Exclusive Interview with Martin Lind, Education Vertical Manager, Leads360
With an educational background in public administration and political science, how did you become interested in business development, product marketing and thought leadership?
I started my career in politics and policy: working on Federal electoral campaigns, then on Capitol Hill and then to public policy consulting. All throughout my policy days, however, I was a computer geek, starting as an Apple 2 programmer in high school (wow – that really dates me). So, I’ve always had a love of technology. Eventually, I moved on to software companies but my lack of deep coding experience and great interest in the business side of things meant that I was a better fit for product management and business development. My current position of managing all aspects of the EDU industry for Leads360 is the culmination of those efforts and experience.
What are the primary challenges of educational institutions in finding and recruiting eligible learners from your perspective?
I can’t speak in great depth to the challenges of traditional schools as they are not our primary clients. Traditionals have limited student capacity because they are constrained by a physical campus and often desire to be more exclusive than their nontraditional peers, so finding enough students to fill seats is rarely a problem (especially in this economy. Finding the right students is another issue and one that I’ll defer to Noel Levitz and the other experts. Non-traditional schools – adult/continuing ed, online, proprietary – have multiple start dates and are not as affected by the constraints of their traditional peers. Since I know more about their needs, I’ll speak to their recruiting issues.
In my view, the primary recruiting challenge for non-traditional schools is around competition for students. An industry heuristic is that the average adult learner fills out and submits 2.5 request-for-information (RFI) forms, but let’s round it to three for our purposes. If those forms are on three schools’ sites, then three schools are going to be reaching out to the prospective student. Since the concept of education is complex and explaining how a school differentiates from others is not easy, the best communications tool is the phone rather than email, chat, text message, or other written media. This means that – on average – the prospective learner is going to be getting three calls, each of them long enough for the school to explain why they’re the best fit, probably 10 to 20 minutes.
However, if one of the RFI’s is on an EDU portal, then the information could be distributed to multiple schools. In that case, those 2.5 forms could generate far more calls from schools to the inquiry. With that many schools trying to get their complex “pitch” heard, anyone would understandably get overwhelmed and lose interest in listening. If a school is not one of the first couple to reach the inquiry, they are not likely to enroll the student. We looked at millions of our clients’ inquiries and found that clients who reached out to prospects within the first minute of getting an RFI were four times more likely than the average to enroll that prospective student.
In recent years, a plethora of new solutions have emerged. What are some of the features of Leads360 that differentiates it from the other solutions?
The common denominator for all of our clients is that they compete for students. Our enrollment management software has tools designed to maximize the possibility that the school will be the first to reach the inquiry to help determine if the prospective student is a good fit for the program. Every other enrollment management package I’ve seen – and I think I’ve seen them all at this point – is designed for the traditional undergraduate market. Yes, traditional schools compete for students, but not in the same way as the nontraditional schools and programs. Try secret shopping a traditional programs: you’ll find that your RFI is rarely responded to and, if it is, it won’t be very timely. Part of that is due to the mindset of traditional programs and part of it is the enrollment management software that they use. Non-traditional programs, conversely, have no choice but to jump on an RFI because if they don’t, another school will. Because of this, every non-traditional school has to improve their contact strategy to keep up. There’s no way to tell a prospective student that your school is the best fit if she won’t pick up the phone because eight other schools have already spoken to her.
How does your product and service assist academic organizations, especially more traditional institutions who have little or no history in marketing?
While most of our clients are proprietary schools, we are finding increasing interest from the adult/continuing ed online divisions of traditional schools. They tell us that their IT departments mandate the use of the same enrollment management solution – if any at all – that is used by their undergraduate programs. As I mentioned above, the needs of an online program for adults that has six starts a year and is competing against the biggest private sector schools is far different from those of an undergraduate program where nearly every student is a teen who is recruited for several years, most students start in the Fall, and where campus life and ESPN’s reporting of sporting events help to sell the school. I feel for these programs since many of their institutional parents look to them as a revenue source but starve them of the appropriate recruiting tools. We’re there to help with software that improves the efficiency of their recruiting and marketing departments, from admissions counselors to the management team.
Education in general, and distance education, in particular is going through tremendous changes presently. Factors, such as, increasing the cost of education, and decreasing state support for it has changed the landscape. How do these trends affect the future of Leads360?
We see a few macro trends that present us with opportunities:
- As the economy has improved, non-traditional schools have seen a decrease in inquiries, and state schools and community colleges have seen cuts in funding. Trends like these drive the need for doing more with less, which fits well with our product and pricing model.
- The Gainful Employment (GE) regulations that came out last year have – rightfully so – gotten certificate programs and proprietary schools more focused on getting the right students into their school. Leads360 has features that 1) match prospective students with the most appropriate admissions counselor, and 2) prioritize each admissions counselor’s queue so the students who are the best fit for the school are always at the top.
- The GE regulations also brought to the forefront the need for marketing and admissions compliance. We have built features into Leads360 that support compliance efforts including: template-based emails and text messages, a dialer with call recording, and call scripting features. Moreover, we integrate very easily with compliance, verification and scoring vendors.
- We’re seeing the virtualization of the office for distance education schools. Lacking a physical campus, they often don’t see a real need to have their admissions staff on-site or at least on-site during the weekends when inquiry volume is low but someone should still be available. We’re a good fit for virtual staffing since 1) as a software as a service (SaaS), our users just need a web connection to access our software; 2) our dialer is also web-based so admissions reps can use it from their homes, but display the caller ID of the school and not have to deal with long distance charges; and 3) we have an iPhone app for reps who are on the road.
Martin Lind oversees the business development, product marketing and thought leadership for Leads360’s education-focused product line. Prior to joining Leads360, Mr. Lind was the director of product management at Blackboard Connect and also held manager-level positions at 20th Century Fox and eToys.com. He has spoken on higher education marketing and admissions matters at AACS, ACCET, FAME, DETC, EduComm, the Jenzabar Annual Meeting and other conferences. He is a published author, with articles featured in University Business, BeautyLink and Government Technology Magazine. Mr. Lind holds a Masters of Public Administration from USC and a BA in political science from the University of Pennsylvania.