Home Features Admissions Stop the Roller Coaster Effect – The Art of PDL’s and Referrals
Stop the Roller Coaster Effect – The Art of PDL’s and Referrals

Stop the Roller Coaster Effect – The Art of PDL’s and Referrals


By Lisa Olmedo, Vice President of Client Relations, Gragg Advertising

As summer approaches, talks of beaches, fireworks and amusement parks might fill the air in your admissions department making it hard to focus. Summer is seen by most as a time to kick back, unwind and enjoy some fun in the sun. If your team builds a solid PDL and Referral program they might just be able to catch a few waves this summer and still have an awesome fall start.

For much of the same reasons that your admissions department loses focus so do prospective students. Seasonality can make it hard to generate the marketing leads admissions teams become dependent on during the rest of the year. This is not what management wants to hear going into your largest start. How can you compensate for the natural drop in lead flow? PDL’s and referral’s my friends!

Schools in our sector have a start, on average, every four to eight weeks. At this pace admissions teams can find themselves in the danger zone of what I like to call, “the roller coaster effect,” especially during the summer with all the fun distractions.

“The roller coaster effect is a common problem for sales teams everywhere. Let me explain what I mean as it pertains to our admissions team. After a successful or stressful start, your team will want to take a breath either to celebrate a job well done or to decompress, this is the start of the roller coaster effect. You’re at the bottom of the hill, getting settled, making sure your seat belt is buckled. During this time, you have just lost a week of your enrollment cycle. The second phase, you start the slow climb. The second phase of the enrollment cycle goes by and your admissions advisors are just starting to get back in their rhythm. The third phase gets more intense and the team starts feeling the pressure to make up for lost ground. You are now at the top of the hill getting ready for the initial excitement of that first breath-taking drop. Here comes phase four, the twists and turns of getting prospective students in for interviews, the loop to loops of financial aid and the ups and downs of getting students packaged and ready to go. Whew, you did it! As the roller coaster pulls back into the station you sit back, decompress and congratulate yourself on a job well done. Oh no, are you starting the ride over?

While I love a good amusement park as much as the next person, this is one roller coaster we need to get off and eliminate from our enrollment cycle. The most effective way of reducing the roller coaster effect is to build a solid PDL and referral campaign.

You may be concerned you aren’t going to hit that fall start this. Let’s discuss how we can knock these starts out of the park. It really is as simple as paying attention and dedicating a little time and effort. The art of PDL’s and referrals involves everyone and can truly make the difference in the success of your school.

A common question I get when speaking at conferences on this subject is; What is the difference between a PDL and a Referral? There is a distinct difference although several schools make the mistake of interchanging these terms. A PDL is exactly what the acronym stands for, it is a Personally Developed Lead. Your team should have an outlined plan to generate these leads out in the community. A referral is a lead that comes from “inside” the walls of your institution and each team should have a process in place to generate these leads.

Do you need a little more motivation to take on this initiative? Besides being some of the most cost-effective leads you can get; YOU get to take control of the outcome and success of this campaign! Oh, and one more reason, PDL’s and referral have an average conversion rate to start of 18 percent across our sector.

Building a referral campaign within the institution is something everyone can get involved in. Faculty, staff, administration, admissions, students, prospects, alumni even the person that fills the soda machine.

The first step; assign a committee to spearhead the project. Identify the strengths and weaknesses of your school. Know the type of people that enroll in your various programs, remember different students have different needs. Involve the committee when writing the plan. Put the plan into action, don’t just bring it out at quarterly meetings, review it and plan to execute it next quarter. You must plan your work and work your plan.

The referral program can be defined by three different categories, everyday referrals, planned referrals and spontaneous referrals.

To generate any referrals, you need to follow the formula: Sincerity + Integrity x Follow-Through = TRUST.

