The most popular season for weddings has arrived. Specialty boutiques have moved their shimmery formal dresses to the front of the store, white tiered confectionary cakes are featured prominently in bakery displays, and florists are blooming with bridal bouquets. All of these happy matrimonial images remind me of one of my favorite wedding movies, Runaway Bride.
For those who may not be familiar with film, this charming “chick-flick” is about a single woman who has more than a bit of trouble getting to the altar. No matter how many times this reluctant and jittery bride (played by Julia Roberts) walks down the aisle with a string of fiancés, she just can’t commit. In one scene, Julia Roberts nearly makes it to the altar but panics, turns around, and runs off in her wedding gown hitching a ride on the side of a FedEx truck. While three of her former fiancés give up on her, one handsome reporter (Richard Gere) stands by her side until she is ready. (Warning: skip this next sentence if you don’t want to know the ending.) His constant presence and patience eventually pays off and they finally tie the knot in a delightful dénouement.
While one of those “feel good” films, the storyline also reminds me of some of the challenges of business school recruiting. Just when you find a top-notch candidate – “The One” – who is ready to apply, there can be some last minute reservations (due to time or financial concerns) that make the candidate run faster than Julia Roberts galloping away on a horse with her veil flying in the wind. What’s the secret to getting MBA prospects to say “I do?” This is where a business school lead nurturing program comes in. There are many lessons to be learned from the courtship process when it comes to MBA lead nurturing campaigns – and it all has to do with timing.
Will she say “yes?”
As deeply as new couples fall in love, it rarely happens that the partner will “pop the question” on the first date. Instead, the relationship is cultivated during a courtship in which both people get to know each other. For an engagement (or marriage) to happen, the timing needs to be right.
The same holds true for MBA prospects. While MBA Admissions Directors may be eager for an initial inquiry to convert to an application right away, it seldom works out that way. It may take weeks, months, or even years for a candidate to line up their finances, work schedules, and family obligations to be ready to commit to a graduate business degree.
However, what business schools do during this critical time period can make the difference between the prospect matriculating during this recruiting season or the next – and losing the candidate altogether to another “suitor.”
Keep inviting her out to dinner
So, what exactly is a lead nurturing campaign? Think of it this way. Do you ever receive numerous e-mails from retailers announcing new seasonal merchandise, notices of special sales, and offers of free shipping? You may not act on that e-mail that very day, but chances are that you eventually make some kind of purchase. What these merchants are doing are nurturing their leads – you! They are constantly keeping their brand in front of you so when you are ready to buy that new blouse, the latest bestseller, or that engagement bling, you will think of their brand instead of a competitor.
It works the same way for business schools. By implementing an MBA lead nurturing program of consistent follow-up emails, you are keeping your brand in front of prospective students so that when they are ready to apply to business school, they think of you. The content of your messaging could be the latest news from your business school, interesting articles on leadership styles, or invitations to guest speaker events.
What will you say when you get down on one knee?
As part of your MBA lead nurturing campaign, include memorable messaging that inspires, creates a close bond, and brings you closer to a commitment. While e-mail blasts that remind prospects of upcoming information sessions or application deadlines are important, a more robust campaign will “nurture” the prospect in every sense of the word and establish an emotional connection. For example, you may want to send information about scholarship applications, but also include a timely article with tips on additional external sources for scholarships. Any content that helps a prospect make a more informed and better decision, teaches them something new, provides helpful career tips, or helps them save money and time, will be appreciated, remembered, and often rewarded with an application to your school.
With an MBA lead nurturing program added to your business school marketing plan, the only delivery catching a ride on the FedEx truck will be your candidate’s acceptance letter!
Barbara Coward, author of this article, is a marketing communications consultant at Percept Research. Barbara welcomes your questions and comments.