Speed-to-Lead: Should Your College be Calling Prospective Students?

Higher Ed Speed to Lead Still Matters

Is Speed-to-Lead Important for Higher Ed Enrollment Management?


Should Your College be Calling Prospective Students?

Have you ever stopped at a store and not been acknowledged by an employee while waiting to speak with someone? You know, when the store employees just go about their day without looking in your direction as you stand there waiting?

It’s frustrating! And if you don’t decide to persevere and make the employee hear you, you’ll probably just leave and find another store.

No matter how patient, everyone reaches a breaking point where they decide to move onto someone who will pay attention to them.

We do not realize how much friction is in our enrollment process until we walk through the process as prospective students. Has someone at your university requested information and gone through the entire enrollment process?

Need more enrollment tips? Check out 2023 growing college enrollment trends.

This scenario plays out across all industries, including Higher Ed and school enrollment processes. The time you take to respond to a prospect, also called speed-to-lead, matters. 

See this photo below. This depicts what it’s like if prospective students request information from a few schools. Those schools may be set up to connect with the prospect immediately. Read on for tips on improving your enrollment process to serve students better, improve yield and grow tuition revenue.

In this post we’re going to talk about speed-to-lead for colleges and explain why we think yes, your college should be calling prospective students.  

Table of Contents

Higher Ed Speed-to-Lead Still Matters

People are only willing to wait so long to get a response from a business they’re interested in. This holds true for your prospective students and higher education. Sure, some prospective students may want to come to your college and preserve no matter what hurdles you put in front of them.

But the truth is that others will bail after a few minutes, especially if they are not aware of your school’s value before this happens to them. Your goal is to capture prospective students’ information, so you can start showing them the value of your institution before they move on and forget about you.

Don’t assume that a person coming to your website already wants to come to your school.

A visitor to your school’s website may just be there to look around- it’s your job to convince them that your school is the perfect fit for them. And to do that, you need to engage with the potential student, answer his or her questions, and be available for contact.

Prospective students come to your website and metaphorically knock on your website door, and the door often isn’t answered. Interested students aren’t acknowledged enough, and calling is a great way to showcase your value and acknowledge the student in addition to other marketing channels.

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Calling Can Be One of the Most Effective Enrollment Tactics

Over the last 20 years, a lot has changed in Higher Ed marketing. One of the most significant changes has been in students and their enrollment preferences. 

Here’s the gist: today’s students expect schools to engage in meaningful and consistent ways across various channels. Let this sink in.

It’s essential to look at your entire enrollment journey– every touchpoint, from emails, texts, phone calls, etc– and think about how students are communicated with at each phase. 

Are you providing them with relevant information to where they are in the enrollment process? Are you being consistent? 

When someone comes to your website and fills out an information form to learn more about your school, your Admissions staff and process needs to be ready to give them that information. 

Calling your prospective students is a great way to get them that information fast, so let’s break down why it’s vital that your school calls prospects, how to best call them, and when to do so.

When Should A College Call Prospective Students?

Higher Ed Call Tracking Reports

A college should call students who have expressed interest as soon as possible. Even if there is an email autoresponder or other automated systems in place, grab the phone and give a call as soon as you can (even if that’s within 5 minutes).

Here’s why:

Studies state that failing to respond within five minutes can exponentially decline the likelihood that a lead will close (by more than 80%).

“Every minute that goes by that you haven’t reached that person, the odds that they will actually talk to you just plummets.” -Greg Poirier, President of CloudKettle.

Sounds like something companies should be doing then, right? But only 7% of companies are currently achieving an average lead response time of five minutes or less.

Let’s look at a few more stats to really drive this point home:

So if you’re not there first, you could be losing any chance of reaching someone at all.

When we say “Speed-to-Lead,” we’re talking about the time it takes for your college to contact a prospective student after he or she requests more information. As we just said above, results drastically improve if you can contact someone within the first 5-minutes of their inquiry.

When a prospective student responds to your call-to-action (CTA), time is of the essence. The goal is to respond to their inquiry within five minutes. You are 100x more likely to connect with a lead and 21x more likely to qualify a lead if you contact them in under five minutes. 

Automation Improves Speed-to-Lead

Obviously, it’s unrealistic to expect a human to manually respond to inquiries within five minutes every day, on holidays and weekends.

