By Gayla Huber
As the economy improves and more individuals returning to work, the number of qualified inquiries is decreasing and competition is increasing. For-Profit educators need to look at strategies to help maintain conversions. Over the last few years, as the economy suffered, the for profit education industry experienced a significant increase in inquiries as people lost employment and looked to change careers. Rather than placing unique focus on each potential student, a volume strategy was used essentially funneling all leads through the system knowing a handful would convert with little effort. That time has passed, and it’s time to change strategy and determine what can be done to increase conversions on fewer inquiries into enrolled students.
Increase Response Times
A sense of urgency and responsiveness will increase conversion rates for admissions teams. If schools are not already contacting the prospect within 2-5 minutes of receiving their submission, they need to be. In a recent survey conducted by ForProfitEDU, only 11.7% of the 103 schools responded to inquiry submissions in under five minutes and 17.5% reported it takes them over eight hours to respond. Prospects are much more likely to engage when contacted immediately. Of course, they still need to be treated correctly once contact is made but in fact, a Leads360 study found that the conversion rate goes up to 391% if contacted in under one minute.
Schools do not have to utilize a call center to be successful. Having admissions representatives be the first to speak to prospective students is where the relationship begins and is a positive step in completing the enrollment. A successful approach to making sure representatives are available to communicate with prospective students is to develop a schedule to cover as much of the day, evenings and weekends as possible. Be sure to look at inquiry volume and which days of the week and hours during the day receive the highest volume and schedule staffing accordingly. Schools that are not utilizing a call center need to look at a speed to lead solution for competitive advantage. Gragg Advertising offers a solution called Internet2Phone™ (I2P) which prompts the sales staff to immediately contact leads after they submit an online form. In a study done by Gragg Advertising in 2010 a client who utilized I2P saw a conversion rate of 4.7% while a client who did not saw a 3.1% conversion rate.
Engage Your Prospects
The methods in which prospective students engage and sustain relationships has changed over the years. Students are often already employed and many have dependents. Provide the admissions team with the tools they need to be successful in this new landscape and increase the number of touch points from inquiry to start.
In the event the admissions team does not make contact schools can cast a wider net by using multiple contact methods that include phone, text, email, social networking, and direct mail. This allows the prospect to communicate in a way they feel most comfortable. Contact the inquiry daily using various methods throughout the first week and then weekly for the next 90 days altering the contact method. People buy what they are familiar with and the more opportunities a student has to come in contact with a school, the more comfortable they are with it, the more likely they are to buy.
Gragg looked at one client’s conversion rates that utilized the multi touch communication tools to reach out to prospective students. From February 7 through February 21, 2011 and again from May 3 through September 15, 2011, the client was able to convert 201 leads or 3.38% when utilizing multiple ways of communication. When the client was not utilizing multiple communication tools they saw only .5% of their leads convert to students. By utilizing traditional media, personal contact and new tools such as texting and social media, the client was able to establish a relationship with multiple prospective students that lead to enrollments and attendance. This data supports the theory that in order to remain relevant to a prospective student, schools much reach out in multiple ways and nurture the relationship with each lead uniquely.
Once an interview has been set up with the inquiry, schools should use the same contact methods to ensure the prospective student attends the interview. Knowing student demographic is essential. The school must have a service minded approach when determining staffing and office hours to make the process convenient, it is important for brand consistency and to automate the follow up process. Using a multi-touch lead nurturing approach should not replace the personal relationship admissions representatives should be building with the student.
Once a prospect is enrolled, keeping them engaged can be challenging. Offer several events for accepted students. Know how the students communicate and accommodate them by using online and ground events to reach them in a manner that makes them comfortable and fits into their already existing schedules. Provide opportunities for accepted students to meet groups of current students who are like minded so they are not feeling left out or alone. Provide informational sessions online and at campus facilities on topics important to students. If there is a guest lecturer related to program career tracks or an employer presenting on behalf of the career placement department, invite accepted students to attend.
In a 2011 survey performed by ForprofitEDU, 26% of the schools surveyed ranked lead nurturing as the top priority in student enrollment and retention. Changing careers and beginning a new education path is a financial commitment and takes dedication of time. Large purchases often have a longer buying cycle and effectively reaching out and communicating to prospective students is a schools opportunity to provide the right messages. As people return to work and focus shifts from returning to school, institutions should utilize all the options available to create a relationship with prospective students to maintain conversions.
Gayla Huber is the account service manager at Gragg Advertising. Since 2008 she has managed client relationships by developing customized media mix strategies and marketing trends. Her expertise in branding, media lead generation and affiliate marketing makes her an invaluable part of the Gragg team.