Touro-GST is an accredited university based in New York City. When they first engaged with Highbrid, they reported experiencing some challenges converting leads into qualified opportunities, and had begun enrolling students at a lower rate that before. The cause wasn't entirely clear to GST.
What they did know was the landscape was extremely competitive and recent changes with Federal Immigration policies made recruiting from their historically reliable source of international students a lot more complicated. 56% of students were enrolled on an international visa and 13% of all those students were coming to the US for computer science with the top 3 source countries being Japan, India and Nepal.
HubSpot Marketing Pro was originally implemented back in 2015 by team members that had since departed the school or department, taking with them important institutional knowledge. There were 15 active users all with various degrees of adoption. To address inquires of international website visitors during off-hours, GST was investing in a third party live chat solution that offered limited integration with HubSpot.
The suspected drivers of traffic and lead conversions online were Word-of-mouth endorsements from satisfied students to their peers, GST's presence at virtual college fairs and Google Ad campaigns. They had a huge database of leads that they nurtured primarily through email blasts via Constant Contact. Recipients who expressed interest were marked as qualified prospective students, manually imported to HubSpot and flagged for the enrollment team to engage.
GST was in a position where they were winning in certain areas despite declining performance and lackluster execution. The inefficiencies of the past were starting to impact the school in tangible ways. Enrollment was stalling. If numbers didn’t improve in 3 quarters, there was a possibility that one of their three degree programs would be cut and GST might be put on probation.
While making use of HubSpot’s automation, years of redundant and unmaintained workflows started to compete with one another proving counterproductive. Email marketing drip campaigns and sales email templates were being overused and the enrollment team’s sales activity was falling. There were tons of old deals that needed to be closed out and former leads that were now ice cold and needed to be purged.
Their enrollment process, especially for international students, was in need of updates as it was complex and very lengthy. Lastly, they needed to brainstorm ways to help students progress through the enrollment pipeline easier and faster by identifying an removing roadblocks.
GST engaged Highbrid initially to address 5 key goals:
- Clean up their prospective student pipeline and identify where they were losing leads.
- Devise a process by which their enrollment team could effectively contact 100% of the inbound lead inquiries within five minutes of conversion.
- Develop reliable metrics that will help to determine success.
- Create reporting that gives 4-5 key performance indicators (KPIs) each month so the college leadership could have high-level visibility into their efforts in real time and at-a-glance.
- Evaluate what were the sources of their leads and diversify them with other high performing traffic.
What We discovered
After interviewing the marketing and enrollment teams and observing them in action, it became abundantly clear that the enrollment journey wasn't linear. To evaluate their lead generation, our team conducted a traffic source audit and determined that over 90% of leads for the college were being generated through SEM. This was a threat because it meant that their enrollment success was entirely dependent on GST’s investment on ad campaigns.
Secondarily, while international students made up a large percentage of their student population, many interested prospective students were either unqualified, didn't understand what they were applying for, or most commonly, were from countries the new federal administration was less likely to grant student visas (F-1, H-1B, J-1, H-4) to deserving applicants. While GST's marketing team worked extremely hard to identify a robust array of good fit leads, there were several challenges.
- Their process lacked efficiency in qualification. While initially interested, good fit lead's attention was swept away by competitors who were quicker to respond to their inquiries.
- Their lists lacked segmentation, all contacts were simply categorized by one of the three programs they expressed interest in during intake rather than behavioral factors that would guide a more engaging enrollment process.
- Their messaging was homogenous and redundant. As a result of the tangled ball of competing automation and lack of list segmentation, leads were receiving as many as 5 emails a day from the school, none of which was optimized for nurturing.
The college also suffered from a messy leads handoff. Unqualified leads were being pushed through the pipeline. It was not uncommon for the enrollment team to be engaging a lead in sales activity, only to discover they were interested in a different program.
GST could not see their own potential. The only key performance indicator (KPI) they were using was total enrolled students. This black and white view of their own success blinded them to the potential of students who were still in the pipeline, and who wanted to attend Touro-GST. As a result, many quality leads were dropped from Touro’s marketing efforts.
Enrollment / Sales
Challenges at the top of the funnel had residual affects with enrollment. While an substantial lead volume was generated, not enough leads were being sales qualified. To compensate, the program directors, serving in the enrollment (sales) role were expending resources engaging contacts prior to marketing qualification. This created a backlog of opportunities the team was working, artificially inflating their enrollment pipeline metrics.
What's more, without giving an end date to campaigns or assigning an expiration date to open deals, leads were carried over several semesters without any real progress and diminishing chances of closing. This lack of focus on viable prospective students directly contributed to a decrease in enrollment numbers and morale amongst the team.
Lastly we audited their tech stack. As a school of technology, they had a lot of experience, had development capabilities and were bringing some powerful tools and skills to the table. The challenge was in how all of it was integrated, aligned and implemented. Their greatest asset in HubSpot CRM, was largely being underutilized and many of the tools weren't speaking to it.
With the HubSpot's aggressive approach to product development, there had been a lot of advancement and changes since the purchase of the software. Many of the new hires were never properly trained and those that were, would have benefited from re-onboarding. While this was a challenge, it presented low-hanging fruit for us and opportunities for quick wins.
They were engaging an outside vendor as an answering service to monitor their chat in the off-hours. We suspected this was a huge missed opportunity because while they were collecting information, the vendor's function wasn't to qualify. Leads weren't getting their questions answered and by the time they were picked up in the morning, they had moved on to the next school in their Google Search and effectively had gone cold.
