When I say “leads” and “customer lifecycle,” the first thing that comes to mind probably isn’t higher education. However, just as a potential customer visits a website to download a free trial or request a demo, a potential student visits a university homepage to request course information or application requirements.

Student recruitment, from application to graduation, is an extended customer lifecycle. By approaching a university website from the perspective of customer relationship management, you can examine how your website supports (or even struggles) to “improve business relationships with customers, assist in customer retention, and drive sales growth." How? We sat down with one university to discover how they implemented a CRM system to convert students from prospects to alumni—in hopes of achieving their goal of increasing student population by 15-20%.

Implement a unified CRM system

“We don’t do much advertising at all,” says Claire Gibbons, Senior Web and Content Manager at the University of Bradford. “It’s more long-term engagement, from right at the beginning of school onto alumni and getting them back onto campus to deliver lectures or workshops with current students. It is the whole lifecycle, beginning to end.”

If you’re going to manage and analyze prospective students as prospective leads effectively and track their movement through the customer lifecycle, you need to have the correct tools. “We had different pockets of CRM activity across the institution and it wasn’t institution-wide. So we purchased a new CRM system and then implemented that for our main student recruitment activity, which expanded to B2B and external stakeholder management,” says Gibbons.

But student engagement isn’t just limited to the website. The University of Bradford is in the process of tracking leads through multiple engagement programs, including print, email, and invitations to both online and physical events. A CRM tool allows users to track the levels of lead engagement and movement through the customer lifecycle, regardless of whether they converted through the website, a phone call, or attending a campus event.

Centralize your CRM and web teams

“Our CRM team sits right next door to our web team in the same office,” says Gibbons. By having the CRM and web teams operating in tandem, both teams are able to easily collaborate and exchange information.

Even if it isn’t physically possible for both teams to be housed under the same roof, encouraging ongoing communication is key to both teams achieving shared goals and making the website a strategic lead generation tool. If your CRM team knows the key lifecycle stages of potential students, the web team can create and edit the framework of pages and contact points to support students as they move through the cycle – including user journeys.

Establish how your website supports lead conversion

“[For us], it’s about what the student journeys are through the website,” says Gibbons, “and what experience they have interacting with websites before ours or after ours, things like UCAS.”

When a potential lead exits your website, they’re providing you with valuable information: where they’re going next. Are they following an outbound link to read a third-party review of your university, revealing their interest in learning more? The same holds true for entry pages, or the pages where leads are entering your website. For example, are potential students arriving at your website from clicking on your social media campaigns?

“We’re trying to identify all the touchpoints on our website that students can engage with us – whether that’s an email address, a live chat, or an online form,” says Gibbons, “and trying to rationalize those and work out if someone emails someone that the contact doesn’t just go in a black hole. We’re trying to audit all of those contact points and see which ones are working and which ones aren’t.”

Implement regular analytics reporting

This one again reinforces the importance of communication between web and CRM teams. As the web team tracks website analytics and metrics like entry and exits pages, the CRM team is able to compare these metrics to how prospective leads are also entering and exiting the customer lifecycle, and identify trends.

“Through [our analytics tool], we’ve been able to look at which bits of the website and pages people are actually looking at,” says Gibbons, “and that they’re mainly searching for programs or wanting to contact us – which is good! We have a new contact button that just replaced a lot of the email addresses on the website, and that’s been really successful in getting leads straight into the CRM system.”

Consider the rest of your audience

Finally, it’s important to remember that students aren’t the only ones embarking on the customer lifecycle through university websites. Alumni and faculty recruitment are also a huge source of traffic. So how does one handle simultaneous journeys and leads, with specific (and very different) needs? A great place to start is by establishing clear buyer personas, representations of your ideal customers, and an action plan on how to address the needs of multiple stakeholders.

“Everything – both student recruitment and faculty recruitment – comes central,” says Gibbons. “We’re undergoing a restructure where marketing, recruitment, and admissions activity are all moving central. All leads will come into a central funnel and there will be one communications plan for all the different stakeholder groups, instead of the faculties doing their own thing.”

Want to gain a clearer understanding of what exactly visitors (and potential leads) do when they interact with your website? Download our free web guide, "

Achieving Actionable Analytics: How to Make Digital Analytics Both Fun and Useful with Visualized Behaviour Maps."

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