A coach’s take on building a championship admissions program
By Tom King, Admissions Performance Institute, Enrollment Resources
Picking up where we left off in Part 1; building a championship team is not easy. Forming a championship admissions team is not unlike building a championship sports franchise. There are seven steps required:
- Building and training the right team
- Creating a winning game plan
- Preseason preparation
- A strong first half of the season
- Making midseason adjustments
- The second half of the season
- The off season
In Part 1, the article covered how to build and train the right team, that admissions is not a department, it is a process, and that all college employees are in admissions. Also, that you need admissions managers to be team builders and great listeners who are open to new ideas and allow their team the freedom to use their skills to be effective. You need to hire rock star reps and a strong marketing team as their partners and supply your team with the right tools and equipment to put them in the best possible position to win.
Now that you have the right team and they have gone through two-a-day training for weeks, they are ready for the start of the season.
The next step is creating a winning game plan and what Key Performance Indicators (KPI) we need to set up and manage as well as how to make adjustments.
Having an effective game plan that takes advantage of your strengths is a key to a successful season. If you try to force players into positions for which they are not well suited, success will elude you. Just relying on talent alone without having a plan is a recipe for failure. As Benjamin Franklin said, “If you fail to plan, you are planning to fail.”
Let’s start on our plan. First is to understand what Key Performance Indicators (KPI) that admissions are centered around. Then we will do the same with the marketing metrics we need to be concerned with to build our marketing plan. From there, we can then build our strategic enrollment plan.
What are the admissions KPIs we need to focus on? Here are the six pillars of successful admissions:
- Lead contact rate
- Appointments/tour set rate
- Appointment show rate
- Application rate
- Enrollment (packaging) rate
- Start rate
Everything else takes care of itself. If you focus on these 6 key ratios, then you will have a solid handle on your admission team’s performance. Too many schools and DOAs get bogged down with other minutia like phone calls made, emails sent, hours worked and daily reports that would make the IRS cringe. Those are small actionable items that will help achieve the results in our pillars.
Forming the admissions plan
We build our admissions plan around sector best practice ratios and then work backwards. At Enrollment Resources, years of research and data collection from our clients and the sector have shown that the following rates are best practice:
- Lead contact rate – 70 percent (blended rate of walk-in, Internet, PPL leads contacted)
- Appointments/tour set rate – 70 percent
- Appointment show rate – 80 percent
- Application rate – 70 percent
- Enrollment (packaging) rate – 90 percent
- Start rate – 80 percent (in-house)
While not every school will achieve best practice numbers in EVERY category, we know that these are the perfect reachable numbers and should be used to set your plan. So we simply work backward from the desired start numbers needed annually and we know that hitting these benchmarks yields roughly a 20 percent inquiry to start rate.
Thus, if our goal is 1,000 starts a year, in a perfect best practices world we will need about 5,000 leads if all percentages are reached. Now marketing has its goal and admissions has their marching orders. Hit these numbers and we win!
Best practices also show that admissions reps can handle about 100 leads max before they lose efficiency (80-100 is acceptable). Thus, for every 100 leads we bring in, we will need to hire one admissions rep. Now we know what our staffing levels should be.
The biggest takeaway from this exercise is that efficiency trumps quantity.
Many schools struggle to reach their full potential. We estimate that most schools are operating at an average of 50-60 percent of their revenue/start potential. Why?
As organizations grow, old systems and ways of working hold schools back from maximizing revenues and returns. Factor in the regulatory environment and external stresses competing for time and energy, and it’s easy to see why many schools hit the growth wall.
With these issues in play, how do we grow our school? We have three options,
- Throw lots of money at your problem and buy more advertising or leads
- Hire extra staff to beat the bushes
- Set out to make small, positive incremental changes to your enrollment management processes
At Enrollment Resources, we call it the 2 percent Principle – that doing several things just a little better creates compounding success without burning out your people or requiring you to spend more money. We typically see schools get to at least 75 percent efficiency on revenue potential within a few months.
