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Recruiting Intelligence

5 Lead Nurturing Best Practices for Universities and High Schools


For enrollment management professionals, the next few months are all about watching the applications come in and then pouring everything into nurturing them toward enrollment.

In an ideal world you would personally guide each lead from application to enrollment, but that’s just not feasible for most academic institutions. Instead, you need a strong and efficient lead nurturing strategy to engage your prospects and boost enrollment. (You do have one, right?)

Strong lead nurturing strategies take into account each stage of prospective students’ decision process and gives them relevant information along the way.

In fact, the best strategies anticipate student questions before the student (or parent) even knows they are going to ask them. When you’ve done this work for a long time, you tend to know the general flow of the journey of most consumers.

You see how the family starts with a few obvious questions, learns a few things, and then realizes the next questions that need asking. Not unlike the way students progress in the classroom as they come to understand a subject. Learning is an iterative process of inquiry that builds on itself.

In nurturing students selecting an institution or degree program, you are looking for a meaningful alternative to the one-on-one conversations you wish you could have over the course of the admissions journey. Rather than literally holding each lead’s hand, your role is to champion a rock-solid lead nurturing strategy for your institution.

If you’ll be attending the 2022 AIEA conference in New Orleans (Feb 20-23), be in touch and we’ll find time for a coffee and an exchange of ideas.

To learn the 5 key tactics that will help your team create a lead nurturing strategy that works, read on. This post is a great primer for any recruitment team interested in strengthening enrollment yield.

1. Segment your audience

Lead nurturing is not a one-size-fits-all initiative. (We all wish for the simple solution). Prospects have very different needs and questions depending on what stage of the admissions process they’re in and where they come from. A super simple example: an email reminding recipients about application deadlines is relevant for some, but inappropriate for those who’ve already applied.

Segmenting your audience will help you provide targeted, relevant information to leads in every stage of the funnel. In fact, email segmentation has been shown to increase revenue as much as 760% according to HubSpot. One of our most popular blog posts ever is on this topic of audience segmentation. Find it here.

In short: start by working to understand the stages in your students’ buyer journey, then use an email software or CRM to categorize each prospect by stage. Regional differences also come into play and our Know Your Neighborhood student research can be helpful with that (scroll through and choose from the multiple reports available).

Lead scoring plays a role here (see below). If your institution is evaluating email or CRM platforms, we’ve seen them in action and can help steer you in the right direction. Perhaps another one of our seriously popular past posts would be helpful to you: Is Slate All That?

2. Prioritize personalization

Because you can’t hand-hold every student along their application journey, personalizing your lead nurturing campaign is the next best thing. Case in point, emails with personalized subject lines are 26% more likely to be opened. But don’t stop there. Think about how you can personalize across channels, including email, SMS marketing, and even chatbots. Use applicants’ names. Adopt a conversational tone. Be approachable. These are easy ways to help leads feel much more connected with your institution.

3. Take a multi-channel approach

Marketing across multiple channels increases the number of interactions you have with each prospect, making them more likely to take further action. Studies show that it takes about 10 touch points for customers to make a conversion. Again, the process of scoring those 10 touch points to identify intent and then prioritize your team’s personalized attention is key.

A multi-platform approach gives prospective students a more holistic sense of your institution and ups their odds of enrolling because you’ve developed a connection, a relationship. Aim to provide value on each channel, making sure to customize content to best suit each platform (e.g. quick reminders via SMS, entertaining short-form videos on TikTok).

Retargeting is an efficient means for meeting students across channels, creating a seamless, personalized enrollment experience. Employing this tactic allows you to run a Facebook ad talking about, say, upcoming cultural events at your institution, targeting students who visited your school’s cultural extracurricular activities page.

Dynamic landing pages are yet another cross-platform tool that gives prospects relevant information at each stage of their journey. For example, visitors who haven’t applied yet can get application information, whereas visitors who’ve already sent in an application may be redirected to an FAQ page and a student or faculty webinar on a relevant topic. Applied students need their own form of targeted nurturing to be sure your acceptance letter is the one that truly lights them up.

4. Employ lead scoring

Lead scoring is the process of assigning prospects a numerical value, on a scale of 0-100, based on how likely they are to convert. By assigning a score to your leads, you can help to automate the lead nurturing process and focus your efforts on students most likely to apply and enroll.

Each prospect’s lead score can be determined based on specific website browsing behaviors, conversion events (content downloads), email engagement, and social media interactions, among other activities. The days of relying on the campus tour as the intent indicator or sadly done for at least a while.

The art and science of lead scoring is an Intead publication in the making. Most do this wrong (hint: a website visit is hardly an indication of intent). Your job: developing creative, stage-appropriate content that will help you understand intent and guide leads toward conversion.

Tools like pixels and UTM codes help you track behavior on ads, landing pages, and your website. On the manual side, you can also take behaviors like webinar attendance, social comments, inquiries into account. These activities accompany the scoring you apply to the demographic, financial, and academic performance indicators that help you target that diverse campus you are building.

5. Follow up with leads

Arguably the most important part of lead nurturing is the follow up. It’s crucial to connect immediately following any action, whether it be a website conversion, inquiry, or DM. No matter the prompt, timely response exponentially increases the odds of converting a lead into a student.

Past Intead research (mystery shopper activity) showed such low levels of follow up activity by so many institutions. Perhaps you attended some of our NAFSA sessions back in the day? Take a look here and try to keep your jaw off the floor.

Needless to say, delayed follow up can quickly sour the relationship you’re working to build.

It’s amazing the number of students we speak with who say they chose their school because of fast, positive, direct interactions with admissions. Add to that communication from faculty, alumni, or current students and you have the best potential for engagement.

Personal connections matter. You know that. The trick is prioritizing and automating the process of weaving the personal connection into your lead nurturing best practices. Those who do, win.

If your team needs help structuring an efficient and personalized lead nurturing program, we may know a team able to help ; -)

One last note: we’re betting you know someone on your team who might make use of this post. That’s what the teal button below is all about. Have at it!

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