Getting a prospective student’s contact information is not an invitation to immediately send an email telling them to “Apply Now." Rather, think of their initial interest, and the fact that they volunteered their personal information, as a window to start a conversation.
By volunteering their contact information, prospective students have placed trust in you to communicate with them in a way that is respectful and valuable to their research process. It's now your job to follow-though with those expectations, and one of the best ways to get started is by learning more about the students you are marketing to. After all, the more you can learn about prospective students, the more ammunition you have to serve them additional content that is relevant and aids in their application decision. Then, when the time is right, clicking “Apply Now” will almost seem like a foregone conclusion.
Steps for Nurturing and Converting Prospective Students
1) Gather the Right Data
Learning the right details about perspective students upfront is your best asset in making communications more personalized down the line. One way to do this is by creating a scenario in which there's a mutually beneficial exchange of personal information, for a valuable resource like a program specific ebook, webinar, campus guide, or whatever else you can dream up.
After clicking on a call-to-action button on your website or blog for the offer—“Download Now,” “Attend a Webinar,” etc.—prospective students should be taken to a landing page where they are asked to complete form that captures some information. Upon completing the form, their content is delivered and the transaction is complete.
It's not enough to just throw any form on a website however, think ahead to segmentation and personalization when deciding what information to ask for. Every form should collect the basics: full name and email address,. From there, get more granular with questions specific to your communication goals. For example:
Scholarship or Financial Aid Needs
Don’t go overboard when asking for details; test form length to find out where your sweet spot is before visitors stop volunteering their into.
The information gathered during this process should be aggregated on unique contact records for each prospective student within a central database shared by your entire team. This can help make the communication and hand off process easier between marketing and admissions further down the road.
2) Segment Emails
Once you have a prospective student's contact information, it's time to follow-up in an appropriate manner. Remember, your leads likely care about very different aspects of your school or program. You wouldn't want to send information about your pre-med program to a prospective music major, just as you wouldn't want to send SAT prep tips to an outgoing college senior. Use self-identified data from your forms to builds lists with which you segment who receives which email—for example, a list of prospects interested in biology or a list of 2017 high school graduates.
After deciding on the appropriate buckets to place contacts in, build ordered workflows around each of these segmented lists to determine the best next touch for contacts. This way, you ensure prospective students are getting only the most helpful, relevant information in emails.
3) Automate, Automate, Automate
Marketing automation helps you nurture prospective students with information tailored to their needs—without having to invest time you don’t have. A workflow is an automated set of marketing actions that execute, based upon a starting condition. You can use them to automate your lead nurturing tasks, complete internal functions, and much more.
For instance, if a potential student attends a live stream of a history lecture, a workflow can automatically queue up a series of related emails for that prospective student. Should they then download something else or even click on any of those emails, a notification with their information could automatically be sent to your admissions department.
4) Timing Is Everything
Your workflows should be triggered in a relevant and timely manor, or they will likely be more interruptive than helpful. Use the information gleaned from your forms to set up sequences of communications that makes sense for your audiences' enrollment journey. For example, a prospective student who’s still two years away from high school graduation probably isn’t interested in college essay tips. Likewise, for college seniors who already took the SATs, study prep guides will miss the mark. Take into account everything from macro factors like time of the school year, to smaller details, like day of the week.
5) Never Stop Educating
All to often schools rush messaging around inquiring or applying. For student’s who aren’t ready to make a decision, this can be demotivating and even invasive. Educational and relevant resources helped you turn prospective students into leads; keep that effort going.
Follow-up emails should focus on delivering helpful content that helps prospective students learn more about your school or a specific area of study. If they attended a webinar of a pre-med lecture, your next contact point could touch on advice for potential pre-med students, the best classes in the pre-med major, and other tailored, relevant content. Make learning more or applying an accessible option, but don’t flaunt it front and center.
6) Think Beyond Content
Ebooks, guides, andwebinars are great ways to inform and connect with prospective students, but remember that more high-touch resources can also go a long way to form relationships and build trust. Always tiecommunications to a real person, and make yourself available for questions throughout the proccess. If possible, offer to connect prospects with other students in their major, alumni, or even make professors available for questions about coursework or campus life.
7) Ask for Incremental Information
As you continue to delight your prospective students with helpful content, ask for new and more granular information. A lead who downloaded an ebook when he or she was a high school junior may have new information to offer as a senior. Ask if prospects’ planned course of study has shifted, ask if the graduation year has changed, and ask follow-up information to see if the content has been helpful. Build this process into your forms by using smart fields to manage these changing questions. If someone has already told you their year of graduation, don’t ask for it again, rather swap in a dynamic form field to gather new information.
When the Time Comes To Ask Students to Apply
After providing enough information, education, and support, clicking the “Apply Now” button will start to feel like a natural step for prospective students. Use the progressive information you’ve picked up along the way to tailor everything from email timing down to the specific language in your email CTAs. If you’ve done your job effectively, students will have a hard time not following through.
Originally published Nov 18, 2015 7:00:00 AM, updated July 28 2017