After scores of customer insight research and data analysis across our business last year, our organization spent a great deal of time and energy to understand what questions and content fuel our customer’s journey at each phase of decision-making. For context, our customer is a prospective or current student pursing an advanced education (typically online) at (hopefully) one of our partner universities.


 

82 Questions – And That’s Just the Beginning!

We have millions of communication touch points with students each year. An analysis showed that there’s roughly 82 common questions being asked before a decision is made to submit a university application. Our next question: How do we best deliver the answers? Enter the solution of one of the leading Marketing Automation Platforms. I’m not going to focus on the specific platform (it’s IBM Watson Campaign Automation & Watson Content Hub) or technical integration in this post, my intent is just to highlight a few facets of the high-level strategy.

Marketing Automation and the Customer Experience

We built our business through a highly consultative personalized approach that predominantly happened over the phone. These 1:1 student conversations let us deeply understand the motivators, roadblocks and overall student journey in a powerful way (and they still do today). But, anyone answer a call from an unknown number lately? Anyone routinely spending 45 minutes on the phone to make a buying decision? These are the changing higher-ed market conditions we need to contend with. Phone appointments were historically the format by which the answers to those common questions typically got answered. So how to do you retain more than a decade worth of customer insight but uproot the delivery methods both internally and for your customer?

We shifted to an approach that empowers the customer to communicate in the method that best meets his/her needs. The Marketing Automation Platform provides a consistent, customizable, trackable, testable and scalable tech-enabled experience with a high degree of governance and analytics.

Automated email and SMS campaigns communicate important info instead of waiting until there’s a phone appointment (proper audience segmentation is key to ensuring the right stuff is being shared at the right time). Centralized and automated delivery of content provides a critical assist to the work streams of enrollment services (AKA your sales team). This doesn’t mean phone is dead; we have many students who still want to connect in that way, along with automated chat bots, live chats, messenger, emails and texts – or some combination of any/all of these during their journey.

Success is More Than Functioning API Calls

This is what makes tech adoption so multi-faceted. Functional integration of the marketing tech stack is one thing – and it’s a big thing – but successful implementation that drives toward your business objectives is so much more than functioning relational tables and API calls. It’s re-imagining your business processes with clear vision. It’s deep, meaningful collaboration with stakeholders, it’s training, it’s an investment, it’s resourcing, it’s change management – and it’s a powerful revenue-driving initiative when done right.

The Bottom Line

To state the obvious, I’ll say that marketing automation (in general) is intended to be a revenue driver and it was certainly a piece of our decision. Here’s one example, we had an audience segment that took up more than 20% of employee time – yet the ROI of this particular audience segment was less than .02%. YIKES! We moved this to an automated campaign and the ROI is the same with a tiny fraction of the time – and we get some bonus insights to boot (like an automated loss analysis survey).

So, what do you do with that 20% of time reclaimed? Focus it on higher converting audiences and activities that are more satisfying. The same group of talented employees are now re-deployed on a more fruitful set of priorities.

The Strategy in a Nutshell

In our case, the strategy behind using a Marketing Automation Platform was to help students receive relevant, real-time, consistent, decision-driving digital experiences – delivered through an ecosystem that’s efficiently managed. Also, its aim is to mitigate manual, repetitive, un-scalable and unfruitful tasks so our talented teams could instead focus on the good stuff.