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Reanimating Your Zombie Leads

Reanimating Your Zombie Leads


Proven Strategies for Reviving the Conversation With Your Prospects

By Martha Lanaghen, CEO and Founder, The Sparrow Group

The last 10 years have seen increasing competition for every student. Prepscholar.com says that, “The standard thinking from counselors has been that the average college-bound student should apply to about 6-8 colleges.” InsideHigherEd.com says that 36 percent of first-time freshmen applied to seven or more colleges in the Fall of 2015.

This not only means increased costs to students (and schools), but also means that each prospective student is evaluating a larger number of schools, and it’s that much more difficult to gain the attention of a prospect, let alone build the kind of relationship that means they’ll choose your school in the sea of options they are considering.

It’s no wonder as many as 60 percent of your total inquiries never return your phone call, and likely as many as 80 to 90 percent engage one time or fewer with your admissions advisors.

The same messages garner the same result … dead leads stay dead

If you’ve ever mystery shopped your own school, or your competition, your inbox has been clogged with “follow-up email” messages that are automatically generated to get the attention of your prospect and hopefully stimulate them to reach out to you again. The challenge with these campaigns is that they rarely offer genuinely new messages – it’s just a string of messages that are roughly the same, “we’re glad you inquired, we’re here to support you, call now.”

We’ve shopped dozens of schools and have received hundreds of email messages, some even coming six months to a year after our original inquiry. Shockingly, we find that the campaigns are nearly always the same (roughly). Messages go something like this:

  1. Thank you for inquiring, here’s more information, we’ll call you soon – or, you can do (ABC) to get more information and contact us.
  2. Sorry we haven’t been able to reach you (more links), we’ll try again soon, or you can reach us.
  3. You recently inquired, (more links), don’t give up on your education (perhaps some statistics about how important education is), you can reach us these ways (XYZ).
  4. Last chance – create some urgency – we’d love to help, call us now.
  5. Classes starting soon, contact us now. We won’t call you again.

When reviewing our client’s email results, we see decreasing response to the drip campaigns, i.e. the first email gets the best response rate, and by the fourth or fifth email, you’re seeing increased unsubscribe rates, and reduced open rates.

The additional emails add no additional value for the prospect, and gain you no additional information with which to engage the prospect or from which to learn.

Most marketing and admissions organizations think of only one desired outcome: Enroll the student. If you shift from this singular focus to a two-pronged approach, the long-term potential to reanimate your leads will grow exponentially.

Primary goal: Enroll the student

Secondary goals:

  • Learn something new (increase the data we have about prospects individually as well as our prospects as a group)
  • Weed out the students that are not qualified and/or genuinely not interested and highlight the ones that may not convert today – but could be long-term prospects

This shifts the focus on the one-dimensional push to get the prospect to engage in a conversation with an admissions advisor and enroll now, to a world where we’re excited about every additional piece of information they may supply us as that takes us one step closer to more effective reanimation campaigns, and helps us focus our investments (time and money) on the students that may actually enroll someday.

Take a fresh look at email content

Prospects disengage for many reasons. You can’t overcome all of them, but you can help an unsure student move through their hesitancy with authentically valuable content to assist them with their school-selection journey.

Ideally, this valuable content will either inherently collect more information from the prospect, or will be presented in a way that they provide additional information through the way they click on the content.

Additionally, you cannot be shy about creating “sassy” content. We are bombarded with clickbait on nearly every page we visit online. Why? Because it works. The tame email subject line, particularly by the third or fourth email, is not going to win any new engagement.

Take these fresh looks at your current content strategy:

Old Content Strategy New Reanimation Strategy
Static email content – Most drip campaigns include beautiful photography, and may include personalization based on name. Memes/Short video – We saw nearly twice the engagement with emails that included a funny meme (appropriate, of course). All the better if the email comes directly from a real human, and the memes are tailored to information you already have about the prospect. This takes time, but can easily be trained and incorporated into admissions’ teams responsibilities if the marketing team curates and shares several dozen approved memes.
Free e-book – “Everything you need to know about Going to College” or “How to Choose the Right College/Program for You!” Create three to five concise e-books that each address a specific challenge. You’ll learn more about what is worrying the prospect (based on which links they click), and you’ll also learn at the aggregate level where your prospects need more information and you can tailor future marketing messages to these high-interest topics. (Hint: think “clickbait” when naming your e-books.)

