Q&A with Mount Vernon Nazarene University
Digital marketing is a necessary component of recruitment for colleges and universities, but it’s become much more than a means of brand promotion. With the right technology and measurement strategies in place, digital is a targeted, measurable and alterable practice that is an integral piece of your enrollment strategy.
A full view of the prospect lifecycle—from initial visit through enrollment, or even graduation—is a powerful, actionable tool. Insight into this data provides real ROI metrics and equips stakeholders with the ability to optimize yield. However, the challenge many programs and institutions face is connecting media acquisition data to prospect records in their respective CRMs. Many measurement strategies end at the inquiry event as opposed to persisting through the student stages of the process.
We sat down with Katie Booth, Director of Operations from Mount Vernon Nazarene University’s School of Graduate and Professional Studies, to discuss how her team has implemented a strategy to turn the dream of full-funnel reporting into reality.
CC: Your team has some pretty impressive reporting in place. How are you able to achieve this level of detail as an end result of your efforts?
KB: The operational structure within our office in terms of reporting starts mostly with me. I develop the reports and determine the fields necessary to pull the data we want to show. Our Applications Specialist plays a large role in maintaining data integrity within the CRM. Our recruiters also have a role in updating certain fields to trigger prospects to show up in our reporting, like updating our Cohort field to show when a prospect anticipates starting their program.
In terms of gathering requirements for the end-result reports, we have to know what we want to measure in order to set up the necessary fields to be able to measure it.
Reporting is a way to accurately tell the story of your marketing efforts and recruitment team in terms of numbers. In essence, we are working backwards – starting with the end result of the report or story we want to have and be able to share. We then determine how the data that feeds that report will need to be manipulated to get to the final result. That often influences the types of fields that are set up or which entity they find their home within inside the CRM. Obviously this is all open for tweaking along the way, but the key to measuring over time is consistent data and reporting that can be compared from week-to-week, month-to-month and year-to-year, so we like to get it right or close to right from the start.
CC: We all know that output is only as good as the input when it comes to collecting data. How do you manage the process and keep your data clean with so many stakeholders?
KB: We have a guiding document for our team that outlines who is in charge of updating what data fields. Our recruiters do update individual prospect information, specifically in the way of qualifying students based on their likeliness to enroll and marking them with a particular start date for their program so we can project enrollment for upcoming starts. Recruiters also keep track of their communications with students via email, calls and texts, using activities connected to the person in our CRM. Funnel stage is automatically updated in the CRM as we move through our application process, so that is not a manually updated field.
In terms of process management and keeping data clean, we have checkpoints throughout the process where our Applications Office is verifying that the information matches up across the various inputs—ensuring their start date, entry term and program are correct. As I prepare our Weekly Recruitment Report, I also look for discrepancies and errors so that we can work quickly to get those resolved. We have a process in place to manage duplicate records in the system, and we are constantly working to improve that process. Keeping the data clean and uniform is key to good reporting. Training and equipping our team well to maintain good information is an important piece of the process.
CC: Are the Campaign, Medium, Source and Origin Source predefined CRM fields or are you standardizing query string parameters to feed custom fields?
KB: Campaign, Medium, and Source are not fields that were initially in our CRM before working with Converge. They are custom fields that we added in an effort to most closely track the origin of a digital lead. Origin Source is a field that came delivered with our CRM. For us, origin sources for leads are typically Phone from Student, Email from Student, Web Inquiry or Online Application. When we started running advertising with Converge, we added a specific new Origin Source within the options for that field for Landing Page Inquiry. This helps us differentiate even between the leads that come in through our institutional website and the landing pages that we have set up for our campaigns.
The leads we receive from our digital marketing efforts essentially have four fields that help us know how they entered our inquiry pool – Origin Source (Landing Page Inquiry), Marketing Source (ex. Facebook), Medium (ex. cpc – Cost per Click), Marketing Campaign (ex. MBA – Education Level).
We pay special attention to making sure these fields are kept consistent throughout the funnel so we can measure the effectiveness of our digital efforts in general, but also be able to drill deeper to see how various platforms are performing. As an additional audit, I have a view set up that shows when someone has some fields that show they are a digital advertising lead, but others that indicate otherwise. These are usually the result of duplicate merging errors. The audit view allows us to find the errors and correct them to maintain accurate data.
CC: How important is consistency in the use of CRM and software to the level of detail you can provide in your reporting?
KB: The importance of consistency cannot be overstated. In order to provide accurate data in terms of conversion rates or overall performance of a specific detail in the admissions process, the data needs to be uniform. If someone starts tracking something using a different field entry than we’ve been typically using, it causes us to not be able to provide accurate numbers. To manage this, we give option sets for most fields, rather than asking recruiters (or others) to enter free-form text into fields. They choose from an option set for program, entry term, start date, etc. In the same way, the Origin Source field offers a specific list of options. This helps to eliminate the possibility of human error in data entry because they are choosing from a list rather than directly typing into the fields. When the data contains consistent themes in the various fields, it makes it much easier to manipulate to get the reports you need to show. Consistent use of the system makes for clean data, and clean data makes for great reporting.
CC: If you had one piece of advice to offer your colleagues in marketing and admissions when it comes to reporting, what would it be?
KB: My advice is to just start somewhere. The task of developing extensive reporting can seem like a project too large to begin. It takes work, but just a few tweaks in your system can set you up to deliver better reports. Even two years ago, our reporting was not as detailed as it is today. For us, it started with a question: “Can we measure ________?” The end of that question included data points like projections from recruiters, admissions funnel data per group start, lead information per source/program, conversion rates per recruiter/program/source, etc.
With those thoughts in mind, we started with what we’d like to show, and then built the system in a way that would deliver that data. If you’re not data-minded, get someone on your team who is, and utilize them to map out what this looks like from start to finish. Initially, it can be difficult because you don’t have previous years of good data to measure against, but setting up the structure for the future and eventual year-over-year analysis is key. Along the way, we still come across new pieces of data to measure, and we continue to improve our structure and reporting methods to best tell our recruitment story.
MEASUREMENT STRATEGIES FOR HIGHER ED
The process of gathering requirements is a crucial piece in identifying Key Performance Indicators and establishing measurement strategies. Metrics should help tell stories and drive actions, so designing the narrative is key. As Katie mentions, “working backwards” is an effective means of implementation.
CRMs have evolved to allow users to pass virtually any piece of information with an associated record. The standard means of implementation generally involves “mapping” key values to columns or fields. Users may also take advantage of custom fields to pass Google Analytics data, for example, into the CRM as a creative way around mapping media campaigns.
Ultimately, stakeholders in the enrollment process should be equipped with the information that allows them to be proactive in their digital acquisition efforts, and the ability to forecast yield based on actual data.
Want more insights on EDU measurement strategies? Check out our recent post on the new Google Analytics Intelligence feature and what it means for education.