March 5, 2019

Data Doesn’t Depreciate: Convert Your Stale Inquiries to New Students

A higher education marketer could be forgiven for thinking there is no value to be gained from old, stale inquiries or applicants who never enrolled. With such an intense focus on maximizing yield rates, bringing in higher inquiry volume from more relevant users, and doing it at lower costs, there is often little time or budget to reconsider old leads who never enrolled.

But you shouldn’t give up on these prospects! If used properly, your school’s old inquiries could still be a gold mine of potential enrollments.

There are a number of reasons someone may inquire with a school (and even apply) without ever taking the next step. These situations don’t always mean that lead is lost for good to your school:

Students got cold feet

Making a life-changing decision like choosing a school does not come easily. And with many potential students going through a process that contains thousands of touchpoints between research and the first day of class, it’s likely that many inquirers simply don’t feel comfortable enough moving forward at that time.

The sales tactics were too aggressive

A NACAC study recently found that the majority of prospects apply or inquire at three or more schools. If every school is striving to be the first to contact and most persistent to convert that person to an enrollee, it’s easy to see how a potential student could become overwhelmed. Someone may think they’re just submitting a form, and after days of multiple schools calling them may choose to put their school selection on pause.

Students experience a life change

A lot can happen between the time someone starts researching higher education opportunities and actually attending his or her first class. If your target student base is non-traditional, such as adult education or career advancement programs, then there’s an even greater chance of life deterring an enrollment. Prospects who intend to go back to school sometimes find their financial situation changes, or they start a family or suddenly end up with other priorities that delay their higher ed decision for a couple of years.

Whatever the reason may be, there are prospects every day who take the first step toward advancing their education but don’t go any further. The important thing for your marketing team to remember is that in some of those individuals the dream of higher education is still alive. And while you may be thinking that many of those stale inquiries simply chose a different school and are effectively out of the running, with a large enough pool of past leads, there are absolutely some worth reaching back out to. With savvy remarketing and data segment, you can bring them back into the fold later on at a low cost.

Statwax recently faced this exact situation with a national healthcare career college. Little had been done to re-engage past inquiries, many of which were years old by that point and long-considered stale. Marketing spend was all forward-facing – chasing brand new inquiries from brand new prospects. By utilizing the client’s existing data and incorporating cost-effective custom audiences, Statwax was able to produce thousands of new inquiries from former prospects who were already familiar with the brand and had, for whatever reason, never made it further into the enrollment process. (Read the full case study case on turning stale leads into active prospects here.)

If your school already has data collection in place with a robust CRM (and if not, you should talk to our friends at Iron Focus), and is actively engaged in paid digital efforts, the same success could be within close reach. Don’t count out old inquiries and consider them stale, even years later. There are some easy ways to test out the effectiveness and get them re-engaged:

Segment the old leads by campus, program, or other identifying feature

Even if the lead is years old, start by speaking about what the person was first interested in and familiar with. If their plans have changed, that’s fine. But this initial segmentation allows remarketing efforts to highlight their area of original intent. You can mention updates or new selling points of a program, new options at that campus, etc.

Turn to paid social

Paid search is a great bottom-of-funnel higher ed tactic. But in this scenario, you would have to wait for the former prospects to make certain searches again. If cold feet or a life event stopped them the first time, that person may not search the same or may not know how to start looking again. With paid social, you can still utilize audience matching, and then proactively deliver messages that jog their memory or move the conversation forward without waiting.

Instill trust and a sense of calm

The best approach is to assume the past inquiries fell off because of the individual not feeling comfortable or informed enough to take the next step with your school. Our tests with these tactics have found that follow-up messaging focused on building trust and instilling a sense of calm gives the best chance for re-engagement. Focus on student testimonials that help build prospects’ trust with your school. Include clear messaging about what steps come next (like talking to admissions or making an appointment) will reduce stress as well. That way, there’s no surprise when the phone suddenly rings or emails start coming about setting up a campus visit.

Making a higher education decision is a big milestone for many people. Too often, individuals start down that path only to find life circumstances, fear of the unknown, or overly aggressive sales tactics which cause them to abandon the process. But that doesn’t mean the desire still isn’t there. With the right data strategy in place early on and a robust digital marketing strategy, old leads don’t have to remain stale. If you’re looking for a boost to inquiry volume without having to carve out a massive new budget, engaging those past prospects could be a great supplemental strategy to your ongoing marketing efforts.

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