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How to Optimize Enrollment Revenue With Lean Management

How to Optimize Enrollment Revenue With Lean Management


By Tom King, VP of Client Services and Training with Gregg Meiklejohn, Co-Founder/CEO, Enrollment Resources

You are most likely aware of the operational discipline known as Lean Management (or Lean Manufacturing). It’s fascinating stuff, especially if you work within the enrollment management space. After this quick history lesson, you’ll see why.

The history of lean management and waste reduction can be traced back to the writings of Benjamin Franklin.

However, most people credit Henry Ford with developing the first lean process for his assembly lines. Crediting Franklin for the concept, Ford invented a process known as flow production to produce his motorized car. The most basic example of flow production is that of the assembly line, where part after part comes down a production line and is fitted to another part and on and on it went.

After World War II, the Allies felt compelled to help the Axis powers get back on their feet economically. One thing the Allies did, was send over as part of the reconstruction team, the controversial economist Edward Deming, who was an expert in something called Choke Point Theory. Deming’s radical position at the time was simply this: opening up choke points and plugging leaks in any assembly process would allow for the free flow of material and labor, improving outputs with less effort.

Kaizen is the Japanese word for “improvement” and refers to activities that continuously improve all functions. Toyota brought all these themes together and developed the Toyota Production System (TPS). It is mainly from the TPS that lean production spawned.

What does this have to do with enrollment management?

In 2003, ER’s Gregg Meiklejohn and Shane Sparks studied ways in which Lean Management disciplines, such as Kaizen, could be reworked and used within the enrollment management process. In breaking down the marketing, admissions, and student retention processes, we were shocked to find many points of constriction and leakage.

Through extensive testing, we identified over 32 major student-school engagement points, and a multitude of minor ones, within the standard enrollment management process. Every one of these ‘engagement points’ had the potential to be improved through split (or A/B) testing.

Picture an enrollment management process as a leaky plumbing system where prospective and existing students figuratively ‘leak out’ of holes or get blocked at ‘engagement points.’ Inefficiencies at engagement points create financial stress for the school and unhappiness and distress for the student who is trying to take the big leap to build a better life. Using the Kaizen approach to creating continuous improvements based on the idea that small, ongoing positive changes can reap major improvements, we landed on revolutionary concepts in conversion rate optimization.

Enrollment management leaks and blockages happen at every stage of the process…

The marketing stage

Prospective students leak at the marketing stage because their interest could not be corralled with an effective lead magnet. Poor website user experience leaves their dreams in a pile of dust before they can even contemplate improving their lives through education. Some ways to stop the leaks are:

  • Improving the Request For Information (RFI) form on the website and landing pages to create a more compelling Call to Action (CTA) by testing button language and color, form placement, form copywriting, and form length.
  • Improving Landing Page copy to engage the prospect emotionally and lead to that prospect taking action to fill out an inquiry form.
  • Adding multiple inquiry form types to a website (i.e., “Apply Now,” “Book A Tour,” “Contact Us,” and more).
  • Engaging the prospect using our own proprietary Virtual Adviser pathway tool can provide schools a lift of 25-30 percent or more in high-quality organic leads.

Also, we know that not all inquiries will lead to appointments or enrollments in the first 30-days of the contact cycle, so creating an effective lead nurturing plan to close the leaks of these aging, yet valuable leads is a key process improvement.

  • Using a strong lead nurturing process with multiple media “touches” can result in re-igniting 1-5 percent of your old leads on a regular basis.

There are many more process improvement techniques on the marketing side to improve efficiency and thus, improving conversion rates. Including:

  • After-hours answering services to capture missed calls (potential inquiries).
  • Social Media Custom Audience Targeting (CAT) to help move prospects through the enrollment funnel.
  • Well written and frequent content marketing (blogs) to help drive website traffic and improve branding.

In addition to adding key processes to improve results, you must also split test all of these tools to constantly improve their effectiveness. This is the true science of Kaizen and process improvement. Split testing, also known as A/B testing, is a method of conducting controlled experiments of a hypothesis versus a control with the intention of improving results.

The admissions stage

But the Lean Management process doesn’t just end with marketing. Huge improvements in the admissions process have been achieved by testing variations on everything from the contact process and appointment setting script to the interview, tour and closing techniques used with prospects.

  • Using a Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) for all admissions functions will structure and improve efficiency and allow for easy split testing.
  • Use of a defined 30-day contact process that includes multiple media reach outs such as phone, text, email and social media.
  • Having a honed and tested appointment setting script that is both inspiring and emotionally engaging.
  • Having a defined Career Planning Session that keeps the admissions representative on track and eliminates incessant rambling and the need to spout features.

These are heavy problems weighing on the minds of enrollment management leaders tasked with solving them. It’s additionally frustrating because solutions seem so elusive. But they are not. As mentioned previously, there are scores of engagement points one can test with surprisingly positive results.

A practical fix

At Enrollment Resources, we know there is a practical fix. Apply Lean Management solutions used with great success in other industries, toward enrollment management problems. For example, take the Lean Management principles from manufacturing, tweak them for higher education, and apply them to the pervasive enrollment management leakage problems that most schools face. Use best practices established in financial services and apply tests within admissions processes. Use split testing established in radio and test them within EDU.

On “The Profit,” CNBC’s TV program starring entrepreneur Marcus Lemonis, you can follow him as he invests his own money in small businesses that are struggling but have the potential for success. We watch as Lemonis puts his evaluation process to work, as he focuses on three key components: people, product and process.

These are key areas within your school that when tested and improved, will lead to greater enrollments and revenue.

Through our early work, we found that for every enrollment management engagement point that could be opened up to flow freely, most schools realize a combination of a 3 percent improvement in enrollment revenue and/or trimmed costs (such as advertising). Of course, put 10 of these process improvements into place over time and gains compound quickly and steadily.

Plugging tiny process leaks and removing blockages will produce consistent improvements in your enrollment management process with little or no risk to the school. Additional staff is not required, nor does additional media need to be purchased. We just split test everywhere and do more with what we’ve got.

Tom King

TOM KING is the VP of Client Services and Training at Enrollment Resources, where he focuses on evaluating and improving the sales, marketing and retention processes for colleges to help improve their conversion rates and drive explosive growth in enrollment and revenue by creating continuous process improvements based on conversion rate optimization breakthroughs.

He increased his own college’s enrollment from 380 students to over 1,400 in his first seven years while serving as the Director of Admissions, Marketing, and Training. He has also run Career Services, Financial Aid, IT and Corporate Development teams allowing for insight into every aspect of school operations. His focus is on coaching schools on how to implement bulletproof and scalable systems, coaching great teams, and helping them deliver a world-class product.

Contact Information: Tom King // VP of Client Services and Training // Enrollment Resources // 216-577-8296 // tom@enrollmentresources.com // www.EnrollmentResources.com

Gregg Meiklejohn

GREGG MEIKLEJOHN specializes in strategic marketing. He is an expert in branding businesses through online and traditional public relations tactics. Gregg developed the award-winning program Knowledge Communities, which has consistently given clients massive returns at pennies on the dollar (when compared to advertising). He is our company’s Scenario Planner, analyzing and calling industry trends before they emerge into public view. Gregg has over 20 years of marketing experience and frequently delivers workshops and teaching sessions via Webinar and at conferences in North America.

Contact Information: Gregg Meiklejohn // Co-Founder/CEO // Enrollment Resources Inc. // 250-391-9494 (PST) // Gregg@EnrollmentResources.com // www.EnrollmentResources.com



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