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Leads or No Leads: How to Approach Prospect Management in the Education Data Architecture

Leads or No Leads: How to Approach Prospect Management in the Education Data Architecture

Written by

Michelle Littlefield

Education Solution Architect, Traction on Demand

“What are leads and should we use them?”

This is one of my favourite questions to field as a Solution Architect for Traction on Demand’s Education practice. The topic of how to approach prospect management in the Education Data Architecture (EDA) has come up in every recruiting and admissions project I’ve ever been involved in as a consultant. The question of how to use Leads was also a hot topic in my prior role as an Assistant Dean at the University of New England where, for almost eight years, I developed and managed a Pardot + EDA Salesforce system. In the context of the EDA, the purpose of Leads is unclear—after all, the object is not even included in the EDA Entity Relationship Diagram(ERD). So, here’s an explainer on how to approach prospect management in the Education Data Architecture, and whether or not you should consider using the Lead object.

What is the Lead Object?

The Lead object is a critical component of Sales Cloud that’s used to represent the person-detail information of a prospective customer. Think of the Lead record as a place to collect top-of-the-funnel data from potential customers that have shown signs of engagement with your brand—but not quite enough to be considered an actual sales opportunity. 

The objective at this stage is to nurture the relationship by providing engaging content, so at some point they become a qualified sales opportunity. 

When to Use the Lead Object in Prospect Management

Firstly, ask yourself this question: Does your institution purchase or acquire a lot of prospects from third party sources? 

If you receive many names from test vendors such as SAT or ACT, for example, or third-party sources, then you should use the Lead object. We often recommend in cases where your prospects are not inbound (i.e. they have not directly inquired with you, nor explicitly interacted with your marketing assets) that you strongly consider using the Lead object. 

Using the Lead object for these prospects allows you to hold those names in your database so you can grow the relationship. Lead nurturing is usually executed in a marketing automation platform, such as Pardot or Marketing Cloud, in a way that takes leads on a journey strategically built to qualify them. By providing content they will take an interest in, while also gathering data about them, you can attain your goal of converting that lead into a contact.

By separating leads and contacts you avoid cluttering your data, especially since leads have a higher propensity to go cold. That being said, having both objects in your Salesforce system is still valuable, as they are still represented and reportable, which increases the efficiency of your team.

Whether to Use the Lead Object: You Decide

How to approach prospect management in the Education Data Architecture by collecting leads—through the recruiting and admissions process—is bound to look different when compared to the typical sales experience. Indeed, it’s likely for this reason that the Lead object is not native to the EDA ERD. Salesforce has instead empowered institutions to be in control of the Lead object. Institutions have to answer the question, “Leads or no Leads?” by weighing out the benefits of using Sales Cloud in conjunction with EDA to capture data with the complexities of adding this extra layer.

Using the Lead Object in Education Data Architecture: 5 Considerations

  1. The native Lead conversion process is not built for Education Data Architecture; you will likely need to make some customizations so your Lead converts with a relationship to the right account(s). In this case, your Contact will need an administrative account if you’re using the administrative account model. Additionally, you may want to consider an academic program account in relation to your prospect’s program of interest.
  1. Lead conversion is natively manual in this case, and it might become a headache if you’re qualifying a high volume of leads on a daily basis. Keep in mind tools exist to help automate this process, such as the Interactions for Student Recruitment open source solution. You can also customize a solution with code. Auto-lead conversion might be a great compromise for an institution that isn’t quite ready to commit to eliminating Leads, but doesn’t want the hassle of all the manual Lead management tasks that accompany it. 
  1. A bonus to using the Lead object in prospect management is getting access to Lead assignment rules. Lead and Contact assignments can be complex within education institutions, specifically in recruiting and admissions. With this in mind, it helps to have the capability to assign records with native Salesforce features. However, it’s important to remember that Lead assignment rules have limitations, more so than institutions prefer. For example, you can have up to 50 rules active per object, and each rule can have up to 25 criteria. That may seem like a lot, but for an institution that assigns leads by a combination of geography and program, for example, that just may not cut it.
  1. Opportunities do not natively have a relationship to contacts. In the case of EDA, you will need to account for creating that relationship between the newly converted Contact. You can do this by either creating a custom lookup to be populated upon Lead conversion or plan to leverage opportunity Contact roles.
  1. Be mindful of duplicates. Duplicates are a concern for any organization, regardless of object structure, however, those with self-registration Community portals will have to be extra careful. Community self-registration leverages quick create capabilities when creating contacts from registered users and, as such, ignores duplicate matching rules. In the event you have a name in your database as a Lead, but they have not yet been converted into a Contact, you may end up with cross-object duplicates in your database.

