You want to improve the enrollment numbers at your institution. What's the best way to do this? Industry best practice is to adopt a CRM for engaging with your prospective students, right? Not so fast. What you don't know could definitely hurt you.
How a CRM helps the Admissions Process
At its most basic level, a CRM helps organizations manage its communications with constituents. The admissions process can include a significant number of touch-points with prospective students spanning marketing, recruiting, admitting, and onboarding -- which also spans multiple parts of an institutions's organization.
CRMs have a number of key features to help institutions more effectively communicate with prospective (and current) students. Those features fall into the a number of broad categories:
- 1-1 communications
- Group communications
- Activity and engagement tracking and scoring
- Task management
This all sounds great, right? Implement a CRM and you're ready to fill up your classrooms with all the new students.
Not quite that simple
All joking aside, there are factors that drive whether, when, and how a CRM makes sense for your organization -- and they boil down to the answer to these three questions:
- Are your current communication methods the biggest bottleneck impacting your ability to recruit and admit prospective students?
- Will automating communications have a significant effect on your candidates' experience with your institution?
- Is your organization in a position to embrace the operational changes dictated by a CRM?
The Candidate's Admissions Journey
Let's look at the candidate's admissions journey to see what bottlenecks may affect your ability to attract and enroll students. There are 4 general stages of this journey:
- Attract: These activities are focused on creating interest in your institution. They include advertising, promotion, events, and emails.
- Engage: This is where the candidate raises his / her hand to participate in the admissions process. This is done via the application for admission.
- Convert: This is where the institution qualifies the candidate and the candidate qualifies the institution. There are a number activities that occur to (1) make sure that both parties have all the information needed to make a decision, and (2) to ensure that the candidate remains engaged
- Close: Finally, this is where the person converts from being a candidate to being a student. Activities are primarily focused on helping onboard the student.
It's important to note that all of these activities can occur without using a CRM -- while CRMs can help organize and manage those activities.
Initial Engagement & the Stealth Applicant
The Application for Admission represents the first time that your candidates engage with you in a meaningful manner. As previously mentioned, it is where the candidate raises his / her hand with intent to attend the institution. In other words, your activities prior to this point are to get the candidate interested enough to complete an application. You have "led the candidate to water" proverbially -- and your marketing and lead generation activities have helped him / her reach this point. Now, he / she needs to drink.
Because this stage is self-directed by the candidate, the user experience of your application for admissions can be the biggest driver of whether a candidate completes that step -- and your level of success at converting them into becoming an applicant. If your application for admissions isn't inclusive, is too difficult, or is confusing; a CRM is not going to help you.
Oftentimes, you may also have no idea where a candidate comes from before completing the application for admission. This is where term "Stealth Applicant" comes from. An applicant can be unknown for one of two reasons:
- Your institution has never directly engaged with them prior to their application
- Your institution has engaged with them, but you have no way of linking advertising or lead generation activities to that application
If you have a significant number of stealth applicants, your admissions bottleneck is most likely the experience of the application for admissions -- and investing time in resources on that will yield better results that investing in a CRM.
Is your organization ready to adopt a CRM?
Finally, CRMs are built with the assumption and understanding that there are a number of different roles in the admissions process -- encapsulating steps and processes in a very structured and regimented way. In many smaller schools, people may have a number of different areas of responsibility -- and those roles and responsibilities may not line up with how the CRM automates those processes.
Additionally, CRMs work best when a person spends a significant portion of his / her time doing the activities within the CRM application. After deploying a CRM, your employees will use it for managing their work via tasks and to-dos, for interacting with candidates via email or the phone, and for analyzing their engagement results. In general, if your staff is not ready to fully adopt the CRM in their workflow - you're not going to get the results you anticipate.
In summary, the activities performed by your recruiters and admissions staff represents a portion of the admissions experience for your candidates. Although a CRM will help with certain parts of that experience, those candidates will need to begin the admissions process with an application for admissions. If that experience creates barriers for the prospective student and you have a CRM, you are not getting the full value of it. And -- if you don't have a CRM yet -- deploying a CRM may not be the best place to start.