Increasing B2B lead generation by 25% for leadership courses during the pandemic
Brief and goals
After a first successful year working on marketing the short and long term leadership courses of the school, the pandemic hit. This meant that a lot of industries started to suffer, budgets and especially training budgets have been cut and fear started to be a part of everyday life.
The objective was to continue generating demand for the courses that have been fully booked the previous year, but for which registrations have, naturally, decreased as soon as lockdown started. We also needed to showcase the value of online studying, compared to offline studying, since the existing rules at the time didn’t allow people to join offline classes.
Our objective was to generate 25 students for each of the 2 mini MBA groups and 20 students for the MBA group, covering one year of intake. This was set before the pandemic hit (the first intake would have started in March, but was postponed to April) and the school was aiming to hold as many offline classes as legally and socially possible.
Competition – The shift to online learning has increased competition more than ever before. Not only are all 5 local MBA providers delivering their courses online (and at lower rates than the €19k the client was charging), but the market is now also open to join international MBAs, since the need to be physically present in the countries they are run no longer exists.
Student profile – The curriculum is built to be relevant for professionals with 7+ years work experience and 5+ years of management experience (for both the mini and the full MBA). This makes the target market quite small. Plus, we had to target students that are close to Bucharest, where classes would take part when we could restart offline activity.
Complexity of the program – The MBA is a 2-year program that blends class time with group projects and exams. For busy professionals, it is a challenge to invest extra time from their already limited one, especially in times of crisis, where they all have more on their plate than they can handle. The program had to demonstrate the value it brought in the business and professional life on alumni.
Saturation of word of mouth – The alumni community is a great source for new leads, since they can recommend professionals similar to them. Recommendations were more likely to know information about the school and having a personal example that vouched for the school increased their interest in the courses. However, the number of referrals was reaching a plateau.
Overcoming challenges to deliver results
To differentiate ourselves from the competition, we developed our USPs and made sure they are clearly presented, through thought leadership. This was developed over 5 months, from March to August, in the “Leadership in times of crisis” webinar series, an idea generated and championed by the team. These were hosted by at least 1 university faculty and included speakers from the community and other business leaders. The series did not promote the school, but has helped raise awareness for the faculty and the programs.
We also started tailoring the messages around “why study an MBA in a crisis”, “what are the options to finance an MBA” and “what is the value of networking and community in these times”. These resonated with the main pain points of the B2B audience and helped position the client as a thought leader in the leadership industry, staying ahead of the competition.
Results: an average of 150 attendees for each “Leadership in times of crisis” webinar.
In order to reach more people from our target audience, we developed online events, partnerships and digital ads to generate leads. Then, we built a follow up plan that included email marketing, paid social media and personalised phone outreach to convert them.
The CRM acted as a central point for all data we generated – website leads, brochure downloads, event attendees and social media inquiries. Based on the activity each lead had an the way they interacted with the brand assets, we tailored the follow up to progress them through the lead funnel:
- We followed up with leads that downloaded the brochure to invite them to a free class.
- We followed up by phone with those that had requested information, but have failed to engage afterwards.
- We included the leads in remarketing ads with different objectives.
The videos, interviews and banner testimonials of previous students have also helped generate more interest from their networks.
Results: 15% increase in final lead status (either won, lost or still in contact) compared to the previous year, when these would have been marked as non responsive
It’s hard to show the complexity of a 2-year program before it begins, but it’s even harder when you have to do this with no face-to-face interaction.
However, we’ve managed to make the program easier to grasp by leads by inviting student to join the online classes and networking events of previous groups, that have switched to online learning. This way, they’ve had a class experience without being physically in a class and before signing up for the program.
We also ran webinars hosted by the program faculty, which showed the level of information and interaction taking place during a course.
On top of that, we invited leads for the top of the funnel to Q&A evenings, where we presented both the reasons why they should and the reasons why they shouldn’t study an MBA.
Results: 40% increase in registrations for the Q&A events YoY
Saturation of word of mouth
To counter the saturation of word of mouth, we employed new channels and partnerships with business communities. We started using content marketing that was tailored to the questions prevalent in a crisis (is it a good time to invest in a program, will you be able to study it on top of working, how do businesses and executives adapt to a crisis, etc).
The partnerships with business communities have taken our message further and has helped us demonstrate thought leadership further.
We also optimised existing channels, by:
- streamlining lead collection and tailored follow up with event leads
- implementing a social media plan that combined external content, internal content and marketing messaging to achieve the best results
- constantly updating and adapting paid media to generate additional leads
Results: 25% increase in B2B leads generated via social media and web forms (excluding events)
Results & further insights
The first group of the mini MBA was supposed to have classes face-to-face, but because the start was initially scheduled to March (then postponed to April), we had to begin in an online format and continue for most of the program.
Having it start during lockdown, when there was still a lot of uncertainty in business, meant a lot of the students dropped off, but we still managed to recover to 20 students in April. The October group then had 25 students, the maximum legal limit to allow for face-to-face classes.
In October 2020, the MBA program (starting in November) has 20 registered students and is expected to bring in 24.
What we’ve learned and plan to implement more in the future and other projects:
- A great brand goes a long way. We were able to have what could be seen as quick results because the brand was established and well seen on the market. It takes years of continuous effort to be able to reap benefits that quickly – which means brands that haven’t been active on the market that long will take longer to see results.
- Increasing thought leadership is key. Especially in a business lead by the quality of courses and the lecturers, it was key that we promoted them, which then lent credibility to the school.
- Events should be optimised to match lead funnels. There are top of funnel events that will be aimed at generating awareness and establishing thought leadership, whilst at the bottom of the funnel, events will be aimed at conversion and addressing those final objections
- You don’t always need to do more, you should also do better. We had leads in the pipeline, but we found new ways to engage with them and have conversations.