This is why it’s so important to set-up your CRM workflows and sequences correctly.

You don’t have to limit yourself to emails; you can also set up automations to reach out to prospective students via phone calls, text messages, and even chatbots. It depends entirely on which approach you want to use and how well you set up your systems.

While this blog post is about the importance of calling your prospective students, you also want to be sending out text messages! Read more about leveraging text messages as a part of your enrollment process to drastically improve yield.

Example of a Call Tracking Report

Before you start ramping up your calling, you must track your calls to track how well your Google Ads, Facebook ads, and other Higher Ed marketing is performing. Google allows you to import your conversions back into Google so they can help you identify more prospective students who have a higher propensity to enroll. Use need to make sure you are tracking your enrollments, including your phone calls.

You also want to track and record your calls for training purposes, along with possible accreditation issues. You need to know what your Admissions team is saying on the phone. Here is an example of a call tracking report.

The Goal of Following Up On Student Inquiries By Phone

And of course, most prospective college students request information from a few different schools. This is a great opportunity to differentiate your school. If your college provides an impeccable enrollment experience that delights the student, your chances of enrolling the student go up.

Your university wants to follow up with prospective students to:

  • Build value for your school
  • Create an emotional connection with your prospect
  • Do it fast, before a competing school does 

Calling is a great way to build a human connection and get in front of a student fast.

The value of trying to enroll a prospective student that has visited your website already is huge– they’re already interested, and pushing them to make the decision will be easier than a cold lead.

But you have to take the initiative to do it.

Calling interested students means your overall cost-per-start will go down, and your yield will go up.

The goal is to make more meaningful connections with a prospective student, whether through a phone call conversation, email conversation, or text message chain.

Meaningful means your Rep is engaged in a quality 2-way conversation; simply sending out an email or leaving a phone message doesn’t really count!  BUT, do make sure your Admissions team are leaving engaging voicemails.

Speed-to-Lead Tips: Optimizing the Enrollment Process

Mastering speed-to-lead starts with a well-designed enrollment process and system. Let’s look at some tips for optimizing the enrollment process and building an experience that students can enjoy, starting with technology you can leverage. 

Leveraging Technology In The Enrollment Process

Technology matters! You can’t rely on outdated systems to bring in new students and grow your tuition revenue anymore. With the right tools, you can learn more about your prospective students, organize that knowledge, and use it to improve your enrollment yield.

1) Using a Higher Ed CRM to Keep Track of Prospects and to set them on a Communication Drip Campaign

Whether you have a few inquiries coming in or thousands per day, if the process is unorganized you’re wasting valuable time and energy, and probably not delivering the best quality experience you could be.

One of the best ways to make sure you have an effective follow-up process is to integrate with a CRM. Without a good customer relationship management system, you could lose track of potential leads as they come in or forget where you left off with them in the process. 

The stage they’re on in the enrollment process matters for how you interact with them!

Plus, you’re likely to miss out on crucial data about the prospective students. For example,

  • Where did the student come from to find your form? Be sure to set up the right tracking!
  • Student demographics
  • How they interact with the website or with recruitment personnel 

All of this is valuable information for your Admissions team in the current recruitment cycle and for future years. 

If you’re unsure how to create this system, then let’s schedule a consultation to discuss. We can help you set up a system to help your school connect with prospective students in less than 5 minutes that is tailored to you and backed by years of experience.  

Marketing Automation = Increased Enrollments

Now that you’ve optimized your marketing strategy and polished every detail, it’s time to set up marketing automation, which can all be done through your CRM. Marketing automation takes the weight off your shoulders by automatically responding to inquiries, setting up meetings, sending emails, and more!

Besides making your life easier, marketing automation also allows you to quickly respond to customer inquiries no matter what time or day of the week. Automation sequences can be customized to respond to inquiries at predetermined times or to reply differently based on the prospect’s interests. 

We prefer to use HubSpot over Salesforce and many others. We are happy to show you why!

We all know that if we can speak with a prospective student and share what makes your school unique, you are more likely to enroll that student. That is why we recommend using a calendar scheduling tool. We like Calend.ly, and Chilipepper, but there are many others on the market. An online scheduling tool makes it easy for your prospective students to schedule an appointment without the awkward “are you available next Tuesday?” conversation. (We’ve all been there.)

