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How to Develop a Higher Education Lead Lifecycle in Marketo Engage


Higher education institutions may have a deeper relationship with their constituents, but they can still benefit from traditional marketing methodologies and tools. Lead lifecycles built in Adobe Marketo Engage may look a bit different for universities, but can provide many of the same reporting and targeting benefits.

Lifecycle Basics

In traditional B2B and B2C marketing, a lead lifecycle follows the progression of a person in their buyer’s journey from prospect to active customer. There are also detour stages for people who aren’t ready to buy right now – or who never will. Overall, the lifecycle reflects the marketing funnel, from very early awareness, through research and consideration to final purchase. In higher education, lifecycles can become more complex because an individual person may have many relationships with the institution, whether over time (a student becomes an alum who later returns as a student for additional degrees) or concurrently (an alum who is also a donor).

Benefits of Lifecycle Processing

Lead lifecycle processing as an automated workflow in a marketing automation platform offers marketing teams a means of understanding at a broad level where people are in their journey with the institution. It can facilitate handoff to the corresponding services team “owner” to support relevant communications and action items for different relationship stages. Targeting the right audience in Marketo Engage engagement and email programs becomes much cleaner and consistent with the standardized lifecycle stage definitions.

As with traditional business lifecycles, higher ed lifecycles can be used in reporting on stages along the relationship journey, such as volume and conversion rate at each milestone stage, as well as bottlenecks or points of dropoff where people fail to continue on the path. As trends are established, the data can be used to forecast future performance, such as the likely number of matriculating students based on anticipated applications, or the total expected individual donors in the next year.

Growing Institutional Marketing & Engagement Capabilities

Establishing lead lifecycles will be part of an institution’s marketing operations maturity path. Before consolidating data points into a standardized lifecycle, teams may rely on list imports and ad-hoc smart lists to try to identify the right audience. However this method is prone to inconsistencies and becomes more difficult to scale. Overcommunication or conflicting communication flagged by constituents can also serve as a prompt to explore lifecycle processing.

Building a Higher Ed Lifecycle in Marketo Engage

The first step is to identify the stages for the lifecycle. The ideal educational journey might include these milestone stages:

  • Admissions Named Lead: name from exam boards or other sources for potential applicants who haven’t interacted with the institution yet
  • Admissions Engaged Lead: potential applicant who has spoken with the admissions team, attended events or otherwise demonstrated interest in applying
  • Admissions Applicant: individual who has submitted a complete application
  • Admissions Accepted Applicant: individual who has been given an offer to attend the institution
  • Student: individual who is currently enrolled in a program
  • Alumni: individual who has completed the requirements to graduate from their program

Detour stages off of the ideal journey might include:

  • Admissions Rejected Lead: individual’s application was not chosen in this acceptance cycle, but eligible to reapply in the future
  • Admissions Deferred/Declined Lead: application was accepted, but individual did not matriculate
  • Disqualified: while higher ed institutions may be less likely than a business to flat out prevent a person from being interested and applying in the future, this stage could be used for obvious junk records (e.g. “Mickey Mouse”)

Unique criteria saved in the Marketo Engage database will be used to automatically move the individual from one stage to the next. This may involve the use of custom objects to reflect applications and program enrollments associated with the individual, as the standard opportunity object may not be the right fit.

Additional lifecycle stages may be desired depending on the needs of the institution. The point isn’t to get too granular, but rather to identify key milestones that need to be processed or communicated with in a significantly different way. Examples include:

  • Applicants who have accepted/confirmed the admissions offer but haven’t started classes yet
  • First-year graduates vs. established alumni
  • Post-alumni admissions cycle stages for graduate or continuing education programs

The number of separate lifecycles necessary can vary depending on the structure of the institution. Additional lifecycles might be built to account for other relationship types with the organization that don’t require the traditional student journey. Here are a couple of common examples.

Donor Lifecycle:

  • Development Accepted Lead
  • Development Engaged Lead
  • Development Qualified Lead
  • Small/Ad-hoc Donor
  • Large/Recurring Donor
  • Major Donor
  • Development Recycled Lead
  • Development Disqualified Lead

Corporate Partner Lifecycle:

  • Corporate Accepted Lead
  • Corporate Engaged Lead
  • Corporate Qualified Lead
  • Corporate Partner
  • Corporate Recycled Lead
  • Corporate Disqualified Lead

Cross-Departmental Collaboration for Success

Each of the respective teams involved in the institution’s relationship to constituents (admissions, student services, alumni relations, development, career placement, etc.,) should contribute their understanding of how they categorize individuals in relation to their area of focus, including any identifiers/criteria. There needs to be alignment across the whole journey, and the criteria data must be available in Marketo Engage. Various systems administrators or IT may be involved to connect additional data as necessary. Marketing operations will then build the appropriate lifecycle processing operational program structure to support these definitions.


Lifecycle processing for higher education institutions takes familiarity with the admissions process and lifetime relationship management. However, establishing this key operational program in Marketo Engage allows higher education marketing and services teams to more effectively communicate with their constituents and have a greater positive impact on the institution’s success.

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