Inbound lead generation is at the heart of digital marketing success. But it’s also something that can mean different things depending on who you might ask.
A lead, in the context of marketing, is any individual who has indicated an interest in your brand, product or service. When it comes to school marketing, we call leads “inquiries”, referring to people filling out our inquiry forms, downloading an inquiry magnet in exchange for their email address, someone you met at an event or someone who reached out directly to your admissions team.
Leads, or inquiries, are a standard metric marketers use to measure the success of their marketing campaign. For example, how many inquiries did this activity drive for your school? The idea is that at least some of the inquiries generated will be interested in talking with an admissions officer or taking a school tour, and some of those inquiries will eventually become new students.
What Does the Term Inbound Lead Generation Actually Mean?
Lead generation is simply the method your school is using to bring new inquiries in. Inbound lead generation is when you use the inbound methodology to execute marketing tactics to generate those new leads.
The term “inbound marketing” was popularized by Hubspot to describe an approach to “building meaningful, lasting relationships with consumers, prospects, and customers.” The goal is to value and empower families to meet their needs at any stage in their journey with you.
The inbound methodology is represented by a revolving flywheel with three sections: attract, engage and delight. The engage section is where lead generation fits in. Once you attract strangers to your brand, in order to engage with them, you must capture some type of information about them.
What is a Conversion Path?
For digital marketers, inbound lead generation is simply turning website visitors into leads (or inquiries). This is called a “conversion”. The steps it takes to turn a website visitor into a lead is typically called a “conversion path”.
Why is Inbound Lead Generation Important?
Inbound lead generation is important because the way people buy has fundamentally changed. Gone are the days of prospective parents calling an admissions officer without spending time on your website or researching your school first. Inbound lead generation focuses on meeting people where they are, offering them valuable information, and capturing their information so you can continue to help them along their enrollment journey.
Should You Be Purchasing Leads in the Form of Email Lists?
Marketers often wonder if they should be purchasing email lists in order to grow their email subscriber lists. Purchasing email lists can be a tempting way to generate new leads; many companies that sell email lists make dazzling claims about how targeted their lists are based on demographic and other criteria. However, these people haven’t opted in to receive communications from you. And with the current state of email marketing, the likelihood that someone will respond to an email from a school they don’t know is pretty low.
In fact, what’s more likely is that your email will get reported as spam, harming your email deliverability. What’s more, most reputable email marketing services have explicit rules about not using purchased lists and will penalize you if they suspect you’re doing so. And you run the risk of violating various data protection laws that have gone into effect around the world. So the short and long answer is purchasing lists is not a good idea and shouldn’t be part of your lead generation strategy.
Elements of a Conversion Path
The standard process
The conversion path is the route a visitor takes in order to become a captured lead. In order to do effective inbound lead generation, it’s important to have a variety of different conversion paths on your website, depending on where someone is on the enrollment journey.
There are four basic elements of a standard conversion process: call-to-action (CTA) -> landing page -> web form -> thank you page.
When the inbound methodology first became popular, this was really the only way to generate inbound leads. However, with advances in digital marketing technology, you now have opportunities to generate leads with other types of conversions.
Newer types of conversion paths
There are many newer ways to capture inbound leads, including:
- Live chat and chatbots
- Social media advertising
- Facebook Messenger
- Instagram direct messages
While it’s critical to set up standard conversion paths on your website, don’t get stuck in the “standard” box just because it’s how it’s always been done. Think about how your prospective families want to engage with your school and make sure you’re meeting them where they are.
We would all love for everyone who expresses interest in our schools to immediately be ready for a conversation with an Admissions Officer; there are different phases of the enrollment journey that you’ll need to take into account when considering the different conversion paths on your website.
There are all kinds of different terminology for the different stages of the enrollment journey, and your school may even have their own terms for your prospective families. What’s important is that you have that journey mapped out and are creating different conversion points for different stages of the journey.
