Published on 2018/01/19

There Is No Magic Bullet: How to Meet Enrollment Goals

The EvoLLLution | There is No Magic Bullet: How to Meet Enrollment Goals
Despite the high-tech tools at the disposal of institutional recruiters, the profession is still a high-touch one, and success depends on the capacity for recruiters to ethically and honestly identify and highlight their institution’s value proposition to the highest number of aligned students.

Recently, I was asked “What do enrollment managers need to keep in mind to manage their stress and meet their goals?” First, I’d say “Exhale—this can be done!” After almost half a century in higher education, the last 35+ years of which I spent either directly involved with enrollment or indirectly as a college and university president, I’ve learned “This can be done!”

Note—I didn’t say it was easy. I said it could be done.

Based on feedback from numerous protégés of mine in enrollment management, I created “A Baker’s Dozen: 13 Enrollment Questions Everyone Should Be Able to Answer.” The questions range from the global (“Does everyone at your institution agree it takes a village?”) to the macro-strategic (“What is your institution’s value proposition?”) to the tactical (“What are your institution’s most effective recruiting tactics?”)

The Baker’s Dozen tells us two things:

  • Even in a high-tech world, enrollment is still a high-touch profession; and
  • There is no magic bullet. It’s still a long, arduous path that begins with building a quality pool at the top of the funnel and then following up, following up, following up!

There are no shortcuts. While true that one cannot meet one’s goals without top-of-the-funnel quality, the most common recruitment error is not top-of-the-funnel misspent funds. The error is not buying the wrong leads, although that happens often enough. The recruiting error occurs inside the funnel.

There are two categories of recruiting error. First, using the wrong tactics or using the right tactics incorrectly. Secondly, and far more common, is not recruiting with sufficient vigor, sufficient persistence, sufficient grit.

In short, not following up, following up, following up!

The secret sauce is sweat equity. For a number of reasons, chiefly a skittishness about overt recruiting, there is a fantasy that if only the right method is put in place, the right leads acquired, the process will run itself. It’s a nice fantasy; a lot of consultant dollars have been spent on it. For institutions with powerful brand equity, niche programs and ample markets, it even works. For most institutions, in particular those without powerful brand equity, niche programs and ample markets it still requires following up, following up, following up!

How? First and foremost, as vividly illustrated in a recent listing of the Top Ten Recruiting Strategies & Tactics, enrollment is still a high-touch profession. I won’t list all ten, but #1 was the venerable Campus Open House, #2 Campus Visit Days, #6 Weekend Visits for high school students, #9 a coordinated tele-counseling program with a regularly scheduled flow of contacts and at #10 that old war-horse of the admissions office, high school visits by admission reps to primary markets.

In the age of social media, #9 is morphing into the need for a focused, persistent campaign across multiple platforms.

The key takeaway—it’s still a people-centered profession where success accrues to those who know how to build personal relationships with quality personal touches.

A quality personal touch is a contact with a recruit that meets the recruit’s needs. That means finding the answers to the recruit’s important questions and especially questions about that elusive fit. After all, prospective students always want to know how they will “fit” academically and socially at your institution.

Potential students—recruits—want your help in solving their problems. As such, great recruiters are problem-solvers.

So, don’t be afraid to recruit!

Recruiting is really a euphemism for selling. Admission and retention counselors will assert “we’re not recruiters and we’re definitely not salespeople—we’re counselors.” This aversion to selling skills—too big a topic for this short essay—has led to some of the most egregious ‘counseling’ and recruitment behavior imaginable.

To be an effective counselor and an ethical recruiter, learn how to sell.

The art of professional selling is mastering ethical* people-centered selling. Remember, everyone likes to buy, no one likes to be sold.

So, ethical people-centered selling is not high pressure, talking non-stop until the student recruit caves in and enrolls. And it is not lying, misleading and bribing with gifts.

People-centered selling and recruiting is not selling people. People-centered selling is an extended exercise in relationship building by helping people solve their problems. Not selling them what you want to sell, but helping them purchase an educational opportunity that meets their needs.

How? By personalizing their college choice experience by asking questions and listening to their answers. Curiously, it’s what all small colleges say they do—they give students personal attention. Validating that claim begins with recruitment.

Stop telling them how wonderful your institution is and start listening to their needs and wants.

Ask questions—open-ended questions—and begin to demonstrate how your institution can help students solve the problems embedded in their questions. Listen for their “Why?”—why they want to go to college, why they’re interested in colleges like yours, why they want what they want. As you listen, listen for the places where the “Why” of your institution—your institution’s value proposition—intersects with the student’s needs and wants. You’re seeking a match, and you’re “fitting” together your institution’s values and the student’s hopes for the future to each’s mutual benefit.

When the fit occurs you have a matriculant who will persist to graduation joining thousands of successful alumni who also found their fit, who also found their “why” at your institution. You’ll also have an engaged ambassador helping you find future students!

So, ethical people-centered selling is how you follow up, follow up, follow up. It’s the sweat equity of admission counselors, recruiters who understand that even in a high-tech world, it’s still a high touch profession!

In conclusion, one tactic you can immediately deploy: Never talk at people – stop telling them how wonderful your school is. Instead, listen and respond to their questions. Great recruiters ask great questions as they build relationships with people, helping them solve their college choice quest.

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* Ethical people-centered recruiters always pass the ethical acid-text. This is telling a student recruit that their needs would be better-met at another institution. To be clear, this is not a rejection. Rather, it’s telling a student you want to enroll—but one whose needs you’ve learned would be better met at the proverbial school down the street—that (and how) that school’s “why” more closely syncs with the student’s “why”.

This might be the best recruiting tactic of all. It is how one builds a reputation for integrity, which in the long run is the surest path to institutional success.

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