Everyday referrals are the most common referrals that schools focus on. Planned admissions goals, asking a prospect to bring a friend, circulating the halls and building relationships with the students will get you a good referral base. The hardest part of the everyday referral is keeping the initiative top of mind. To incorporate referrals into your daily routine, have a weekly referral whiteboard up in the admissions area. Any time anyone at the school gets a referral they write the name of the referral on the board. At the end of each week, you meet to discuss where the referral is in the pipeline and congratulate who has the most productive list which is not necessarily the longest list. Praising the team member that has the most productive list will eliminate the problem of “giving names to hit a number” which could happen if a number is the expected goal instead of progression. At the end of the meeting erase the board and start again next week. This will generate friendly competition and keep genuine referrals coming.

Planned referrals are generated at events held at the school and can produce several interested prospects at one time. There are two common obstacles to overcome with this type of referral. One, you must plan an event that people want to come to. The event needs to be planned and executed properly. You can’t just buy a couple of boxes of ice cream sandwiches, throw them out in the common area and call it an event. An event at the school should be all-inclusive everyone should be involved from the administration to the students. Because events take time, effort, some budget and a lot of planning you will probably only want to do these quarterly. Successful event ideas I have seen are mass casualty day, school time physicals, kids fest – with bouncy houses, trick or treating, carnival celebration. These events are fun, include the community and are doable for almost any school with the right planning and commitment.

The second obstacle to overcome with a planned referral is the follow-through. If executed correctly your event will have generated several interested prospective students, you need to make sure you make the phone calls, set the appointments and get them back to the school for a career planning session and to enroll. Prospects generated at an event are never going to be more motivated to talk to you then they are during and immediately after the event. Do not delay scheduling a follow-up for the next week or when you have a lull in your media leads. One of the most important things to take into consideration when planning the events is; Do you have enough staff and time to properly commit to the referrals you will receive? If not, you may even want to slow your media leads for the week following the event.

Spontaneous referrals are my favorite kind of referral, if you are doing everything else right to build your referral program these referrals will start to develop naturally. It is human nature to want someone to feel the way you do, happy students, faculty and staff want others to be happy too. When you start getting consistent spontaneous referrals you know that your referral program is on track.

Personally Developed Leads or PDL’s are quite different from referrals.

As an admissions advisor I wanted the leads that converted the highest and if that meant I had to go out and get them myself than that is what I did.

Now, I didn’t stand on a street corner in front of the school waving a sign and I didn’t go rogue, but I did come up with different ideas that helped me communicate what my school had to offer. Note, you need the buy-in and approval from both a compliance and institutional standpoint for any outside planned activity where you are representing the school’s name and brand. Having said that, you should be planning outside activities. Career fairs, job fairs, informational sessions, lunchrooms at companies that offer tuition reimbursement are all planned outside activities that admissions teams can dedicate time to and they will generate PDL’s.

PDL’s can also be generated just by being aware of your surroundings and always being an advocate for education and your school. On a daily basis, you are helping prospective students with the first step to changing their lives, working with current students to learn the vital skills they will need to succeed, working with graduating students on an externship or finding that first job that will be a stepping stone into their career. Why should that end because you step outside the walls of your school? Opportunities are everywhere and you know what to look for, so be observant, if you identify someone in need take the time to say hi, listen and recommend. Our sector is committed to helping students succeed, it is a great position to be in and creates a passion within that captures the soul. Communicate that message out to the world and Personally Develop Leads will come naturally.

Lisa Olmedo

LISA OLMEDO is a veteran marketing and admissions expert. She joined Gragg Advertising in 2005 and currently manages the Client Service team and assists with the Business Development Department. Lisa is a trusted, strategic partner for clients across the country in building an effective media mix that focuses on start goals and conversion rates. Formerly an Admissions Director and Recruiter for nationally accredited schools; Lisa brings a wealth of career college expertise to the agency through hosting Gragg’s monthly educational webinars that help train hundreds of career school personnel. She has presented at several state and national conferences including CECU, ACCET, ABHES, CAPPS, CCST and many more.

Contact Information: Lisa Olmedo // Vice President of Client Relations // Gragg Advertising // 816-931-0050 // lolmedo@graggadv.com // www.graggadv.com // Twitter: @gowithgragg // Instagram: @graggadvertising  // Facebook: facebook.com/graggadv



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