Episode 022

Unearthing the Roots of Student Retention Issues with the CEO of TargetX

As the education industry grows more competitive, organizations are realizing that they may have to change their entire business models in order to sustain themselves.

For many organizations, this means focusing less on the amount of students they are enrolling and more on enrolling the right students. However, such a major shift in focus cannot be solved by a few new marketing tools. Even the most reputable tools will be virtually useless if the organization does not first understand the real reasons they are losing students in the middle of their academic careers.

In today’s episode, we’ll cover:

  • Why do many organizations struggle with student retention?
  • What’s the biggest misconception about CRMs?
  • Which resources are needed for CRMs to be successful?

This week, I spoke to Sasha Peterson, who is the CEO of TargetX. Known primarily for their CRM designed exclusively for higher education, TargetX specializes in improving what Sasha calls the “student delight” cycle. They help education organizations recruit students, run their admissions process, and engage students on campus. This multi-layered approach reflects TargetX’s bold mission to turn traditionally separate departments into a single, unified force. In his six years at TargetX, Sasha has often found that integrating a CRM is nowhere near as challenging as creating a new operational culture that allows the CRM to fulfill its intended purpose.

Why do many organizations struggle with student retention?

When TargetX asks clients about student retention, most of them essentially say “retention is everybody’s problem but nobody’s job.” In other words, the fact that multiple departments are at fault prevents any of them from taking responsibility and finding a solution. The truth is, a student’s departure can stem from a variety of issues, from finances to academics to the organization’s social climate. However, all of these issues are connected. One department’s decision affects many others.

How can organizations decrease the likelihood of students leaving? Step one is unifying each department around the same goals and values. If everyone is in sync in these areas, students are less likely to have an experience that deviates from their initial expectations. Second is the need for consistent, cross-department communication. This makes each department more conscious of each stage of the student’s journey. Rather than assuming their work is done after completing their basic tasks, departments should guide students to their next stage (a.k.a. the next department), and let that department know what’s been added to their to-do list.

What’s the biggest misconception about CRMs?

Downplaying the importance of technology might seem counterintuitive from a company that literally created its own recruitment and admissions software. But TargetX has encountered one too many clients who believe that CRMs are the one-stop solution to all of their problems. These organizations are in for a rude awakening. Without the right people and processes in place, CRMs will probably make enrollment efforts even more complicated. This is partially because CRMs require input from several people, not just marketers.

Perhaps the biggest misconception about CRMs is that organizations won’t have to make any other changes once they are implemented. The organization can simply continue operating as usual and let the CRM do all the work. But no matter how advanced, no CRM or technological tool will ever be able curb retention or grow enrollments on its own.

Which resources are needed for CRMs to be successful?

TargetX looks for two main qualities in new clients to gauge the likelihood of successful CRM integration. First is the acceptance that CRMs must be accompanied by numerous internal changes, some of which will not come easily. Second is the unified culture mentioned earlier. What helps even more is if that culture places great value on innovation and the constant desire to improve its processes. Cultures of this nature are always wondering what they could do better and experimenting with different features of CRMs and other tools.

The decision to employ services like TargetX must be collaborative, Sasha says. If the organization is merely following an order from their president, they will be completely caught off guard by the accompanying changes. Unified cultures seek out tools like CRMs to benefit the entire organization, not because it’s what they are “supposed to do.”

What’s the first step in unifying departments?

How could an organization still be alive if their current processes weren’t working? Odds are, it’s because they have amazing products, i.e. classes and programs. These elements are probably working just fine. To fix their internal processes, the aforementioned departments must know which students should be in which programs at which time of the year. Yes, every department must know all three. Welcome to the first stop on the road to a unified culture.

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