Some examples:

  • How to Find the High Growth Jobs in my Area
  • Financing my College Degree in the New Economy
  • Should I study Online or On Campus?
  • How to Get a Job that will pay for my Education
  • Is the Four-Year Degree Dead?
Checklist/Worksheet – Everyone loves a great checklist, and it’s easy to create one that engages a prospect in thoughtful review of their program or college choices. Interactive quizzes – It’s actually surprisingly affordable to create an interactive quiz that generates results that are engaging and informative. With some simple animation, and engaging quiz questions, students will gain insights and you will amass valuable data. You’ll also have a new excuse to reach out to prospects to discuss their results.
Articles/Blogs – Sending links to content you’ve built on your website. Webinars/Videos – Webinar tools are now affordable, and posting the availability of a live webinar on a specific topic can give you an opportunity to engage prospects, and also get them into a conversation with you live.


  • Schedule them for 30 minutes, tops.
  • Offer that the recording will be posted for people to watch later if they’re interested.
  • Create webinar topics like the ones listed above, specific, finite and valuable topics.
  • Don’t short the attendees on valuable content, if they join the webinar and it’s a sales pitch, they’ll be mad!

Invest in engagement

We’d all be rich if we had a tool that could sort through all of our disengaged leads to find the diamond in the rough. The one prospect out of a hundred that is actively interested in going to school, and who is qualified for your programs. These strategies require some investment, but have a proven positive ROI (Return on Investment), both in terms of increased data/knowledge, and also increases in enrollment.

  • Jobzology/PathwayU – Offers an interest inventory that returns to students a detailed report of which jobs are a good fit for their interests, and, the survey can be tailored to your school’s programs. The cost to take the assessment is normally $29.99, but you can offer it to your zombie prospects free of charge, and then you pay a discounted price. You only pay if the student attempts the assessment, and when they’re done, you have the results and all the information about their interests as a way to engage them in an authentic conversation about your programs. (Contact Eric Leftwich at Jobzology to learn more: 970-222-7636.)
  • Sweepstakes/Contests – Invest in education-related prizes, which could be as simple as laptop computers, new mobile devices, or subscriptions to valuable software tools. Offer free entry into the sweepstakes. Include important questions on the sweepstakes entry about their college journey, including their current education status, when they are interested in enrolling in college, do they know what they want to study, etc. Make sure to thoroughly research sweepstakes regulations in your state.
  • Pay for information – Add a survey with a “chance to win” to your email campaigns, (again, check your state’s rules about offering prizes for completing surveys). Ask the prospects to answer 4-5 simple questions, and include this question: “Would you like someone to contact you about enrolling in school?” (If yes, ask them to enter a valid email and phone number.) Sending the email for the survey costs you almost nothing, offering a $50 prize every month is also affordable. Even if no one wants to be called back, you gain the information from the survey which is valuable.
  • Conduct paid focus groups with disengaged prospects – Once a month you can invite your zombie prospects to a live webinar in exchange for attending, they’ll receive a gift card (we recommend fuel cards, or Walmart, both of which can be issued easily through email). The payment can be as little as $10-$25 per person, and offers you the opportunity to ask questions as well as present a few minutes of information about your school and gain interest in future contact.
  • Offer exclusive access to local events of value – if you’re recruiting primarily local students to attend school on campus, consider offering free tickets to valuable local events, or exclusive access to a hospitality tent/suite at a local festival or event. These attract a great response, and ensure that you can meet the prospect in person and engage in a conversation.

Multi-channel wins the day

We’ll leave you with this thought – reanimating zombies may take a variety of approaches. Everyone is utilizing email. What are you doing in other channels to find your prospects and engage them?

  • Direct mail – an affordable postcard advertising a special offer or unique program
  • Social media – Instagram wins the day, here, but it’s also worth your while to use Facebook, particularly if your campaigns are mostly local.
  • Live local events – Post a sign at your booth that says, “Have you inquired before? Stop by for your free gift.” And offer something affordable like water bottles or t-shirts if they’ll come talk to you again.

Keep your new focus in mind – you are winning if you are doing one or more of three things:

  • Enrolling a student
  • Gaining new data that educates you about individuals or your customers overall
  • Narrowing your focus by eliminating leads that will never engage from your databases

Martha Lanaghen

MARTHA LANAGHEN  is the CEO and founder of The Sparrow Group, a global consulting practice that has been helping universities grow for more than a decade. Contact Martha at: Martha@SparrowGroup.biz

Contact Information: Martha Lanaghen // CEO and Founder // The Sparrow Group // Martha@SparrowGroup.biz



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