After a comprehensive analysis of the Touro GST student recruitment and enrollment process, we were able to identify their needs and create a comprehensive operations plan. Our plan was focused on three key ares:
- HubSpot implementation and re-onboarding
- Marketing and Enrollment Alignment
- Sales Enablement
HubSpot Implementation and Re-Onboarding
With various degrees of HubSpot adoption and technical knowledge, it became important for us to re-onboard their entire Touro GST Marketing and Enrollment teams to create a baseline of proficiency.
Marketing and Enrollment Alignment
GST's greatest asset was, and continues to be, its people. They had a great team that was eager to produce results. However, their wasn't a clear defined repeatable process they could follow and train others on. Our plan was map the entire enrollment process from first interaction to close and beyond. With this map we were able to clearly define each step in the process. Most importantly, the teams had to align on:
- what defined a lead?
- What made that lead qualified for marketing lead nurturing?
- At what point in the process would the program directors engage with sales activity.
By mapping out the process we could clearly define stages in their journey allowing us to see where students were going, if they were stuck in the process or had dropped out all together. By identifying these holes in the process, we would were not only patch them up, but also search for areas of opportunity.
The three program directors were already doing a lot. We wanted to enable them with the best-in-class tools to make them more successful, more often by providing them with the resources they needed to close more deals, at a faster velocity. Our plan was simply to provide the content, efficiency tools, knowledge, and information they needed to effectively enroll students.
To maximize time and generate quick wins, we would first onboard team members on HubSpot Marketing Hub. This would allowed them to quickly automate emails after form submission, create blogs for organic traffic, get reports on landing pages, and create their own custom reports.
Like most schools, GST had a ton of data on their students however the profile and needs of their target students were changing. We decided to create updated student personas. These semi-fictional representation of their ideal prospect based on market research and real data about your existing student, would help guide all our efforts moving forward. We were particularly interested in our "International Student Sandip" Persona and how we could help them navigate the student visa process.
To create a heightened level of transparency and accuracy we created time delimited campaigns, bookended by the first and last days to enroll for the semester. This allowed the enrollment teams to focus on the sales qualified leads that were most likely to close for the upcoming semester, while marketing nurturing those marketing qualified leads that were good-fit but not yet ready for enrollment. In order to keep track of these campaigns we created reports for Touro-GST every Friday that tracked the number of sales activities for both sales qualified leads and marketing qualified leads.
At the end of each campaign we scheduled a “smarketing” meetings in which the marketing and enrollment teams would discuss issues they were facing, brainstorm solutions, and create SMART goals in order to remedy the problems. Initially, the output was superficial so we dis-invited all senior leadership to encourage more open dialog. The result was incremental gains with each progressive campaign.
These meetings proved most helpful in evaluation of the lead handoff. In reviewing leads enrollment felt needed more qualifying and those that marketing thought should have been treated with a greater sense of urgency, we were able to define and refine the qualification process. The iterative process while intentionally steeped in constructive conflict, helped the teams to find alignment and synergy.
Service Level Agreement (SLA)
To hold all parties accountable and create a seamless hand-off of leads, we created a service level agreement (SLA) between the marketing and enrollment departments. This allowed us to clearly outline each department's responsibilities. For marketing, they agreed to deliver 200 qualified leads to each program director monthly (as defined in our Smarketing meetings). Conversely, enrollment agreed to only contact sales qualified leads and do so within 24 hours.
Given GSTs focus on international student's it was abundantly clear they needed to be available and qualifying around the clock. We suspected there was a huge and immediate win to be had with the optimization of their website's chat function.
Our recommendation was to sunset the relationship with the outside vendor and enable HubSpot's live chat during office hours supplemented by a lead qualifying chatbot overnight. Instead of just taking messages, the process was designed to qualify new leads and automate the delivery of information even when there was no live GST representative available to help them. This would prove a critically easy way to make incremental gains toward GST's lead generation goal.
With the teams now on the same wavelength it was important for us to align them with the right technology to enable GST's growth. HubSpot's powerful CRM platform would function as the nucleus, our single source of truth (SSOT).
With international communications so important, it was critical that we provide a reliable solution for talk, text and messaging oversees. By adding WhatHub, we brought the full power of HubSpot CRM into the WhatsApp web interface, allowing both the marketing and enrollment teams to see information about their WhatsApp leads and perform HubSpot tasks without ever leaving the WhatsApp UI. Aircall's first-in-class call center software powered our inbound and outbound voice center and SalesMSG provided our 2-way texting and SMS marketing solution. All these tools of course integrated seemlessly within HubSpot.
Inbound Marketing Strategy
In order to make this process easier for prospective students, Touro-GST needed to create information, resources and checklists that students could easily access for help in navigating the selection process at GST, or anywhere else.
We knew that GST needed to generate more organic traffic to reach its goals. We immediately started building pillar content build around answers to questions our teams most frequently were asked by prospects. These FAQs formed the basis for the topic clusters we used to guild our blog content.
For example, our International Student persona would commonly ask “How to Apply for a Student Visa.” We answered this and many other common concerns through content. This approach was designed to address two problems at once, build organic traffic and to provide leads with sources of information to help them through the enrollment process.
Each student persona's experience and journey was different. It was no longer good enough to have homogenous messaging. Leveraging HubSpot's smart content tools, we created more customizable copy for email, website, landing pages, social media etc that spoke to and would resonate with each persona intimately, further optimized to correspond which their stage in the enrollment journey.
We created a sales enablement strategy that armed the sales team with the content they needed to direct leads through the enrollment process and help them to close the sale. Informational content was a major part of that strategy. They were able to point leads to the information and resources they needed in order to apply, or apply for a student visa.
Create reports that track the sales team’s activities after prospects request information or submit forms. Identifying activity metrics like number of calls, emails sent to prospective students, and tasks completed and reporting them weekly as key performance predictors of success.
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