September: Your School Needs an Enrollment Funnel System

So many times, the Lord takes us down roads where we wonder, “Why am I here?”  With a degree in Communications and experience in growing a radio station’s listening audience, I had planned on having a career in radio as a program director.  I attained that goal at the age of 25, and when a new program director was brought in to take the station “to the next level,” a common practice in radio programming, just 5 years later, I wondered, “Now what?”  Eventually, I found myself as a Sales Consultant for Saturn, and developed a follow-up process to keep track of prospects and customer in the pre-personal computer world that was adopted by the corporation.   Little did I know the impact the developing a follow-up process would have – but more about that next month.

You may remember Saturn as the small car company that was designed to advance the American automobile industry to be able to compete with car makers like Honda, Toyota, and Nissan.  It was, as its slogan stated, “A Different Kind of Car; A Different Kind of Company.”  The car was designed from the ground up – and so was the process of buying it.  Saturn became known as the company that didn’t negotiate on its pricing.  Prior to this time, new car showrooms were known as “dealerships.”  Saturn changed that mentality too.  Each Saturn showroom was a “retailer,” choosing to sell the car at the sticker price to retain the value in the vehicle.

Value was something that was all-pervasive, and, being new to the world of the fabled car salesman, I discovered that the sale itself was a truly unique process, supported by the 5 Saturn corporate values: Continuous Improvement, Commitment to Excel, Customer Enthusiasm, Teamwork, and Trust and Respect for the Individual.  Even today, there aren’t many companies that will commit to espousing all five of these traits, since living the values means doing things differently.  As many Saturn owners will still tell you, the car buying and ownership experience in the 1990’s wasn’t the “same old same old” that tarnished the reputation of the car salesperson in years prior to “The Saturn Way” of doing business.

I’ll bet you’re wondering what this has to do with enrollment in your school.  It’s all about process.  So many schools I visit will send information to parents interested in enrolling their children, or even take a tour, and then the school administrators “hope” the parents come back.  While it is one of the three things that last, “hope” is not a successful enrollment strategy.

A Different Kind of Process

The process of buying a car prior to The Saturn Way was to go to a dealer, look around, find something you liked, drive it, then negotiate over the price.  Unsavory salespeople were notorious for “losing” the keys of the vehicle the customer was thinking about trading in.  Sometimes, the keys really weren’t lost; they were simply tossed on the roof of the building.   Then the buyer was stuck with a car they may not have wanted, but “got a really good deal” – or so they thought.  It might have been a “really good” deal, but was it the “best deal possible?”  Such practices didn’t create customer enthusiasm, and definitely did not display trust and respect for the individual.

With Saturn, there was a delineated process in place, consisting of six steps: Greeting, Interview, Presentation, Demonstration, Purchase Consultation, and Delivery.  Without getting into the details, all customers were greeted, a relaxed conversation took place about what they were looking for, a vehicle was found that closely matched what items were important to them in their next car, a demonstration drive was offered and, if they were comfortable with moving forward, a purchase consultation ensued.  If everything looked and felt good, the customer was, and this is important, “given the opportunity to purchase the vehicle.”  Note that they weren’t asked to buy the car.  It was presented as an “opportunity.”  If they were not prepared to purchase, the Sales Consultant could schedule a follow-up appointment after they had car-shopped and compared not only the car, but their experience with other brandsCustomers were encourage to make note of how they were treated at other dealerships.

Those “stages” of the sale represented a “pipeline” of prospective customers.  In much the same way, your school needs an enrollment pipeline to track those families that have requested information (what I like to call a “prospective enrollment,” since, in sales terminology, it’s called a “lead”).  Once they visit your school for a tour, they enter the enrollment pipeline.  Keeping track of these metrics will help improve the process, and allow you to see opportunities to get more “prospective enrollments” from one stage to the next, as well as discern and track why they may no longer be a part of your pipeline, and no longer interesting in enrolling in your school.

Enrollment Stages

Here’s a suggested “stage” process for you to consider:

Prospective Enrollment
Appointed (that is, an appointment for a visit has been scheduled)
Toured
Financial Consultation
Applied for Admission
Applied for Financial Aid
Accepted
Enrolled (Registration Fee Received)
Payment Plan Established

Notice that prospective families really don’t enter the later stages of the pipeline until they tour the school.  There’s no talk of tuition until the tour is given, and parents agree that the educational experience offered by your school is something they’re excited about.  This is to ensure that the school’s educational experience will be a “good fit” for the family and the student.  Parents who simply ask about the tuition and want to make a determination if they can afford it before stepping foot into the school may be the ones who have difficulty paying tuition throughout the year.  In recent years, schools have posted their tuition schedules on their Web sites.  While that practice was started to eliminate some of the phone calls to the school, the effect today is that it’s eliminating a lot of interested parents from taking a tour of your school!

If you’d like more details about that why it’s advisable to remove your tuition pricing from your Web site, replacing it with verbiage which speaks to the cost of education, and, how with the availability of financial aid, the announced tuition simply becomes a piece of information for those planning on paying in full, send an email to admin@schooladvancement.com with the words, “Talking About Tuition” in the subject line.

You may be asking:

  • What do you do to get parents of prospective students to move from one stage to the next?
  • Why apply for financial aid before acceptance (which has changed from applying after acceptance because of the changing financial environment, as well a change in the mindset of the generation of parents your school is now dealing with)?
  • Why does this pipeline not stop at “Enrolled?”

All those questions will be covered in the upcoming months. I’ll even suggest several tools you can use to track your pipeline.