The Montessori Admissions Funnel
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To effectively market your Montessori school, it’s critical to understand the process that parents walk through in order to make their enrollment decision.
This understanding will equip you with the information necessary to speak to parents on their terms and according to their interests.
To help assist with this purpose, we have developed the Montessori Admissions Funnel.
The admissions funnel is a marketing construct that we use to define the logical sequence of events that take place in order for parents to reach an enrollment decision.
Here’s what the admissions funnel looks like:
Parents will begin at the top of the admissions funnel and slowly filter down as they approach an enrollment decision.
The admissions funnel is taken from a traditional marketing “sales funnel” which can be applied to every single purchasing decision we make.
From something as small as a morning coffee run to the largest purchases of our lives (like choosing where our children go to school), a sales funnel is a near ubiquitous representation of how people complete the path to purchase.
The size and importance of the decision at hand will dictate how long it takes for someone to travel through the admissions funnel as well as which of the phases we spend the most time in.
In order to effectively market to our target parents’, it is absolutely critical that we spend the time necessary to understand their general path to an enrollment decision.
Here’s the admissions funnel applied to a potential Montessori parent:
- Awareness: Parent begins to recognize their potential need for early childhood education at some point in the foreseeable future. This awareness is typically catalyzed by a specific event, examples include: the approaching expiration of parental leave, their child crossing a particular age threshold, and parents who are recently pregnant.
- Interest: Parents start paying more (if not casual) attention to messaging around their specific needs. At this point they begin comparing broader options like deciding to work from home, hiring a nanny, preschool, etc.
- Consideration: At this stage, parents have typically settled on the categorical solution best suited to their needs. They may also begin asking friends, family, and trusted advisors for recommendations.
- Intent: The decision to make a decision. Parents begin actively educating themselves on their specific options in order to build their shortlist of potential solutions. They may begin reaching out to you with general questions.
- Evaluation: Parents are now willing to engage with you directly! They’ll tour various schools, schedule observations, and investigate all options.
- Enrollment: They work through their available options and make the decision that they feel is best suited to their needs.
The Big Problem
As a parent begins to travel down the admissions funnel, they also begin to make decisions (both consciously and subconsciously) that will ultimately impact their final enrollment decision.
For example, as early as the “awareness” phase, they may hear or read something about Montessori that seeds a subconscious bias, and precludes them from ever giving the Montessori Method any serious consideration.
In fact, without your proactive involvement from a marketing perspective, your very first opportunity to even speak to a prospect is during the “evaluation” stage.
That means you don’t have the chance to influence any of their decision making until they are already on the second to last stage of the entire process!
Montessori parents won’t typically make direct contact with a school until the beginning of the “evaluation” phase of the buying process.
This is a substantial problem, especially for Montessorians. It’s a bigger problem for us than other potential solutions (preschool, nannies, etc.) because our method requires more understanding and education.
This means that it is critical that we begin traveling higher in the admissions funnel with our marketing efforts to ensure that we are given the opportunity to help protect and guide the potential mission appropriate parents as they travel through each of these stages.
Let’s look at each of the stages in sequence.
The very first stage of a traditional marketing funnel, awareness refers to your parent’s consciousness of their need for a potential solution. You would be forgiven for assuming that awareness refers to their initial awareness of your school, sadly this isn’t the case at all.
In fact, even the most mission appropriate parents may not even be aware of the Montessori model at this point! They are simply aware of the fact that, at some point in the future, they’ll need to make a decision as to the care and education of their children.
The awareness stage is the most nebulous and difficult to define because it tends to manifest slowly, over a long period of time. Additionally, every parent enters awareness at a different stage and for different reasons.
There’s an opportunity during the awareness stage to begin establishing yourself as a thought leader through targeted, valuable, and educational content. However, in order to do so directly it is important that your content speak directly to their needs.
As I stated earlier, these parents aren’t yet ready to think about potential solutions. For that reason, it’s critical that we speak to them on terms that will engage their interest at this point.
For example, an excellent piece of content for a parent at this stage in the funnel would be: “Going back to work: 7 ways to begin preparing your child”
You’ll notice that this has absolutely nothing to do with the Montessori model or even school in general. Instead, we’re speaking to a very specific topic that an “aware” parent would be greatly interested in.
Further, anyone who engages with this piece of content is intrinsically qualifying themselves as a potentially high-value prospect.
We’ll discuss much more about the “how to” in regards to positioning this type of content in front of parents and the technical mechanisms that allow you to effectively follow them throughout the buying cycle.
For now, the important thing is establishing a fundamental understanding of how to market to these parents at each of the various phases in the admissions funnel.
In order to capture attention during the “awareness” phase, begin thinking about your target parent’s needs and pain points.
This empathic approach will allow you to position yourself as a thought leader and solution provider much sooner in the process.
In addition, you’ll have the opportunity to begin planting the seeds for a Montessori friendly narrative.
The interest phase is where our parents begin to contextualize their needs against the various solutions that are available to them. This is the research phase where parents are taking stock of all of their options and trying to determine which solutions they should begin considering.
During this phase, parents are more receptive to targeted messaging and will begin looking at that messaging through a personalized lense to determine how it applies to them and their family.
Think of this as the education phase, where parents work to understand what they see as their available options. Because this is the education phase, the emphasis on thought leadership should be strong.
This is where Montessori specific content can be exceptionally valuable. Some examples of quality content that would be perfect for this phase include:
- Why Montessori?
- How to know if Montessori is right for your child
- How to choose the right Montessori school
- Montessori vs [insert alternative], what you need to know
- What to expect from a Montessori education
A great way to position yourself for success during this phase is to consider what marketers call your “cocktail party questions,” a metaphor referring to the questions you’d expect to receive from someone you just met at a cocktail party.
