.

Example: For the same event from McGill University, the prospect is asked to fill out further details as seen below, which can help the school to better assess the lead’s level of interest. Customizing your forms with additional details for in-person events can help your admissions team be better prepared to speak on a more personalized, informed level with each unique prospect.

Forms can also be used to collect leads at live events (open houses, career days, etc.) organized by your school. You can import new leads into your automated system by taking a laptop or tablet to the event, and getting prospects to fill in the form right from the device.

Form Submissions Notifications

When your school first launches its marketing automation system, you may quickly note the option to set up automated notifications of certain actions taken by your audience. One of the most useful of these include automated notification of a school form submission. Whenever a prospect fills out a form, your admissions team will be alerted with a notification, giving them the opportunity to respond promptly. 

Example: If you wanted to set up a school form submission notification alert through your marketing automation software, it might look something like this when you’re adding the option. 

Source: Hubspot

You can add the emails of the members of your team who you’d like to receive the notifications. You also have options on the automated response you’d like to give to prospects submitting a form – in the case above, either displaying a thank you message, or redirecting the lead to another page on your website.

Receiving these types of automated updates are a critical element of nurturing leads. Statistics have shown that the sooner your school responds to an interested party, the likelihood of recruitment is raised substantially. “Speed to lead” becomes essential as an admissions strategy in education—which all begins with the notification that a prospect has taken action.

That action may also come in the form of website clicks, or clicks on your automated email campaigns. Notifications of such actions allow your team to track the behaviour of the prospective student, allowing you to strike a great balance—nurturing the lead with the appropriate response just at the right time. 

Example:  Here’s a suggested marketing automation workflow in HubSpot based on website visits. Your admissions team would receive notifications to take certain follow-up actions after a certain number of days. A task might be created, for example, to call the prospect in a week to see if you can offer personal assistance. 

Source: HubSpot

Use Automation to Help Create Your School’s CTAs and Landing Pages 

Many marketing automation platforms will also offer tools to help you build certain elements of your website content. One of the most powerful of these elements for compelling a prospect to take a next step in your recruitment funnel is the call to action (CTA). Appearing on landing pages, in newsletters, in email campaigns, and other critical pages in your marketing efforts, the CTA asks the reader to go further by booking a tour, scheduling an appointment, downloading an eBook, filling out an application, or some other important next step. 

A CTA must be clear and to the point, and must also be placed strategically on the page. There are various best practices that should be followed when creating a CTA, but it can be difficult to know which to follow. Should you place the CTA above the fold on the landing page? Should you place CTA buttons in your navigation bars at the top or bottom of your web page? How many words should you use in the CTA? Your marketing automation tool can take away some of the pain of such questions by pointing you in the right direction for designing effective CTAs.

Your marketing automation software might also include the capability for building landing pages, often through simple templates. Some systems will also let you integrate real-time metrics to see how much engagement your landing page designs are getting – as well as split-testing to let you measure the success of some pages versus others.

Example: HubSpot provides analytics associated with its landing page creation tool, including total page views, time spent on the page, peak view times of day, average bounce rate, and other key metrics. 

How Your School Can Benefit from Structuring a Lead Scoring System

When starting out in marketing automation for higher education, you’ll also want to take advantage of lead scoring. Highly effective for building your school’s recruitment funnel, lead scoring involves examining prospects along their unique recruitment journey to calculate a score based on their level of engagement with your school. 

The more a prospective student fits in with your demographical targeting and the more they interact with your school, the higher the lead score they’ll receive. The lead score helps your school to identify which prospects are worth pursuing, and which strategies you should use to follow up with leads showing the most promise.

Each school will have its own model for weighting the score, usually tabulated by looking at the prospective student’s demographics combined with specified types of online engagement. Certain types of online activities are pre-determined by your school as more important to produce a higher score, such as clicking on a specific program page versus your school’s homepage, multiple website visits versus a single visit, and so on. 

Example: You can assign lead scores based on many types of attributes or online activities, such as email marketing activity (as shown below in HubSpot).

You can further leverage the power of your school’s marketing automation software, with a continued stream of nurturing automated email or SMS messages going out to leads based on their lead score and where they have been charted in their enrollment journey. High value leads identified by your school’s lead score will receive the most personalized attention.

Your School Can Use Automation to Build Email Drip Campaigns

Once you’ve segmented your leads by location, program of interest, demographics, and your lead score, you can create workflows for email campaigns. Email drip campaigns, also known as nurture campaigns, are designed to automatically send out a series of emails over a set period of time to a targeted audience, created to arrive in your lead’s inbox to consistently, steadily remind them of your school and its offerings. 

Example: Here we see a workflow, designed around a follow-up plan crossing a variety of messaging avenues. Marketing automation helps you design the series according to your school’s needs, automating next steps to make things easier for your admissions team in the nurturing process.

