Our Thoughts.

Six Ways to Get More Out of Your Admissions CRM

When Waybetter’s co-founder Rich Whipkey spoke at the TargetX CRM Summit a couple weeks ago, he tried to help the folks in attendance see the big picture when it comes to marketing automation and drip nurturing—and realizing ROI on their CRMs.

And the big picture, quite simply, is this: 95% of the work of marketing automation occurs before you even begin to think about writing an email. With that guiding principle in mind, here’s what else you can do to start increasing ROI on the platform(s) your college has invested in…

1) Perfect your process.

Enrolling students is a years-long process. Your recruiting and marketing efforts should reflect that reality.

So, step back from your computer and think. Think about your goals (More apps? More deposits? More of the right kind of deposits?) Think about how marketing automation can help you reach those goals. Think about the things you wish you knew about prospective students. Think about how what you know about those students would change what you said to them. Think about the methods you employ to uncover that info. Think about your forms, for crying out loud! Think about your “stealth apps” and whether they’re really that stealthy—is it possible that your processes simply aren’t watertight enough to capture the folks who want to know more about you?

Focus on a few basics:

  • Don’t let the funnel leak.
    For example: Are students who attend your sports camps asked to inquire? Does everyone who comes for a visit fill out a form? When your counselors are on the road, how long does it take for forms they collect to get entered into the CRM? Do they get entered? Are you sure? Find the leaks and plug them.
  • Define your data needs.
    Do you wish you could tell a student interested in biology about your biology programs? Well, then you need to be sure to ask students what they want to study, and you need to have good content about your biology program ready to share.
  • Fix your forms.
    See the previous bullet. Do your forms accurately reflect your data needs? Are your forms as short as they possibly can be? Are they easy to complete on mobile devices? How many potential inquiries clicked “request info” and then bailed once they saw what looked more like an IRS audit than something that might help them choose a college?
  • Respond immediately.
    When you meet a person on the street and they say “hello,” you say “hello” back, right? To do otherwise would be rude and bizarre. Please treat interested students (who may very well end up spending hundreds of thousands of dollars on your college) at least as well as you do a person passing you on the street. If you respond two weeks late, you’ve lost huge brain share.

“Someone great at process but average at marketing will always beat a great marketer who stinks at process.”


Look, marketing (and branding and advertising and everything that falls under this huge umbrella) can and should be fun. I mean, you’ve seen Mad Men, right? Your work should be smart! It should be witty! It should make people feel something! But always keep in mind that someone great at process but average at marketing will always beat a great marketer who stinks at process.

2a) Be relevant.

Think about the marketing missiles launched your way every day—in your email, on social, on TV. Which ones do you pay attention to? The ones that matter, right? The ones that solve a problem you may have or the ones that make you feel good or that are, for whatever reason, really relevant to you. Don’t for a second think that 16- and 17-year-olds are any different.

Marketing should be a conversation. When you discover what’s interesting to someone (their intended major, the sport they want to play, the club they want to join) tell them what they want to know. And make it personal whenever possible. In order to accomplish this feat, however,  you’ll need to define your categories of personalization to accurately reflect what you intend to be relevant about. Will you say something different to students who live out of state? To aspiring athletes? To students eligible for diversity scholarships?

2b) Don’t let branding get in the way of good communication.

I hate to be the one to break it to you, but your school’s brand talking points are about you. Good marketing, on the other hand, is always about the other person. So don’t stand on your mountaintop and yell about your “community of scholars” or your “low faculty–student ratio” (every school in the country talks about those, by the way). Instead, say something that matters to the 16-year-old aspiring biologist who just submitted an RFI to your college. Tell them about the internship they might get or the graduate schools other students like them have been admitted to. They don’t want generic. They want relevant.

Of course brand messaging has its place, but don’t adhere to it at the cost of saying something real and relevant and meaningful. After all, real people will be making huge life decisions based on the information you provide to them. As marketers, we owe it to them to be as helpful as possible—that’s always a surefire way to build brand equity.

3) Implement impeccably.

In an ideal world, we could automate everything under the sun, then flip the switch and kick our shoes off. Unfortunately, the real world gets in the way. (After all, if someone enters your system in February of their senior year, they won’t have time to receive an intricately structured 20-part drip that’s built out over six months—they wouldn’t get to the good stuff until July!)

So, it’s important to set realistic goals for how much marketing automation you can pull off. That’s why we recommend starting with a simple 5-part drip. It’s enough to cover what’s most critical while still leaving space for urgent and one-off communications. A five part drip might be structured around the following themes:

  • Academic interests
  • Info about outcomes
  • Key differentiators
  • Affordability
  • Your ranking (If you’ve got it, flaunt it. If you don’t, that’s OK—talk about what you think would be most helpful to students and their parents. You’ll never go wrong trying to be of service.)

Once you’ve decided on the themes your messages will cover, drill down to the components that will help build successful emails. Stuff like:

  • Dynamic content.
    Will everyone see the same thing, or can you personalize based on what you know and the content you have available?
  • Calls to action.
    Think about making them, you know, easy to act on. Make buttons easy to see and click, and make sure all links away are clear, well-defined, and serve a purpose.
  • Who’s the email from?
    Should it be from a counselor? A current student? A coach?
  • How long is the message?
    Better to be brief than boring.
  • Imagery.
    On it’s face, good imagery seems like a no-brainer. On the other hand, if you’re trying to fake personalization (say an email from a coach), sometimes including a pretty campus shot, or even a branded banner, might not make sense.
  • Mobile friendliness.
    Is every part of your email easy to read on a handheld Apple device? Are you sure? Check again.
  • Deliverability.
    Will your email actually be delivered? Just because you build a beautiful email doesn’t mean the spam filters are going to let it through. (Litmus is a great tool for checking your email deliverability before sending.)

4) Write emails that make the most of the process you’ve perfected.

That’s right—everything up until this point (roughly 1,100 words so far in this blog post) has been about planning and process. The writing should follow pretty naturally. Be clear. Ask something of your intended audience (to click through or to visit or apply…anything). Be brief. This isn’t rocket science.

5) Own your results.


“A great part of being a digital marketer is that we can track our results. A horrible, nausea-inducing part of being a digital marketer is that we can track our results.”


It’s a tough spot to be in, I know. But you have to be accountable. So, look at your results…from your click through rates all the way to your deposit yield. Celebrate and expand on your successes. Embrace your failures, learn from them, and move on. Once you commit to this mindset, the fear starts to subside, and you’ll be well on your way to getting the most out of your CRM and becoming a truly effective marketer.

6) Ask questions.

This stuff is hard. If it were easy, companies like us wouldn’t exist. (In fact, half of our clients pay us to do their drip nurturing for them—even the ones who have very good CRMs in place and extraordinarily capable staffs).

So, if you’re struggling to jump start your school’s drip nurturing and marketing automation, get in touch with us. You might be surprised by our candor and our openness—as was one TargetX Summit attendee who hit us with a great hashtag during Rich’s presentation—see the picture.  (Thanks, Monica! #candor)

In the meantime, go ahead and browse a few case studies.

Waybetter co-founder Rich Whipkey talking the talk at TargetX.


Joel Anderson is Waybetter’s VP of Marketing & Strategy. Higher ed is all he knows.

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