You've done all the work to create a website, a blog, and a webinar for your Christian school; now interested people are starting to come across your marketing efforts. Now what are you going to do with them? You need to follow up on them, of course; we can all agree with that. After all, you've spent a valuable amount of time, resources, and funds to create marketing efforts to generate these great prospects. Letting interested people go without addressing them would be poor stewardship and just bad business.

But how and when are you going to follow up, and who is going to do it? It's time to talk the importance of managing interested families needs as a part of your marketing strategy. We're also going to introduce a word that makes some people nervous: data! Data or lists don't have to be scary. In fact, they are a vital and necessary part of marketing. Keeping lists and data on interested families will provide you with treasure chests of information. Together, data and lists of interested families information intertwine and work together to provide your Christian school with the information you need to succeed in marketing.

Step 1 - Gather Information Online from Interested Families

To start building data, first you need some interested families! You can easily gather those prospective families for your Christian school with online marketing efforts. It costs virtually nothing, and all you have to do is ask people for their contact information. If you have a Web site, don't let it just sit there! Make it work for you by adding forms for interested families to fill out. Forms can be for requesting information, downloading or printing a brochure, or registering for a webinar.

To gain this information, your online forms on your Web site should include all the necessary information you'll need. Items like name, address, phone, email, and such should all be included. If you are using email campaigns, link readers to your Web site on a page asking for information. If you have a blog or a webinar, have visitors fill out a form before you allow them access! Make the funnel lead to you.

Tip: You can also gather information from interested families at open houses, conventions or sporting events, school activities or plays, and with refer-a-friend programs! Word of mouth referrals can be just as powerful as online contacts, too.

Step 2 - Start a List of Data

Now that you are getting information from interested families, you'll need to store data in a list so more than one person can access it. This data doesn't have to be in expensive, fancy software or in a locked-down, secret location, but your information should be secure and in a format that is easy to read. Any spreadsheet software most likely can handle all the data you are gathering. Columns for individual information are helpful. Make sure you organize all information uniformly so this resource is easy to reference, no matter who is reading it.

Remember that you can store more information than just contact information. You can store details on whether you called the interested family, how many times you spoke, if you emailed them, if you sent a brochure, or if you offered a discount; most importantly, record if the family enrolled a student in your school!

To help you with copy and pasting information into spreadsheets, Google Docs has a handy tool that will automatically feed data into your chosen Google spreadsheet. This free tool will help save your administration tons of time managing data and valuable information that you want to keep.

Tip: Back up your data! The best way to ensure you never lose valuable information, both for data and interested families, is to save it regularly in more than one location. If you don't have time to keep data organized and backed up, online service providers are also available to maintain data, but usually at a cost.

Step 3 - Assign Responsibility

Once you have interested families inquiring about your school and a list for data, it's time to talk responsibility. To ensure interested families are addressed and how they are addressed, assign someone to accomplish this and develop a procedure to follow. It could be a school receptionist, school recruiter, volunteer, staff member, parent, or teacher.

To help lighten the load, you can alternate responsibility month to month or assign certain blocks of the year. For consistent responses, have a written procedure for how to address prospective families. Sequencing of how to contact the lead, time between contacts, and what to say to the contact should all be outlined.

Tip: Addressing interested families in a prompt manner shows professionalism and courtesy to prospective people. Set a deadline in which families must be contacted. All families should be considered valuable.

Step 4 - Evaluate Interested Families' Needs

Don't panic if you aren't a five-star salesman. Helping address interested families' needs isn't rocket science, and everyone can do it. In everyday language, evaluating needs just means that you judge the likelihood of whether a family wants to enroll at your school or not. This can be done by asking a series of questions about the family's interest, what information they are looking for, what ages their children are, and why they are interested in your Christian school. The most important step here is making sure your school fits the needs of the family.

Ask questions about what they need, similar to how a doctor would request a list of symptoms. Try to find out as much information as you can so that you can help the interested family make an informed decision. Be truthful about what you can offer. It's better to have a student not enroll because your school doesn't meet his needs than to have a student withdraw and be unhappy about his experience. Types of questions you could ask could be the following:

• "Why are you interested in our school?"

• "Where did your student go to school before?"