We help identify many of the opportunities in your school that can be put to work, improving your marketing, admissions, retention and placement efforts. The results will allow you to create a quantum increase in revenue while lowering costs along the way. This way our leaner, more efficient team has the best chance to make it to the championship.
Creating the marketing plan
Just like our admissions plan, we need to understand our KPIs on the marketing side. While these can be more voluminous and difficult to put together, we can boil them down to 10 key indicators:
- Marketing spend & mix (percent of spend on lead generation, enrollment retention and branding)
- ROI, Qty & CPL of telephone/walk-in/referral leads
- ROI, Qty and CPL of website/organic leads
- ROI, Qty & CPL of PPC leads
- ROI, Qty and CPL of portal/PPL/aggregator leads
- Leads gap = total leads required versus actual leads produced
- Conversion rate of website and form source (versus best practice)
- Conversion rate of landing pages (versus best practice)
- Website stats (visitors, device source percentage, page stats)
- Facebook/social media stats (likes, engagement, views)
These 10 items will give us a dashboard of everything we need to track from a high level to insure our marketing is functioning as needed and that we are focused on the right things.
We start with the marketing spend mix. Best practice would typically indicate 70 percent of budget be devoted to lead generation/lead nurturing, 20 percent to enrollment retention and 10 percent to branding. So again, working backwards in our example, we need 5,000 leads and will spend 70 percent of our total marketing budget to get there.
Keeping track of our ROI on each lead source along with our monthly lead quantity and CPL will let us know how we are performing and by using best practice ratios, we can work backward to develop the plan needed to meet our lead quantity.
We will also review our leads gap to see where we stand on meeting our leads requirement and of course reviewing our conversion rates to best optimize our website and landing pages. Finally, review our website and social media stats to set in motion a plan for constant small improvements.
That’s it! We have the basis for putting together a winning plan for our team. We start with the end in mind and work backwards using best practice numbers to assemble a perfect game plan. We now have built a solid foundation and a set of KPIs that will allow us to review where we stand monthly and where improvements need to be made.
The role of a coach and manager is to be able to identify the areas in which we are struggling and to have the resources available to remedy those shortcomings.
Some will be easy and some may require that we reach outside of our organizations to experts who can provide solutions and improvements. Some improvements will have a high ROI. They may be simple, low-cost solutions that yield solid results and then there are lower ROI items that may cost more, but are necessary to get us to that next level.
So now we have our team of superstars, they are well trained, we have a game plan for the admissions and marketing departments to work from and are ready for game day. The next step is to get our team on the field and ready to play. Lead generation techniques, specifically optimizing our website and PPC campaigns and using our social media outlets to enhance lead volume and quality is where we will focus our time. We will also implement lead nurturing strategies and employ virtual admissions pathways to optimize our conversions.
TOM KING is currently a consultant in the career college industry working with Enrollment Resources in their Admissions Performance Institute division. He focuses on evaluating and improving tactics within the marketing and admissions processes for colleges to help them quickly improve their conversion rates and increase enrollment.
Previously, Mr. King was the Chief Operating Officer and Director of Enrollment Management with Ohio Technical College for nearly 13 years. After taking over the admissions department, he increased the college’s enrollment from 381 students to over 1,400 in his first five years. He also served as its Director of Training and also oversaw the Career Services, Information Technology, Financial Aid and Corporate Development departments during his time there. His focus on customer service and ability to motivate and develop staff has helped the college become a nationally recognized institution.
As a business owner for over 20 years and director at OTC for more than 12 years, Mr. King offers a unique set of skills and experiences to colleges looking to improve their processes and increase efficiency and profitability.
Mr. King brings a great deal of insight into marketing, program creation, facility expansion, policy and procedure changes, information technology implementation and general organizational improvements for colleges.
Contact Information: Tom King // Director, Admissions Performance Institute // Enrollment Resources // 216-577-8296 // firstname.lastname@example.org