Omitting the Lead Object in Education Data Architecture: 5 Considerations

If, by now, you’ve realized that using the Lead object in prospect management is more complex than it’s worth, you can hide the Lead object from view by using your organization-wide defaults and pretend like it’s not even there. Here are some things to consider if you’re going to eliminate the Lead object in your Salesforce system:

  1. Just because you don’t use the Lead object in prospect management, doesn’t mean you can’t capture lead details. You may still want to capture this data for analytics and reporting, and this can be done at the field level on the Contact. Just keep in mind that you’ll need to create this custom field so this information can originate and live on Contact just as it would have on Lead. In addition, your sales process will also likely need to include a specific stage to make a distinction between a contact that’s a “prospect” versus one that is more engaged as a “pre-applicant” or “applicant.”
  1. You will need to solve for the creation of the Opportunity record at the time a Contact is created. In the native functionality of Lead conversion, we create an Opportunity automatically at the same time we promote a Lead to a Contact. Because you aren’t converting Leads in this model, you would need to factor in custom code or automation to create an Opportunity record at the time you create your Contact. Keep in mind that the above listed customizations still apply; you’re going to need to account for creating the relationship between the Contact and their Opportunity by using a custom lookup to be populated upon creation and/or populate an opportunity Contact role.
  1. You may lose some cool Einstein features related to leads because you aren’t using them. Things like Einstein Lead Scoring or Lead conversion reporting are no longer relevant to you because you do not have any data stored on the Leads object.
  1. In full transparency, your duplicate issue is not automatically solved. In the above list item 5, I mentioned that the Lead object may increase the likelihood of cross-object duplicates if you are also using a self-registration Community. This is a reminder the quick-create functionality of self-registration still doesn’t see existing contacts before creating a new one, and you are likely to create duplicate Contacts if you don’t mitigate this with some customization of the self-registration process in your Community.
  1. If you are a Pardot or Marketing Cloud client, you’ll not lose any core functionality by moving to a Contact-only model, however, there are a few things to consider. If you’re also a Pardot client, you can simply pipe your Pardot connector directly to Contacts instead of Leads. But keep in mind, you need to escalate to Pardot Support to enable this, and it may be a little challenging to undo if you were to change your mind down the road. If you’re a Marketing Cloud client, you may need to consider the impacts to how your prospects will enter into marketing automation (i.e. journeys). There may be impacts to your subscriber key that you’ll need to think through. 

Bottom Line: Make It Yours!

One of the greatest benefits of Education Cloud, and Salesforce in general, is that it’s flexible enough to be customized to fit your needs. The debate of how to approach prospect management in the Education Data Architecture is a great example of how the platform can be configured to work exactly as you need it to. 

In the end, there is no right or wrong answer to the question, “Should we use the Lead object?” It’s for this reason that Traction on Demand’s Recruiting and Admissions Accelerator has been designed—to manage either option. As you work to design your Salesforce system you’ll want to consider your prospect volume, Lead conversion strategies, reporting needs, and duplicate management strategies all as part of your decision to keep or eliminate the Leads object. 

If you’re having a tough time deciding, please get in touch with one of our education experts.

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