The important distinction here is that these are not the questions you commonly receive from prospective parents. Those questions come much further down the admissions funnel.
The questions you receive at a cocktail party typically come from a third party who has little to no knowledge of Montessori at all. These are questions that you don’t get from prospective parents because, for better or worse, they have already answered them for themselves by the time they engage with you.
That fact alone should help to highlight the importance of this phase in the Montessori admissions funnel. You’re positioning yourself to be an influencer in how parents view the Montessori Method before they’re ever prepared to engage directly with a school.
At the “consideration” phase, parents have typically made a soft decision as to the direction they’d like to go in fulfilling their needs. They’re now going to work to validate those decisions.
Parents looking for infant care have decided to go with a professional infant program instead of hiring a live-in nanny.
Parents looking for toddler care have decided on an education focused preschool program instead of a daycare.
Parents looking for an elementary program have decided to go with a private school instead of a public school.
These decisions are only examples. The point of these examples is to illustrate what moves a parent into the consideration phase.
Once a prospect has transitioned from educating themselves on all of the available options and moved into focusing on a handful of those options, they are firmly in the consideration phase.
During this phase Parents begin reaching out to friends, family, and trusted advisors. They’re more likely to begin visiting your website and possibly engaging with your social profiles.
While Parents in the consideration phase aren’t prepared to make contact just yet, they’re far more likely to begin engaging with content your your website and social profiles.
It is absolutely critical that you have content on your site that allows them to get to know you. They are specifically more likely to engage with information about your school’s history, your key differentiators, your founder, your staff, etc.
In short, they want to get to know you! Make sure to have enough content on your website to at least allow for the beginning of that process.
Parents at this stage in the funnel are also far more likely to begin engaging with what we refer to as “lead magnets.” These are valuable pieces of content that we offer to prospects in exchange for their email address.
Some examples of effective Montessori lead magnets include:
- Quiz: Is Montessori right for your child?
- Download: Tuition and rates
- Checklist: The Montessori admissions process
You’ll notice that each of these lead magnets is interactive to a degree. It allows the parent to transition away from generic and general content and to begin applying your solution to their specific situation.
This is the first phase in the funnel where parents may begin casually reaching out with questions directly; although most parents are still researching behind the scenes.
As the name denotes, this is the phase where your prospective parents begin looking with intent to purchase.
During the intent phase, social proof is exceptionally valuable collateral. Parents engage strongly with testimonials and case studies. Video testimonials are exceptionally powerful (albeit difficult to cultivate).
In addition to the social proof you present on your site, the way your school presents online will be equally as important. We refer to this as reputation management.
Reputation management is the process through which you work to cultivate positive online reviews across applicable networks like Google and Yelp.
You’ll also want to ensure your school is listed in any relevant directories (like GreatSchools.org and your local chamber of commerce).
It’s important to ensure you have strong engagement collateral available to these prospective parents.
You want parents to begin visualizing their children in your school. Make sure to use lots of imagery on all of your social properties.
Parents will also want to begin learning about the enrollment process. For example:
- How much is tuition? What payment plans are available?
- How should they go about scheduling a tour or observation?
- What does the application process entail?
- How soon after applying will they know if they are accepted?
- What will their child’s average day look like?
Parents will utilize the information they gather during the intent phase in order to prepare the shortlist for evaluation.
You are already well acquainted with the evaluation phase of the admissions funnel. This is when parents begin emailing or calling with questions as well as scheduling tours and observations.
Just because a parent is in the evaluation stage doesn’t mean they’re necessarily ready for immediate enrollment. You will find many Montessori parents are early planners and may be evaluating your school months or even a year before their child is ready for enrollment.
With that said, those early planners have still traveled the entire length of the admissions funnel. In fact, the more educated a consumers tend to spend more time in the higher phases of the funnel since they’re more likely to place a stronger emphasis on completely understanding their options as well as the Montessori narrative as a whole.
Because of this, it’s exceptionally important that you have the ability to nurture these parents over a longer period of time. The nurture process can be performed in a myriad of ways including direct contact. However, the most scalable form of long-term nurture is through automated email sequences that provide ongoing value and education.
In addition, it’s important that your lead intake, scheduling, tour or observation processes, application procedure, and follow-up sequences are built in a way that is repeatable and optimized for the highest possible conversion values.
While the enrollment process will be unique to each school, it’s still important that certain axioms be closely adhered to.
The enrollment process should be as simple as possible. You want your parents to have strong positive associations with your school. A disorganized or cumbersome admissions process can be a major impediment to this goal.
In addition, it’s important that you properly manage expectations throughout the entire process. Parents need constant communication as to what is expected of them, what they can reasonably expect from you and your staff, and the timelines surrounding those expectations.
During this process, it can be extremely helpful to offer parents a pre-prepared narrative that explains exactly what they can expect. This type of content allows you to set your parents’ minds at ease and help ensure everyone is on the same page.
Another excellent best practice is to cultivate a “frequently asked questions” area on your website where you can address the questions you receive most often. This enables parents to self-educate when possible and also provides you with a resource to share with parents.
Understanding where parents are in the funnel, what information they expect to see, and how they’ll ultimately transition to subsequent stages, will assist you in more effectively marketing your Montessori school.
Montessorians need to be thought leaders in the space of childhood development. Your parents are going to transition through these stages of the admissions funnel naturally, with or without your input.
Making sure you have the online presence and content to contribute to their funnel experience will give you the opportunity to engage with them sooner and assume the position of thought leader.