There are many ways enrollment leaders can leverage the power of their CRM for recruitment communications. Modern CRMs are immensely dynamic, and they offer a plethora of opportunities to streamline processes and automate communication where appropriate. But deciding when and how to leverage your CRM is not always a straightforward proposition.
Increasingly, many enrollment teams believe that they can and should execute their top and middle of funnel marketing activities through their CRM. While this might be the right answer for some institutions, it is important to consider the challenges and trade-offs of this approach.
As a former enrollment leader, I know how difficult it is to make decisions around resource allocation. And given the volatile state of our labor market, it has become even more challenging to develop a stable strategy.
Of course, every team will have to find the right balance between in-house versus outsourced activities, but it is the evaluation process that is my focus here. I hope that these questions provide a helpful framework as you make important strategic decisions for your institution.
1. Do you have the capacity and expertise to execute your top and middle of funnel activities in house?
I think this is really a question of realistic expectations. While it is tempting to believe that fully responsive marketing campaigns can be executed with the staff on hand, I often see schools underestimate the amount of human capital required to achieve their desired result. For example, the most common mistake I see is an enrollment leader believing that they have enough capacity to orchestrate segmented communication streams for sophomores, juniors, seniors, AND their parents. While your CRM may have infinite capacity, the same does not apply to your team!
We all know that building recruiting relationships over time increases the likelihood of enrollment. But many teams simply lack the bandwidth to handle launching new campaigns daily or weekly as names become available. It’s also difficult to balance the pressure of persuading seniors to apply for admission at the same time you are crafting and delivering messages aimed at building long-term affinity.
Another factor to consider is the range of talent necessary to bring your marketing strategy to life. For Enroll360 partners, we leverage a broad-based team of strategists, data analysts, writers, and creative designers to ensure that our partners’ campaigns are compelling and impactful. For instance, we maintain an entire team that is exclusively dedicated to tracking email providers and making immediate changes to avoid losing inbox deliverability.
In thinking through your in-house strategy, you will want to evaluate the skill set of your current team in relationship to your goals. Will you need additional expertise to be successful? In my experience, enrollment teams often lack the skills and list source expertise to find more right-fit students, as well as the technical skills needed to ensure data integrity and conduct meaningful analysis.
I would also be remiss if I did not mention the current talent crisis. At my recent ACT session on staffing challenges, in a room full of enrollment leaders, not one person raised their hand when I asked who was fully staffed. Unfortunately, this staffing reality is the new norm, and you will want to consider the potential risk if one or more of your key contributors leaves the team. Will you be able to rehire that talent? And if so, how quickly?
Key Takeaway: Before expanding your team’s scope of work, be sure that you have the right people in the right positions to execute successful marketing campaigns for all key audiences.
2. What is the opportunity cost of executing your top and middle of funnel activities in house?
Every choice we make comes with a cost – both the financial and human cost, plus the opportunity cost. I think there are three key opportunity costs to consider when making decisions about in-house marketing.
First and foremost, let’s talk about search and marketing innovations. One of the most challenging tasks for any enrollment leader is to stay ahead of the curve on impactful marketing tactics. Unfortunately, it is nearly impossible to do this when you are operating as an “n” of one. Yes, many CRMs have sophisticated capabilities around A/B testing, but most teams do not have the bandwidth to run those tests or the benchmarking data to contextualize their results. Whether it’s a big innovation like a new student platform or a small innovation like optimizing an email subject line for open rate, you need to ask yourself if your team has the ability to uncover or confirm marketing best practices?
Flying blind just wasn’t an option for me as a VPEM, which is why I decided to partner with an established enrollment company. I understood the power of wide-scale testing and benchmarking and I wanted my marketing to benefit from the kind of micro-level insights that I could not generate on my own.
The second opportunity cost to consider is economies of scale. In addition to leveraging talent that may not be available to you otherwise, there is often a cost benefit to partnering with a firm that can negotiate pricing on name purchases or printing. You could be missing out on advantaged access to these resources if you choose to do more of your marketing work in house.
Finally, consider the opportunity cost if you are not able to maintain adequate staffing levels. I have seen several instances where critical student outreach was compromised due to an overextended admissions team. We all know how important it is for admission officers to spend time building relationships, which is why you want to prioritize one-to-one communication and in-person events. Not only do these activities make a big difference to yield, but they also help increase staff morale and reduce staff burnout.
Key Takeaway: As you weigh the opportunities and opportunity costs of working with a partner, running all communications through your CRM, or some combination, think through your internal capacity and what is required to achieve enrollment and NTR success.
3. Will a fully in-house approach allow you to weather industry fluctuations and meet your long-term enrollment goals?
Could any of us have predicted the tremendous upheaval that would occur in March of 2020? (It certainly wasn’t on my “challenges facing higher education Bingo card”!) The pandemic was one of those seismic shifts that exacerbated existing challenges and accelerated the need for innovation within higher education. For me, it also crystalized why schools choose to work with an experienced enrollment partner.
The pandemic highlighted that in an uncertain world, it is critical for institutions be flexible and nimble. When faced with new circumstances, enrollment leaders cannot wait six to twelve months to adjust their marketing strategy. At the same time, making those adjustments without full-time access to industry insights and strategic support is difficult. And depending on your team’s capacity, it may also be challenging to execute the technical aspects of a mid-cycle campaign shift.
Looking ahead, it is clear that colleges and universities will continue to face complex and thorny challenges. Between FAFSA simplification, looming changes to affirmative action, evolving privacy laws, and an increasing number of students opting out of college, there is no shortage of issues for enrollment leaders to address.
This is where I have seen EAB partners thrive, turning seemingly insurmountable challenges into moments of reinvention. As I said earlier, every enrollment leader will need to determine the right mix of in-house versus outsourced activities for their institution, but as part of that decision, I urge you to consider the additive value of a results-oriented enrollment partner who can meaningfully impact your strategy and execution.
Key Takeaway: As part of your risk-mitigation strategy, consider the benefits of working with an experienced enrollment partner who has a proven track record of success.