Hubspot uses the terms awareness, consideration, and decision for the different stages or phases of the journey. First, someone becomes aware that they “have a problem”. In our case, they may be looking for a higher quality school, or one that fits with their values. Second, they start considering their options for solving this problem. And third, they know how they want to solve their problem and are deciding which solution to purchase.
When you start looking at your school’s enrollment journey from this lens, you can start getting creative with what conversion points make sense for each stage of the journey. Your conversion points might be something like downloadable content, and inquiry magnet, a request to visit your school or a newsletter subscription. Whatever would be most valuable to your target families at the specific stage of the journey they’re on.
Example Conversion Points
Here’s a quick, oversimplified example of how this all might play out. Let’s say your school offers blue-light blocking glasses for all your students (totally made up example). You know that in the awareness stage of your enrollment journey your prospective parents is becoming aware that blue light from their laptops might be causing their student headaches or vision problems.
An awareness stage conversion point might be a downloadable infographic on the most common causes of youth headaches and vision problems. You could put a call to action graphic on your blog article titled “Why is my student complaining about headaches every day?” that sends parents to a landing page with information about the infographic and a form to fill out to get access to the infographic.
You know in the consideration stage your prospective parent is considering the options they have for mitigating their child’s screen-induced headaches. A consideration stage conversion point could be an interactive landing page that has parents answer questions about their child’s headaches they’ve been having, and gives them general recommendations based on their answers, one of which is making sure their child has blue-light blocking glasses during the time they are using screens.
Lastly, you know in the decision stage, the prospective parent knows their child needs blue-light blocking glasses during school hours but needs to decide which school that offers such glasses is the best one for them. A decision stage conversion point could be a call to action button on a page that says “Talk to an expert about which school is right for your student”.
This puts you on the path to generating leads, but how do you know those leads are a good fit for your school? That’s where lead qualification comes in.
Lead Qualification and Lifecycle Stages of Leads
If I asked you or your admissions team what qualities make a parent ready to have an admissions conversation with you, you’d probably start listing off all the things you look for in a prospective parent that would constitute them as being a quality inquiry. This is your inquiry qualification criteria.
However, it’s also likely you’d have some varied answers from different admission team members. It’s important to get alignment across your school on how you all define a qualified inquiry, even if this might change over time. This way, you can measure how successful your inquiry generation is, not just quantitatively with the number of inquiries marketing is providing to the admissions department, but also the quality of the inquiry. It’s better to have a lower number of super qualified inquiries that eventually turn into enrollments than a high number of not-so-qualified inquiries, most of which never end up enrolling their student in your school.
When you’re defining what criteria makes an inquiry qualified, you’ll likely find there isn’t a black and white definition. It’s likely you’ll have a few different stages your inquiries can go through before they’re ready to speak to an admissions officer. These are what we call “lifecycle stages”.
What’s a Lifecycle Stage?
Lifecycle stages are terms that define where a contact is in your enrollment experience. This can vary greatly depending on your school but there are elements that span any organization.
Why Lifecycle Stages are Important to Define
There are many terms that can be used to define lifecycle stages, but your school’s specific terminology isn’t what’s important. What’s important is that you have it, and it’s agreed on by all involved parties. You can think of lifecycle stages as the next level of depth in your inquiry qualification definition. Rather than having a single definition of a qualified inquiry, you’ll have a few different definitions of what inquiries look like at different stages in the enrollment journey.
How to Define Lifecycle Stages
While you absolutely have the freedom to name and define lifecycle stages however you like, here are a few stages to consider.
- New prospective parent
- Marketing qualified prospective parent (has submitted an inquiry)
- Admissions qualified prospective parent (is ready to talk with an admissions officer)
- Has spoken with an admissions officer and submitted an application
- Application has been approved, student is registered
When you define and start to track the lifecycle stages of all your prospective families, you’re able to do a much deeper analysis on the success of your inquiry generation efforts by looking at not just how many inquiries you’re generating, but how those inquiries are moving through the enrollment cycle and can then more easily find ways to improve the overall enrollment process by seeing which parts of that process aren’t working.
What do your inquiry lifecycle stages look like? What do you think should have been included in this article that is missing? Please comment below…