Just like every other step of the process, you have to adapt your emails to fit where these people fit into the enrollment funnel. We’ve all been bombarded with unwanted university emails, and very rarely do these pushy email bombs convince people to enroll.

Remember, most of these people are not prepared to enroll right this second! Too often universities send emails specifically targeting active enrollments.

Studies conducted by Sticky Branding have shown that only 3% of potential buyers are in the market to make a purchase right now.

What you want to do is create a value exchange. What does that mean?

If prospects do not find your communications valuable, they’re likely to unsubscribe or leave your messages unopened. This is why your email open rates keep going down. Do most of your emails add value little value and have messages about enrolling now?

Instead, start engaging with the prospective students and providing valuable resources like entertainment or information, they’ll not only read your emails but look forward to receiving them!

If you’d like to learn more in-depth about how you can increase your sales-to-win ratio with marketing automation, check out the resource section of our website and download our free list of enrollment tips to make the most of your marketing automation!

Automation Improves Speed-to-Lead

As mentioned above, when a protective student responds to your call-to-action (CTA), time is of the essence. The goal is to respond to their inquiry within five minutes. You are 100x more likely to connect with a lead and 21x more likely to qualify a lead if you contact them in under five minutes. 

Obviously, it’s unrealistic to expect a human to manually respond to inquiries within five minutes 24/7. This is why marketing automation is so important! However, with the proper automations in order, your potential buyers will receive timely responses from you at any time of the day without any extra work on your part. 

You don’t have to limit yourself to emails; you can also set up automations to reach out to buyers via phone call, text, or chatbot. It depends entirely on which approach your buyers respond best to.

Touchpoints Make A Difference

The more communication channels (or touchpoints) you have with your clients, the better!

A touchpoint is simply the vessel you use to communicate with your audience.

These can take the form of:

  • Emails
  • Texts
  • Phone calls
  • Social media platforms

With only one communication channel, your success rate will only be about 9.5% on average. However, with multiple channels, that number grows to over 25%!

CRM Inactivity Triggers

Inactivity Triggers are tools provided by CRM services that are often underutilized. Unlike active triggers that are set up to respond when a buyer does something, these triggers send out messages when a buyer hasn’t done something.

If your buyer filled out the form but hasn’t scheduled a call, you want to send a message to move them along in the process!

Be Persistent (But Not Annoying)

While you definitely don’t want to annoy your prospective students, it’s still important to be persistent!

For Admissions reps, best practice suggests you should make six phone calls per inquiry over the length of your cadence to put your chances of contact up to 90% (Just remember to send emails too.)

Welcome Emails: Your First Email Sent From Your CRM

Welcome emails have strong potential

Welcome Emails have strong potential!

The key is to have a strong subject line that makes recipients want to open your email. And don’t be afraid to show your personality. After all, you are selling to a human, so don’t refrain from using your favorite emojis!

If your emails sound like they came from a robot, they’re not going to perform well. Instead, use this welcome email as an opportunity to convince your recipients to open your next emails! Using generic, conventional scripts is a wasted opportunity to truly connect and relate with your buyers.

Email Delivers Strong ROI

Enrollment Strategy Email Delivers a Strong ROI

Typically, people tend to drastically underspend both their money and time when it comes to email marketing. This is because too little thought goes into the critical details like subject lines, creative design, videos, third-party validation, testimonials, or what story they will tell. As a result, their email marketing never reaches its full potential.

The process is much more involved than simply sending out a low-effort email. Every detail must be polished to fit into your content strategy. Before sending out an email, you should ask yourself what you’re really trying to communicate, and if you’re helping the buyer along the customer journey.

For reference, we created a lead nurturing email campaign for Tiber Health. We were promoting an upcoming Admissions webinar, to get more student enrollments for its medical school partners. We also launched a set of emails after the webinar to promote the replay, along with shorter videos taken from the webinar.

2) Website Chatbots

When leads come into your website, don’t let them sit idle, or worse, leave. Engage with your visitors using website chatbots for conversational marketing. These can encourage your visitors to fill out a request for more information without you having to lift a finger!