• "What are your students' ages and do they have any special needs?"

• "What type of classes are you looking for?"

• "How do you prefer to be communicated with (by phone, email, etc.)?"

Most people go through stages of purchasing, and enrolling at your school is no different. Stages include researching options, comparing price points, weighing benefits and costs, and actually purchasing a service or product. Comments like "I am just looking," or "I wondered what you offered" are more likely people who are in the researching stage. Questions like "When is your enrollment period?" and "How can I register for this?" are closer to buying. Those who are most interested should be pursued more quickly and intently.

Tip: Listening is the best tool for understanding what leads want. If an interested family came from your Web site or other online marketing avenue, the family is most likely has a stronger inclination to register.

Tip 2: Fellow Christian and non-Christian schools alike can provide you valuable data. Establish relationships in your educational community, including preschools which could offer a continuous enrollment stream to your school! No matter if your school is affiliated with a church denomination or not, getting interested families doesn't mean waiting for people to come to you; you should actively pursue them.

Step 5 - Offer Opportunity to Enroll

Here's the kicker: you are talking to an interested family or returning an email to them. What should you say at the end? Never forget to ask if they'd like to enroll, especially if you think your school meets their needs! It may seem forward, but it really makes sense. You have an interested person, he wants to know more about the school, and you are accommodating his request. Why not ask him to enroll his student? After all, the reason you have a school is to help students, so invite students to join.

If families don't want to enroll, they will say so. Ask why. Figure out the root of the information or risk that is keeping them from enrolling. Try to address their concerns as soon as possible and offer your Christian school as a viable solution if it is. Work around their needs; this is the first rule of customer service. Be careful not to promise something your school cannot deliver. Be realistic in your explanations. People will respect honesty.

Step 6 - Keep Information on Former Interested Families

If a prospective family doesn't enroll a student, you could call this a lost opportunity. Perhaps, though, they aren't ready to enroll just yet, their children are too young, or they aren't sure if they can pay tuition costs. Because of this, you're better off considering them old prospects. These people could enroll in the future if, for instance, you add more grades to your school, you begin offering scholarships, or you begin year-round enrollment options or summer school.

If the circumstances change, you'll want to inform those families who were interested in the past, so don't ever delete this data. They may come back and enroll. Also, recording old prospects lets you have a record of whom you have contacted and why they didn't enroll.

Tip: Don't just maintain information. Maintain all your school's contact information of currently enrolled families too. There's a saying in business that it costs three times as much to get a new customer than to keep an old one. Don't let trying to get new families distract you from nurturing relationships with currently enrolled families.

Step 7 - Evaluate Your Success

Are you getting interested families to enroll at your Christian school? The only way to know is to track your success! This should be recorded in your list of data for everyone to reference, along with the reason that the lead decided not to enroll. This information can help tell school management how successful online marketing is in generating actual enrolled students. Track where your success is coming from and follow up on what is working - whether it is calling interested families in 24 hours, emailing them with your school brochure, or just listening to what families need.

Be mindful that information gathered online from interested families is happening continuously and should be followed up in the same way. Length of time should be considered when determining success of closing or getting interested families to enroll. Enrollment numbers should be compared with previous enrollment history, budget of marketing efforts spent to get interested families to enroll, and the goals of your school.

Final Thoughts

Gathering information online from interested families is essential to successful marketing efforts, but information is only as good as what you do with it. Interested families require action and commitment for follow-up. They are ideally meant to bring you enrollments.

Gaining and pursuing interested families ensures your Christian school has an opportunity to keep growing. It's important to balance repeat enrolling students with new students to keep a school open. Families' information gathered online, and via word of mouth, for that matter, can help qualify interested persons faster than other avenues. Plus, you can gain leads more easily by simply requesting information from interested people in exchange for information needed. Parents searching for a quality Christian education should seriously be considering religious-based educational options within their community, so be honest about what you offer and teach at your school. It will either be a good fit for them or it won't, but you won't know if you don't ask.

In the end, your Christian school exists to reach more families and souls for the glory of the Lord. Don't pass up a great opportunity to offer your place of Christian-centered learning to an interested family because you don't have time to follow up on a lead. Make time for sharing your school with new families because this is part of the lifeblood of your Christian school!