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Most Schools Abandon Prospects Too Early During Their Decision Journey

This is part 3 of our series of posts based on “secret shopping” 300 part-time and online MBA programs nationwide. (Click here, to find part 1 of our series on lead capture and RFI form findings, and here, for part 2, where we discussed the first 48 hours after RFI submission).

Here we identify another shocking result. After making an inquiry, we never again heard from 15% of PT and online programs. Never! Additionally, another 9% of the part-time and 8% of the online programs stopped their drip campaigns after less than one week of messaging. This means, in total, including those we never heard from after our inquiry, 24% of PT and 23% of online programs did not communicate with us at all after more than one week.

Committing to the Journey

You severely disadvantage your institution if you abandon your prospects so early in the highly competitive graduate business recruiting process, especially if your competitors are staying top of mind and strengthening their relationships with the very same prospective students.

And there’s more. Per the chart above, after 4-weeks just 59% of part-time and online programs maintained communication with their prospects and, just four weeks later, more than half the programs we secret shopped gave up on us. After 12 weeks, we found that only 20% of PT and 15% of Online programs were still trying to woo us and, in our opinion, that percentage is too low.

Delivering Differentiated, Value-Added Content

The reason that number isn’t higher, of course, is that the task of creating and implementing a drip campaign (emails that are sent based on the date of inquiry) lasting 12 weeks is daunting and time-consuming.

As a reference point, when the campaigns were executed, we found that there were four topic areas that were covered more than others (based on subject lines).

These are the main drivers of choice for students when committing to a program (one notable exception: cost). Of course, not just the topic category but the substance is important as well. In any case, nearly everyone is hitting these points in their communications. We recommend that everyone reading this take a look at the comms flow communications and put your thumb over the brand: does it sound uniquely yours, or could others within your competitive set have written the same thing? If the latter, please do a re-write.

Drip campaigns, however, are only one element of your communication plan and should be supplemented by time-anchored communications – those tied to a specific event or deadline. The programs we inquired into were much more consistent with time-based communications, with nearly 70% of PT programs and 50% of online programs incorporating them. Webinar reminders, in particular, drove many communications, which is not surprising as it can be disheartening to host a webinar party and nobody shows!

Optimizing Subject Lines to Attract Interest

Finally, we looked at subject lines to see if we were enticed. The average MBA student is considering between 5-10 programs and is likely receiving communications from many of them, making standing out all the more essential. Our favorites mostly had specific metrics, outcomes and/or product features baked into them, including: “We’ll get you promoted”, “Ready for a 36% salary increase?”, and “See your personalized career trajectory”. Those really stood apart from the myriad variations on “See our graduate program events calendar”, “Application Deadline Approaching”, “Learn More about the X Program”?

We understand why so many of you have not yet developed and executed an effective communication flow, particularly amidst the challenges of COVID-19. But it’s worth it. Best practices suggest a drip-campaign should last approximately 12 weeks.

An effective communication plan is an important map to guide your prospective students along their personal customer journey, and we’ve learned through this study that most programs have room for improvement. If you are in charge of lead capture and nurturing and would appreciate help optimizing it, please contact us. If you’re not in charge of it and are unsure what your comms plan looks like from the prospective student lens, we can demonstrate how we experienced your particular response and let you know how it compared to others – send an email to [email protected].