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Buy or Generate Your Own Leads?

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Lead aggregators.  Affiliate programs.  Those places someone on your team calls to “buy leads” because you can’t seem to generate enough quality leads and enrollments with your lead generation/enrollment efforts.

Recently, we’ve seen a sharp increase in the number of phone calls asking if we sell “leads”.

We do not.

Why?

Because I believe there are more effective ways for you to generate quality leads.

Let me explain.

Early in my higher ed career, I witnessed many colleges and universities turn to affiliate programs to buy “leads”.  Lots and lots of low cost “leads” which meant lots and lots of phone calls, emails, direct mail and more.

At one university, with a conversion rate of 0.1% from “lead” to “enrollment”, I had a wonderful “conversation” with a senior vice president of enrollment management.  They explained that they bought “leads” to keep their sales/enrollment staff busy.  Not productive, just busy!

I watched a lot of those involved with this practice confuse “activity” with “productivity”.  This typically lasts right up until the time when the term started, and actual enrollments fell far short of projected enrollments.

Digging deeper, I learned that at that time, it was common for the aggregators to offer chances to win free iPods in exchange for their contact information.  These people had no intention of ever enrolling in college, but they were treated like a “lead”, nonetheless.

Then I attended one of BMO Capital Markets Annual Back to School Conferences in NYC.  One of the sessions I attended left me stunned.  That session was a panel discussion on affiliate marketing programs.  The three panelists sheepishly admitted to selling the same lead to any institution that would buy it.

Those around me shifted uncomfortably in their seats and mumbled a variety of comments that are known to have made sailors blush.

Times have changed but it appears the current generation of enrollment/academic advisors are out there trying to buy “leads”.

“We have our marketing nailed.  We have a Customer Relationship Management (CRM) and marketing that’s great, so we won’t need your help with strategy or campaign management or anything.  We just need to buy some leads because we don’t seem to be generating enough through our marketing—which is fantastic, by the way. Did I already mention how great our marketing is?”

Problem #1: What’s a ‘Lead’?

Most institutions have a terrible definition of “lead”, if they have a definition at all.  For example, if you are targeting adult students, your definition of a lead is NOT “an adult” or “anyone over 25-years of age”.

Solution #1: Detailed Definition

Look at the current student population—specifically the successful students.  What do they have in common?

If you can, work with a data company that can append data to your files, so you get a clearer understanding of/insight into these people.

Then use those details to define your target audience/segments because you want to recruit those that are most like your best students.

If you must work with a lead aggregator and buy leads, use these details to focus their efforts.  The next step is to negotiate a deal where they get rewarded for providing leads that meet your criteria or, better yet, that enroll.  Stop paying for a “lead” and start paying for a qualified lead or enrollment.

Problem #2: Wrong Goal

You’re not in the lead business.  You’re in the enrollment business so focus on enrollments, not leads.

Yes, I understand the “funnel”, thank you.  However, when you focus on “leads” or the “top of the funnel”, you aren’t focusing on your real goal—enrollments.  And that leads to an assumption by many which is “…all we really have to do is hit the lead numbers…the rest (enrollments) will follow…”

That assumption can be deadly, so always focus on the prize which is enrollments.

Problem #3: Follow-up aka Lead Nurturing

Congratulation, you have “leads”.

Now what?

If your lead follow-up, also referred to as lead nurturing process, is a mess…you’re going to still going to struggle to motivate enough quality leads to enroll.

Many institutions have a series of emails they will send, regardless of the prospective student’s motivations, wants, needs, perceptions, expectations and selection criteria.  What that means is you’re sending them information that isn’t relevant and doesn’t help them realize you offer them a unique, valuable solution.

Many institutions have contact strategies that leave days, if not weeks, between communications.  That silence is costly.

The reality is that the typical American is bombarded with 5,000 or more sales messages a day. You need to cut through that noise, grab their attention and interest, build trust and motivate them to move forward with your institution.  That is less likely to happen with a weekly email and attempted phone call.

One institution reached out to a new lead 15 times in the first 10-days the new lead was in their CRM.  That included emails, phone calls and direct mail. Their conversion rate from lead to enrollment was significantly higher than those institutions that made 1 attempt every 4 or 5 days.  This is not to say that you need to reach out to a new lead 2-times a day.  What it does say is that you should test and discover the most effective contact frequency.

Solution #3: Improve Lead Nurturing

Test.  Test the messages you use.  Test the offers your make.  Test the media and your contact frequency.

Too many institutions have the same lead nurturing process in place that they have had for years.  They don’t test because “…we’re just too busy…”.  Many will admit “…our messaging and offers could be much better…” but, again, claim they lack the bandwidth to make changes.

Make the time.

Bottomline: You Should Be Able to Do This Yourself

If you can afford to hire someone else to generate quality leads, you have the resources to generate leads on your own.  You may need different expertise on your staff, but you can do it on your own.

Success doesn’t happen overnight.  You will need time to design and perfect the processes that generate quality leads and enrollments.

You can produce quality leads with the proper resources.

Interested in exploring more effective ways to generate your own high-quality leads and enrollments?  Give me a call at 443-692-8338 and let’s talk about what would work best for you and your institution.

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