Following the Leads in Higher Ed

Five strategies to keep in mind as you develop ways to support lead generation.

March 1, 2016

With all the online oversharing these days, turning over your name and email seems pretty small. We’ll happily trade our contact information for a helpful whitepaper, good coupon or a needed answer about a product, service or organization. And if there’s a deluge of follow up emails, texts, solicitations and calls that follow from overly aggressive marketers, we can always unsubscribe. But no one wants to become that overly aggressive marketer. The last thing we want in education is to annoy or frustrate anyone who might be interested in joining our institutions.

Does that mean that lead generation—the process of attracting people and then converting them into leads (people who have expressed interest in your institution somehow)—has no place in higher education?

Not at all. In fact, much of what we do in graduate and undergraduate recruitment relies heavily on lead generation. We produce print materials, websites, social media, and loads of content designed to attract the right people and help them decide that our institution is the best choice for them.

As colleges and universities, we have more built-in trust than most other industries. Still, we need to ensure we’re doing the right things to bring people in and build on that trust, not trick them into providing contact information so we can drown them in viewbooks and emails.

As colleges and universities, we have more built-in trust than most other industries. Still, we need to ensure we’re doing the right things to bring people in and build on that trust, not trick them into providing contact information so we can drown them in viewbooks and emails.

Here are a few things to keep in mind as you develop strategies to support lead generation without annoying your prospects.

Collect the Right Data

One of the biggest upsides of lead generation is the information prospective leads willingly share that can help us cater our ongoing outreach to their interests and needs. But to help prospective leads decide it’s worth it to share their info with us, we need to ask for the right information.

Don't ask for so much that making the request becomes a burden to prospects. Ask for enough information so there’s something to work with moving forward. Along with basic contact information (name and email), ask for something more specific, like which academic programs or subject areas are most interesting. Even something as simple as a city of residence offers enough information to then create customized invites for prospective leads to attend an upcoming recruitment event in their area, or open house specifically for out of state students. The basic rule: Only collect what you intend to use to help your leads make better decisions.

Stay Relevant

Once you’ve captured some leads, use the information they’ve provided to stay undeniably relevant. If inquiries indicate what programs their interested in, don’t send them generic “we have more than 100 majors” follow ups. Make future outreach specific and relevant to the prospect based on the information collected. Along these lines, every interaction with leads should be more and more relevant to their individual needs. Sending them similar introductory communications over and over is a foolproof way to lose a lead.

Be Helpful

From the initial outreach all the way through (hopeful) conversion of leads, your job as a Higher Education marketer is to help them make decisions. Use what you know to give them answers, content and information that’s useful to where they are in the relationship with your institution. For early high school students collecting a list of schools that offer engineering programs, follow up with some of your institution’s more popular or unique concentrations, interesting undergraduate projects or videos showing rockstar faculty members in action. For working professionals considering graduate programs, share employer reimbursement opportunities or flexible course offerings. Like all good marketing, meet them where they are.

Use Progressive Intelligence

Use tools and apply insights to learn more about your leads as you nurture the relationship. Web analytics can help you see what content encourages the most users to fill out request info forms and what pages are attracting the most attention. Evaluating internal search can help you understand the kinds of questions users have for you, allowing you to develop content that specifically and directly answers those things. Paired with a marketing automation platform and/or a customer relationship management system, you can collect an enormous about of information to help you provide useful, relevant, helpful and important information to your leads.

Add Value (Don’t be Annoying)

Before sending the third, fourth, fifth or sixth email in a week or two, ask yourself if your follow ups are adding anything more useful than the previous emails. If it’s a rephrasing of previously shared information, don’t send. If it’s a presumptuous “Apply Now” call to action, make sure it’s only going to those leads who have, through previous interactions, indicated that’s where they are in the process. Above all else, prioritize interactions, content and workflows that put the needs and interests of leads first. The best lead gen efforts cultivate an honest, trusting relationship between institutions and individuals. It takes time, patience and a genuine interest in helping before selling.

Tim Jones is associate vice president of marketing at Clarkson University, in New York.

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