Developing a Contact Strategy for Higher Education Student Enrollment


By: Chris Gilmore Feb 14, 2018

Download the free “Developing Your Contact Strategy” webinar presented by Chris Gilmore, VP of Enrollment Management & Contact Center Operations. A lot goes into convincing a prospective student to visit your institution’s website—let alone inquire with you once they get there. Odds are you’ve invested some serious funding to make this happen. For example, you might spend around $3,375 per enrollment to market a bachelor’s degree in business. And for a graduate degree, you might spend north of ten thousand dollars. But if you don’t have an effective customer relationship management strategy to take them from inquiry to enrollment, why invest in marketing at all? In 2016, nearly half of undergraduate students ultimately enrolled with the first institution that responded to their online inquiries. (At the graduate level, that figure rises to 57%.) On top of that, 68% of students made their decision where to apply within four weeks of starting to search.i In other words, establishing a prompt, personalized, and effective contact strategy is critical to meeting your enrollment goals.

What Is a Contact Strategy?

A contact strategy is a plan used to keep in touch with people who have expressed interest in what you have to offer – and to move them closer to your end goal. For enrollment management in higher education, this means turning prospective students into applicants. When designing your contact strategy, you should try to accomplish three things: (1) Make sure prospective students remember who you are and what you do (2) Demonstrate your value to them (3) Encourage them to engage with you even more than they already do

How to Choose the Appropriate Contact Strategy

At a basic level, developing a contact strategy begins with evaluating three things: who you’re talking to, what you want them to do with the information you give them, and the most effective and efficient way to connect with them. Start collecting this information by asking yourself and your team these five basic questions. Then use it to connect with your future students on their level.

Who Is Your Audience?

Understanding your audience is crucial when it comes to communicating effectively. After all, working adults might have different interests and concerns than 18 year old high school seniors. Therefore, it’s important to analyze any information you have on the types of people who express interest in your school. See if you can find a pattern in the demographics of your inquiries, recent enrollments or your current student body. Then design a strategy that speaks right to their needs. You might even break your contact list up into smaller segments to better tailor your efforts. Some information you could use to understand your audience includes:

  • Their age and level of education or experience
  • The type of degree and program they’re seeking
  • Where they’re from
  • How they got in touch with you
  • What they say they’re looking for
  • Other relevant information (you decide!)
Download the eBook

Download the free eBook “The Definitive Guide to Undergraduate Recruiting” to learn proven strategies and tactics for recruiting undergraduate students.

What Do You Want to Say?

Of course, you can’t just send your contacts any old email. Making sure your institution’s messaging is coherent helps to underscore its impact. First, define the broader message across a whole campaign—that is, across multiple contact opportunities. What do you want prospective students to learn about you? Once that’s clear, take a look at each individual message you want to send. For example, you plan to send two emails and follow up with a phone call. You’ll need to decide not only what to say each time, but also how each message builds on the previous ones to achieve your goal. Depending how complex your strategy is, you might tweak this as you go based on how your contacts respond.

Why Should Your Prospective Students Listen to You?

Prospective students are likely to engage with your institutions because it offers them something they need. For example, does your institution have a strong network to help them find internships or employment opportunities? Does it offer extensive student services or support? Or perhaps your school has a world-renowned program or is well-known for research. Identify your value from a potential student’s perspective and keep that in mind when designing your strategy.

How Often Should You Reach Out?

One crucial step in building your strategy is determining the frequency of communication. Think about your own experiences. How often can a person or company call you or send you emails before you become annoyed and disengage? Each prospective student visiting your website probably shares this experience. Rather than overwhelming them, reach out enough that they remember you and can engage with you quickly and easily, but not so often that you paint yourself as a nuisance. If you strike this balance effectively, your contact rate and enrollment metrics will increase. Get it wrong, and not only will prospective students unsubscribe and go elsewhere, but you might also damage your reputation in the competitive online higher education market.

How Will You Contact Them?

A good contact strategy blends several different contact methods. This ensures each potential student is able to connect with you in the way they prefer. Three common options are email, text messaging, and phone calls. Your email contact strategy could be quite varied. You could use email to solicit additional information (like a phone number), provide educational materials to them, or just to keep in touch. Texts, meanwhile, could be a good way to schedule phone conversations. This way, you can make sure to call at the most convenient time, so that you can both get as much out of the conversation as possible. Depending on how you collected your contacts’ information, it’s possible you already know their preferences. If you don’t, make sure you keep track of which types of contacts respond best to which method, so you can course correct in the future if necessary.

Analyzing the Results of Your Contact Strategy

An effective CRM strategy isn’t static. Rather, it changes over time as you learn more about your potential students. That’s why you should foster a data-obsessed culture in your enrollment management and marketing teams. By collecting and analyzing data about your contact efforts, you can make adjustments to get better results. Not sure where to start? Here are a few tips.

  • Establish and Utilize KPIs. A KPI, or “Key Performance Indicator,” is a specific measurement used to track your progress toward a goal. For example, if your overall mission is to increase your enrollment, one KPI might be to the number of individuals on your contact list. You could also track the number of leads your institution generates, your contact rate and your email open and click through rate. The specific KPIs that are important to you might change over time, depending on what you want to achieve and how you’ve decided to do it.
  • Gather Data and Benchmark. Benchmarks, in short, are specific goals you are actively working to achieve or points of reference against which you can measure your progress over time. They might be based on industry standards or your past performance. Benchmarks should reflect your KPIs and allow you to measure how your campaigns are progressing. They may also be useful in measuring your progress against the competition.
  • Use What You Learn. What’s the point of all that data and tracking if you don’t use it? Make sure the data you collect feeds back into a constantly evolving strategy. This way, you can keep doing what works, and course correct when you need to.

You Don’t Have to Go It Alone

An effective contact strategy is a crucial part of your online enrollment pipeline. However, creating and maintaining it can be a complex process. Luckily, you’re not alone. EducationDynamics’ EMS provides a wide range of contact strategy services, whether you’re developing yours for the first time, or need additional support for your ongoing efforts.  We’ll start with a detailed assessment of your current state, and work together with you to determine the best strategy to achieve your enrollment goals.

To help you get started, here is a free presentation on the topic: Developing a Contact Strategy for Enrollment

Source: [i] Aslanian Market Research. (2017). 2017 Higher Education Digital Marketing Trends. EducationDynamics.