Tips for Building Your School’s First Drip Campaigns

Automated email drip campaigns are highly effective for instilling trust in your prospects and building a relationship with them over time. To get your email drip campaigns right, it’s essential to create email content that’s easy to read quickly and offers value. Anything else runs the risk of being dismissed as spam. Your school should also establish a core goal for each drip campaign. Whether that goal is to establish trust, build your reputation, or recruit for a specific program at a certain time of year, your campaign will be designed to send a consistent stream of information over a set period of time. 

Example: Making your content timely is effective, such as these snippets from an email drip campaign from Concordia University’s Centre for Continuing Education in Montreal. The school was promoting a variety of online spring courses to current or previous students through a series of emails.

Your school’s drip campaigns will be designed around certain stages of the admissions funnel. A top of the funnel drip campaign should be centred around moving leads from awareness  to consideration. Middle of the funnel campaigns should be designed around moving interested students from consideration to actually making a decision. Bottom of the funnel campaigns in higher education are designed around securing students that have been accepted into your school into registered students. 

Your school will also benefit from engagement drip email campaigns structured around student retention. These emails are fashioned around keeping up with current students, creating a form of involved engagement to make them feel happy with their choice and part of the school community, ensuring that they continue enrolling for the duration of their program length. These emails can also continue being sent to students who have completed a program, and who may be compelled to take another in the future.

Remember that Following Up Manually is Essential

There’s no question that email nurturing is both convenient and effective. While enjoying its benefits, it’s also important that your admissions team doesn’t become complacent about its personalized follow-up efforts. Automated messages simply can’t replace the impact of the human touch. Remember, again, to use your marketing automation software to set reminders to follow up personally with inquiries at pre-defined periods of time, most suitable to the situation and to the value of the lead.

Using Reporting in Your Marketing Automation to Track Performance

As soon as you start automating some of your school’s systems, you’ll have the capability to track the performance and engagement of your email, social media, SMS, ads, and other campaigns via your software’s built-in reporting system. While analyzing reports may sound intimidating when you’re first starting out with marketing automation, the good news is that most reporting interfaces are set up to be user-friendly.

Example: A reporting dashboard from HubSpot will generally display details on top performing emails and landing pages, landing page performance, website visits, and other marketing data – all information your school needs to assess on a regular basis to identify areas needing work. 

You can further tailor your reports to receive data by individual lead, location, program of interest, and many other parameters that you can opt for to provide details most relevant to your school’s campaigns. Different types of software will offer different levels of reporting capability. As you become more accustomed to the reporting interface of your own software, continue to take advantage of its complete range of reporting features to maximize your system’s tracking capability.

Using Dynamic Content: Customizing to Your Prospects’ Needs

Once you’re feeling more comfortable with your marketing automation software, you may want to start taking advantage of some of the more advanced features of the platform. One of these features is dynamic content—content that changes according to the profile of the user visiting one of your school’s web pages. You can use your marketing automation software to add dynamic content to your emails, landing pages, and blog posts based on segmentation parameters your school has defined. Your marketing automation system uses those parameters to ensure your target audience is receiving the type of content that will resonate with them.

For dynamic content to work effectively, your school must have pre-segmented lead lists in your system. There are several ways your school may choose to segment the leads you’ve managed to collect in your marketing automation software. You can base your targeting on certain online behaviours your prospects have displayed, along with demographics, interests, lead score, and where they are in the enrollment cycle. Based on these parameters, dynamic content can be used to help you create more targeted forms and CTAs.

Example: HEM regularly creates dynamic HubSpot forms for our website so that visitors who have already previously submitted their basic details in the past can complete a shorter form to avail of other offers.

The Importance of Tying in Your Marketing Automation with Your School’s CRM

As your school first sets out to navigate the world of marketing automation for education, it’s important to remember the importance of streamlining your school’s efforts with a customer relationship management (CRM) system. The two systems have different functions, which when combined, create an ideal format for automatically sending prospects the right content at the right time. 

As a rule, anything to do with contact management is the domain of CRM, characterized by lead qualification, sales cycle management, forecasting, and other sales-associated processes. CRM platforms provide users with applications to help them design and manage their follow-up processes and workflows to create a more streamlined lead management system. Marketing automation, on the other hand, offers the capabilities for creating automated marketing campaigns for effective communication with prospects—most typically through email, SMS, and social media. These campaigns are designed to provide prospects with a consistent path towards action from the time that they first engage with your school.

Your school will benefit most from combining the capabilities of both marketing automation and CRM, allowing you to integrate automated triggers for further actions based on prospect behaviours at different stages throughout your workflows. 

The result is an unbeatable toolkit for ensuring each prospective student gets the right level of one-to-one nurturing from your admissions team at the right moment in the enrollment journey. What’s more, by combining your school’s marketing automation with a CRM platform, you’ll have an advanced level of reporting that demonstrates the clear cut results of your marketing campaigns—as well as a bird’s eye view on what needs to be done to optimize your efforts further.

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