We are in the thick of enrollment season right now with administrators doing everything they can to attract prospective parents. They’re making sure their websites accurately reflect customer personas. They’re pouring over the number of visitors to their websites and crafting ads to drive more quality traffic. They are ensuring that their tour process is strong with a well-scripted message.
If it all goes according to plan, this work will culminate in big crowds for open houses and information nights full of parents excited about their schools. And then, as the parents file out to the parking lot and head home, the final step is to… wave good-bye, cross your fingers, and hope these families will enroll?
Of course not. Getting parents in the door is only half the battle. The job can’t be finished correctly without an effective follow-up campaign to turn potential recruits into enrolled students.
In the past year, I have attended over 15 school open houses and participated in over 20 school tours, and it still shocks me how little follow up occurs once the parent leaves. I can count on one hand the number of schools who did an effective follow-up approach after a tour or an open house. To make sure that your school is one of the few who does it right, let’s take a look at what an effective follow up campaign looks like.
Ensure that you CAN follow up
The most critical thing that you need to get from a prospective parent is their correct contact information. Make sure that every person who attends your school tour or open house provides you with their name, address, email, and phone number. And don’t just have them handwrite it. Procure an iPad or a Chrome Book with a Google Form and have them type it in. I estimate that you probably lose about 5 to 10% of parents’ names just because you can’t read their handwriting! If you are appealing to physicians, that number is probably higher.
If you don’t know who they are, you can’t follow up.
Understand the parent’s goals and the student’s interests.
The best tour that I experienced started with the school representative sitting me down in his office and asking a simple question. “Nick, before I take you on a tour of the school and tell you about us, I would love to hear about your boys. What are they like, and what do you want them to achieve while at our school?” This personalized approach was great, and unfortunately, a total outlier compared to other schools I have visited.
Parents LOVE to talk about their kids, and by asking this simple question, you gain a lot of clues as to how to tailor your message so that it resonates with their needs. If the child is interested in sports, you know you need to spend more time talking about your school’s athletics. If the child is a straight-A student with aspirations of Harvard, talk about your stellar academics and college acceptance rates.
Either way, by asking this question you gain valuable information that allows the conversation on the tour and afterward to be about what you can offer their child versus you giving the same generic speech that you have delivered multiple times.
Utilize a prospect database
Readers of my blog and newsletter know that I am a big proponent of using a customer database or customer relationship management program to track prospects. A simple Excel spreadsheet will work, but there are some great software packages out there that will make your life a lot easier. Hubspot is a good CRM, and their free version may be all you need. A number of my clients have used Enquiry Tracker, which is built just for school enrollment professionals.
In your CRM, you are going to not just capture all of the family’s contact information, but more importantly, you are going to assign them to certain groups for a customized follow up. Knowing what they are interested in allows you to personalize your follow up to a degree that will truly set you apart.
One note on CRMs – there are many like Salesforce that offer non-profits a free account, but be warned that some of these are rather difficult to use and might be a bit of overkill for what you are trying to accomplish. The rule of thumb is to get a tool that you know how to use, rather than one that has the bells and whistles that you don’t need.
Establish Your Follow Up Routine, and Stick to It
You have the parent’s contact information. You know their goals for their children and what programs they’re interested in, and you have everything organized in a nifty database. Now it is time to act. Since every school is different, there is no one-size-fits-all approach for this next step. However, depending on your school and your resources, here are some examples you can learn from to help tailor your strategy.
For one of my Catholic school customers, we designed an easy phone cadence for every prospective parent who visited the school:
- Two days after a visit, parents received a phone call from the teacher of the grade level their child was entering. The teacher offered to answer any questions and just provided a warm touch.
- Two days later, parents received a call from a parent volunteer who offered to give them the perspective of a parent at the school and why they should enroll.
- Two days after that, parents received a call from the principal offering to answer any questions and attempting to close the deal.
This straightforward, organized approach gave the school the opportunity to reach out to parents multiples times from multiples perspectives, without overwhelming the parents with too much unnecessary information.
For one of my independent school clients, we utilized email and the features of Hubspot. Once the parent leaves the campus, the admissions person sends a pre-written email to thank them for coming along with a link to the application form. Then, depending on what the parent is most interested in, we built a couple of different workstreams to tailor any follow-up communication to that parent’s particular interests.
For the parent interested in athletics, we set up a stream of three emails over the next two weeks that talk about the school’s sports program. We also built streams for students interested in service-learning and academics, as well as a general stream for students whose interests they’ve yet to identify. The great thing about this? It is automated once they select the persona of the student in the CRM.
Finally, one of my charter school clients simply writes handwritten thank you notes to the parents for coming, telling them that they would love to have their child at the school. Simple, but sincere. Easy, but effective.
Whether you choose to do your follow up by phone, by email, by hand, or by a combination of all three, make sure it is part of your normal recruitment routine. Hoping that parents will call you after they walk of the campus is fine, but calling them is even better. Sometimes it’s the little things that help you enroll more students.