You can then take the prospective student on a video tour of your school and other interactive opportunities. These aren’t 1-on-1 human interactions, but they do continue to nurture your student’s interest and engage them with what your school can offer. 

Don’t forget the power of conversation! There are so many benefits to conversational marketing, and automating the process with website chatbots can help you reap these benefits without taking up Admissions personnel’s time and energy. 

Need to drive more traffic to your website? Read SEO for Universities: How to Increase Website Visitors and Enrollments, where we discuss the most common SEO issues and offer actionable insights to improving your Search Engine Optimization.

3) Secret Shopping

In our 20 years of Higher Ed, we have done secret shopping for over 200 college programs and have seen how challenging it is for colleges to provide meaningful enrollment touchpoints.

While this is difficult for many colleges to do correctly, it can be done. And, it can give your college a competitive advantage when it’s done right.

Many colleges have lean marketing teams, or their departments are increasingly siloed without clear ownership of the entire student enrollment journey. This is where we come in! We can help augment the work you are already doing and add enrollment management and marketing strategy to improve your yield and drastically reduce your cost-per-start.

Let’s find out why your prospective students do what they do with a Higher Ed qualitative research study on your site and optimize it to improve your enrollment process!

4) Power Dialer

When someone fills out a request for information form on your website, the contact information can automatically go into a CRM.

The CRM can be set-up to respond automatically using the new contact’s information. This could be sending out an email confirmation or immediately calling the lead if the CRM has power dialer capabilities.

Otherwise, your Rep will need to call the prospective student manually.

Your school can have one or two of your current Enrollment Advisors designated to call your prospective students using a power dialer. (Of course, they can still call by manually dialing too.)

If your CRM has a power dialer, your CRM will allow your Reps to follow up with 10x more people than they can do manually because of the technology.

If you use the right technology, your small but mighty team can do so much.

Your team will be able to add a human touch to your enrollment experience to connect with more of the students and increase your enrollment yield!

Rolling out or changing CRM’s requires preparation and strategy. Inadequate planning is why 75% of new CRM projects fail. There are many steps to rolling out a CRM and often this falls on IT to do, however, Admissions needs to be a larger part of the setup and buy-in process. To help users and stakeholders achieve success, plan ahead for implementation and know it will take 2-3 times longer than you anticipated to roll out your CRM.

Understand Your Prospective Students: Why Students Enroll Somewhere Else

Student Journey Mapping - Understanding the Why

Have you thought of why someone would enroll with your competitor instead of your college? Maybe your school offers a superior education, but prospective students are still picking that school over yours.

Understanding your prospective students is a crucial part of developing speed-to-lead, and one of the best tips we can give you.

There’s a lot of valuable information to discover by looking at your competitors. If you want to grow your enrollment, ask yourself why students are picking that school.

  • Is your competitor doing a better job of following up with prospective students quickly?
  • Are they providing a more straightforward enrollment process?

If you ever wonder why a student would pick a school that costs more than your school and has a worse reputation, it’s because that school proactively reached out to their prospective students and had them feel special.

Calling your prospective students within 5-minutes after they submit an inquiry will help differentiate your college by offering impeccable service. And, with the right CRM, your school can do this all without blowing up your budget by hiring a large staff. 

Should You Outsource an Inbound and Outbound Call Center?

Another tip for optimizing the enrollment process through speed-to-lead is by outsourcing some of the workloads. This might not be the best option for everyone, but is definitely something that we consider when coming up with a marketing strategy for our Higher Ed clients.  

There’s nothing wrong with sourcing an inbound/outbound call center to answer calls and make calls if your team isn’t able to do it.

We can also work with an inbound and outbound call center that will be able to answer the calls and call prospective students. The call center can help schedule appointments or in-person tours with your Reps. This can save your Reps countless hours and allow them more time for meaningful conversations. 

Audit Your Enrollment Team: Staffing Needs, Times, and Dates

You should consider staffing your Admissions Reps to match the time your prospective students are filling out information request forms. Each information request form should have a time stamp. Review your report and staff accordingly.

If more of your forms are submitted on a Tuesday around lunchtime, make sure your Enrollment Rep(s) are available at that time to call your prospective students. Ask Reps to have an earlier lunch or later lunch to be at their desk during your peak times.

Let your reports and data help you figure out your staffing needs, times, and days of the week to staff your team. Your CRM should be able to track this for you or your call center that you partner with.

