Admissions directors are stuck in the middle between the school community and prospective families and students. Their work is to create bridges that line up family and school values to help grow enrollment. Not only do they foster connections to new students, they also have to bridge the gap between marketing, admissions, financial aid and internal communications. Getting all of these systems to line up is challenging.
Here are 5 tips to help admissions directors become more effective.
Lining Up the Systems for a Consistent experience
The systems that your school uses for marketing, tuition, admissions and internal information don’t always align well. Sometimes they don’t help you track people easily. They can also send a mixed message because they each present the school in a different way. When all of our systems communicate the same value proposition and the same brand experience, our work can be much more effective. But that’s the rub – how do we get them all to cooperate?
One big problem occurs when we try to use admissions or tuition management software for our marketing. That’s something they aren’t designed to do.
This can create a very jarring experience for our prospects. We move them from warm viewbook style communication to cold forms and long documents. Sometimes they aren’t ready for that commitment.
Imagine what would happen if toy companies reversed their packaging, placing the confusing black and white instructions on the outside, and the sales pictures inside the box. No one would buy their products. That’s what we’re doing when we use enrollment style communication in the middle of the marketing process. By the end of 2016, 89% of brands expect to complete mostly on the basis of customer experience, that includes private schools.
Tip #1: Evaluate your customer experience by placing communications pieces from the entire process side by side. Do they all communicate the heart of the school? Do you have software or services that don’t share a consistent brand – you might need to make a change.
Merging or Aligning Team Roles
It’s common for different departments to become invested in the systems they use. After all, these software systems are really the personal OS (operating system) that they use every day. That doesn’t mean that they understand the importance of a unified brand experience, or how their part fits into the bigger customer experience.
Tip #2: Work with your marketing department to create an easy to share brand platform. Talk with various team members about the kind of experience and communications that help prospects to enroll.
Make the Target Clear
It’s important to clarify your enrollment focus. Answer the question: “who are you trying to reach?” The admissions director is potentially the person best suited to provide feedback to the marketing department about whether the marketing is reaching the right audience.
One big temptation for private schools is a lack of focus in their marketing. We want to reach a broad range of people, so we don’t want to be too narrow. Having no focus is like a person who won’t show their personality for fear that everyone won’t like them. Having a personality is the very thing that attracts people.
Knowing who you are trying to reach, and how the school’s unique character will attract them, is a big part of attracting the right people.
Making the Hand Off between Marketing and Admissions Directors
The journey toward enrollment requires a hand-off from marketing to admissions. If we don’t hand-off at the right time, in the right way, then we risk being like a relay racer who runs right past the second racer, and loses as a result.
It’s important to recognize that marketing is never really over. We’re always working to win and keep students, hopefully moving them to share the school with others.
The timing of our transition from “mostly marketing” to “mostly admissions” is important. We should decide based upon the prospects readiness to enroll. This can be seen in sales insights about how buyer’s behave called the “buyers journey.” For private schools, we call this the “enrollment journey.”
In the sales world, if we try to “close” a prospect before they are ready, we will leave them feeling pressured and won’t win very many. That can happen when we don’t have a way to continue nurturing them as they move toward a decision.
Tip #4: When we shift from marketing systems to admissions systems before people are ready, we decrease our enrollment rate. When we continue to market until the prospect is actually ready, we gain a more educated buyer, and a more committed student.
Too Much Reliance on the Inquiry
We disrupt the enrollment journey by having too few ways for people to connect with the school. For many schools, there is just a single choice online- “inquire.” And when that inquiry form is powered by our admissions systems, with a look and feel like an enrollment form, we’ll only connect with people who are already most of the way through their decision.
Research by Google shows the process that people follow online before they purchase education. The big point is how people spend time in search and consideration before they make a decision. By the time they click the “inquire” button and complete the form, they have been in a consideration process for a long time. They’ve reviewed lots of options. If the the only way we connect with people is when they “inquire”, then our school is not informing their decision process along the way.
Tip #5: Create ways for people to connect with you prior to the inquiry. It will make those who inquire much more likely to be great prospects.
The Marketing Admissions Mash-Up
The recent trend in education is to merge and closely align marketing, admissions and enrollment. In some larger schools they have combined departments. This is more than a cost savings measure, it is a recognition that we’re always marketing, and we’re always enrolling. This shift is driven by changing technology and consumer behavior. The technology moves the enrollment process firmly into the digital space. Consumers prefer to manage their own research and decision making – online. Those responsible for admissions and marketing have to work together closely, ensuring their systems keep students and families engaged.
Not only do those who lead marketing, admissions and enrollment need to work together, but they need software that helps them cooperate. Teams should not allow software to push them to the lowest common denominator, especially by software providers that refuse to share data. Serving the needs of prospects as they learn, consider and decide should be highest priority.