By Lauren Moline, Marketing Manager, Enrollment Resources Inc.
Imagine students coming to you.
Imagine receiving details on their personality, lifestyle and motivations.
Imagine how your admissions team could use that information to genuinely connect with prospects.
In the past, CRMs may have been the only software you felt you needed for your school. There is no doubt, CRMs are important for information gathering; however, in today’s landscape CRMs are not enough. With declining enrollments across the country and increased regulations, you need to look beyond the ordinary processes to find something that will help your school succeed.
A newly emerging software trend in higher education is a simple online tool that acts as a virtual advisor or virtual admissions representative for lead qualification. Virtual Admissions programs don’t just gather information when someone is interested in your school, they gather real details about who these potential students are, as individuals.
Create Engagement, On Their Terms
Anyone who works in Admissions knows all too well how difficult it can be to generate real engagement from leads. Even once a student is enrolled, keeping them engaged in the process takes effort. But creating engagement at the first point of contact, before you have any kind of relationship, can seem impossible.
Considering the educational options available and the vast amount of information provided by every school, a prospective student can compare your school against many others without ever reaching out to you – you aren’t even a part of the conversation. An automated admissions software tool asks them directly, while they are on your website, some key questions to begin that relationship by asking them to “take your career readiness quiz” or “Are you ready to be a ….?”
With that simple lead in, potential students provide their contact information and self-assess their fit with the career path and school while revealing more about who they are to your admissions team. Are they trying to change their lives by going to school to earn more primarily to make a better life for their kids? What type of learning environment are they most interested in? What are their personality types? What kind of challenges must they deal with before going back to school?
The best part is, this software is available for potential students to complete at their convenience - 24/7. They want to complete the quiz because they want to know if your school is a fit for them. The quiz can be provided on the school’s website, on a landing page, or provided by direct link from an admissions staff person.
Industry challenges abound for your marketing and admissions teams who are tasked to continually keep your programs filled in a challenging environment. External pressures of school closures due to poor practices and increased regulations are creating an environment where interested students approach schools cautiously. You will have to work even harder to prove what your school can offer potential students, especially when compared to other schools.
As a c-level executive or owner, you will try to combat some of these challenges by focusing on better hiring practices within your admissions teams or even bringing in sales trainers to provide support to your team. The truth is that everyone has good and bad days. Sales Training can help, especially directly following training sessions, but with staff turnover and as time passes, reps can slide back into bad habits.
Admissions automated software can offer more than just lead qualification – it can also offer the consistency for your admissions teams to focus on the right questions to ask potential students. This type of software keeps best practices at the forefront and helps Reps to make discussions with new callers all about them and their motivations. This will automatically create the relationships that will help differentiate your school and assist callers with determining if your school is the best fit for them.
Real Schools Find Immediate Success
Holli McElwee, the Marketing Manager at IBMC College, knows first-hand the difference an automated admissions software system makes for her school. “We began using the Virtual Admissions Advisor in August 2014 and began to see immediate results,” she says. “This software allows an alternative and non-threatening way for prospective students to contact IBMC College regarding our programs. We have found that potential students really like taking online quizzes, especially through social media,” says Ms. McElwee, “and to see enrollments directly tied to the inquiries, we are very happy with the results.”
Using this automated admissions process, IBMC’s marketing team can direct potential students to complete their “Career Readiness Quiz” and these leads go directly to the admissions team to follow up using their processes. IBMC have received an average of over 70 extra leads every month using this automated admissions software and of the 200 leads who completed the entire quiz, 67 of those enrolled in a program – for a 33% conversion rate.
Why does it work?
The statistics are very impressive. But why? Why does this type of tool provide such a positive response? It talks directly to our target market, the millennials, in a way they want to interact:
1. Instant Gratification
If a prospective student is considering coming to your school, they want to know if your school fits with their life plans – right now! They demand instant information and want to know more about you, when it suits them not when it suits you. Technology has taught them that they can have access to information whenever and wherever they want it. If you’re not ready to provide that information immediately, you’ll have trouble with this target market. At the very least, your programs must be clearly and easily accessed on your website and, if they call you directly, they’ll require a response from you immediately, therefore, you should be tracking your response time in seconds not hours.
2. Technology is Everything
Technology is “King” for this generation. They embrace it and use it in tandem with other methods of communication to create a big picture. Growing up surrounded by advancing technology they know that they can verify any bit of information with a simple Google search. They are savvy.
Technology has also provided them with the ability to truly customize their experiences with the world. Their smartphone can have a customized case, customized background, customized rings and customized apps. They interact with the world (and want this level of customization) for everything including how you communicate with them and how they learn. A generic response to an inquiry with a sales pitch is not going to connect with them. Listen to them and make them feel catered to.
3. Looking for Authenticity
Who likes to be sold to? Not anyone. However, Millennials like a sales pitch even less than other generations. They expect authenticity, especially if you want to develop a relationship with them.
With Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, there are many social media platforms where people interact with one another in a circumstance that is both less threatening to share your true opinion and difficult to be someone you aren’t. This generation celebrates its diversity and expects you to as well.
To have your message rise above others, you have to have substance and authenticity to find respect and build those relationships. Just because they are a millennial, doesn’t mean you know everything about them. They are all individuals. How do you learn more about them? Ask open ended questions, learn about what they want, as an individual.
Approach your future students as if you were talking to your niece or nephew, who wanted to know more about their options for education. A rehearsed sales script will have them running for the hills. Be real.
4. Engagement through Mentoring
Beyond authenticity, which could be covered in smaller interactions, you can encourage engagement more effectively with this generation by pushing for mentoring relationships. This generation relates to one another continually and cares about the opinions of their friends, family and teachers. They have come to your school to add value to their lives, showing them more about how your values align with theirs will create a strong connection.
The admissions process is more than just answering questions; it involves counselling, mentoring, and relationship building. Potential students want to know that they are being truly heard by your team. Acknowledge the problems or challenges they have following your in-depth conversation and look to offer real solutions that will help them succeed both at your school and in life beyond school.
You will take longer to talk with each potential student, but it will result in more enrollments. If you can’t find the right program for that prospect within your school, creating this strong relationship will benefit you through referrals from their friends – remember they talk a lot to one another and will give referrals.
Millennials consistently show that they value possessions differently than previous generations. Some are choosing never to own a car, opting for the use of services such as Uber or car share instead of committing to the cost of owning a vehicle. They plan and assess large purchases, and education is a perfect example of a bigger purchase, which takes time to decide. They will be diligently assessing your school against others before deciding what they will do. Millennials also feel less of a sense that one can rebound from failure, when compared to previous generations. This added pressure will force them to plan and review decisions in a much, more detailed way
Admissions automation software is just an emerging tool for higher education admissions teams. If this is the first you’ve heard of it; it won’t be the last.