Stop Wasting People’s Time and Start Enrolling More Students with Automations

Research shows that knowledge workers spend a good chunk of their time (41 percent, to be exact) on discretionary activities that offer little in the way of personal satisfaction and could easily be delegated.

Not only will your Admissions Reps’ morale go up if their process is automated, but you’ll also have happier students, whose needs are met, and who stay interested in attending your school soon.

If you want to improve speed-to-lead,

  • Call your prospective students, and do it fast
  • Automate emails
  • Qualify prospective students with an organized CRM
  • Sending out text messages
  • Send communications about upcoming or missed appointments

Let’s take the time-wasting tasks away from Reps and put them where they belong, with technology.

Higher Ed Marketing: How Automation Saves 41% of Your Reps Time | Speed-to-Lead

Contact Rates are Important Too

Some schools will staff a few Enrollment Advisors on Saturdays and even Sundays. It’s essential to look at your contact reports to see what time people are more likely to pick up the phone and have meaningful conversations. 

Then you can use these reports to help you find times of the day and week to schedule your team to work. Let your data tell the story.

Do more students pick up after 6 pm? Consider staffing a person or two during those hours.

This data might not be available at first. If you’re not sure how to get started, consider staffing your team at different times of the day and on weekends, so you can start collecting this data.

Once you have a good sense of when people are most likely to be reached, staff your Enrollment team to cover these hours and days.

You can’t adjust and improve on what you can’t measure.

If your school is enrolling all over the country, be sure to take time zones into account. You may not want to call people after 8 pm, but you may want to test it. You may need to segment your data into time zones and call those time zones from the East Coast to the West Coast.

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The Power Of Enrollment Automation

There are many different ways to automate the enrollment process, and each method can help take some of the pressure off of your busy staff. 

Once the prospective student picks up the phone, your power dialer can connect the prospect with the next available Rep. If your Rep is out sick or on another call, the system will not connect the call to this Rep. In the last few years, technology can drastically improve your enrollment experience with enrollment automation, marketing automation, and call automation.

Find out how a Higher Ed CRM can free up your team to have more meaningful conversations with prospective students. With marketing automation, it won’t matter what day or time the inquiry is created; Friday night, no problem. You can set up marketing automation to kick in and start your communication sequence to get the prospective student ready to speak with someone on Monday morning.

Properly set up Higher Ed Marketing automations can do so much of the heavy lifting for you and work when your staff has gone home for the day. 

This will help keep the prospect invested in your school so that he or she can wait until Monday to speak with someone.

Use automation to get leads more enrollment-ready when they do speak with a Rep.

Speed-To-Lead Shouldn’t End With A Phone Call

In this article, we gave some tips for optimizing your enrollment process by calling prospective students. But nurturing your leads shouldn’t end there!

Your quick response via phone call might be what a prospective student needs to make a decision (wouldn’t that be nice!), but it won’t be the case for everyone. You have to nurture and follow up with these leads if you want to improve your chances of enrolling more students.

What can you do? 

  • Send an email drip 
  • Start a text message campaign
Enrollment Strategy Higher Education Text Message Campaigns

If done right, your college’s enrollment strategy won’t come off as pushy or desperate.

You may just need to change your admission team’s thinking and ways of doing lead nurturing. If your communications are about adding value and making the process easier for prospective students, and not just trying to enroll them, which is self-serving, then your marketing is adding value and will be welcomed.

Ultimately, we should consider ourselves in the service industry. How can we be of service to prospective students?

Next Steps…

Let’s take the time-wasting tasks away from Reps and put them where they belong, with technology.

If you’re not using a CRM to its full advantage, or not sure how to get started with calling your prospective students, contact us for a marketing assessment. You can’t improve what you can’t track, so let’s start automating your enrollment efforts, tracking your results, and growing your number of successfully enrolled students!

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Picture of Renee Seltzer

Renee Seltzer

Renee Seltzer is founder and CEO of Ellison Ellery Marketing & Growth Agency and has spent over 20 years helping companies grow their revenue. As a cross-functional marketing executive with extensive experience crafting messaging that compels and campaigns that convert, Renee understands marketing at its core and can deliver actionable solutions for every marketing or sales hang-up.

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