Jessica Luna

Vanderbilt And Their Shift To Online Recruiting & Salesforce

Now more than ever higher education institutions are looking to switch online, not only for their course structure but also in their internal processes such as student recruitment, HR, Administration, Finance, etc. We could say that the higher education landscape, like most industries, is experiencing a 360-degree shift paving the way for new technologies, systems, and methodologies. We are on a mission to interview University Directors and Managers to hear from them on how their institutions are making this shift. 

UniCentrico interviewed Kate Paradis. With over 3 years working at Vanderbilt, Kate is an integral part of the Digital Strategy and Student Enrollment branch for the Executive Education program. She pioneered the implementation of the Salesforce CRM and Pardot Marketing at Vanderbilt’s business school. We were eager to learn more about her work and the changes going on at Vanderbilt for this recruiting season. 

Jessica: Tell us about what your role and responsibilities are at Vanderbilt regarding marketing and enrollment.

Kate: I worked in the Executive Education business unit at Vanderbilt’s Owen Graduate School of Management, managing the open enrollment portfolio of 15 programs. I focused on: marketing strategy development for new programs, online event management, and overall digital marketing strategy and sponsorship for the Executive Education business unit. I lead the implementation of the Salesforce CRM & Pardot at Vanderbilt which really allowed us to manage all of our customer/prospect data and implement lead nurturing as well as lead scoring to target our audience throughout their buyer’s journey. 

Jessica: What technologies were you using before implementing Salesforce? How did the business case process go internally to get every decision-maker involved in this project? 

Kate: We did not have a cohesive structure. We actually had 6 different systems through which we worked with before Salesforce. We were not able to keep track of anything, really. We had a lot of contacts fall off the pipeline and had a lot of discrepancies with our data. Our data did not match with the Finance department’s data, and we were losing revenue. I think that this was the major turning point for us that really pushed forward this implementation project. We were also able to sell our more expensive programs in a better way after implementing the Salesforce CRM because we got a better understanding of our prospective students’ motivations, activities, drivers, etc., through tracking and nurturing. 

Jessica: Did you have Salesforce implementation expertise in-house or did you outsource?

Kate: We outsourced. After we signed our contract with Salesforce, they recommended some vendors and I worked closely with the vendor for 6 months for the implementation of the whole Salesforce Org. After completing the implementation, we worked with them to complete other projects within Salesforce such as an ROI tracking App. 

Jessica: You mentioned that some of your responsibilities were related to digital marketing and promoting online events. What type of marketing initiatives did you use? Social Media Advertising? PPC? In-Person marketing? University Fairs?

Kate: A lot of our digital marketing efforts focused on brand awareness and lead generation were done via LinkedIn Ads. We actually started managing LinkedIn Ads in-house when I started at Vanderbilt, but later outsourced this work to a digital marketing agency that took over LinkedIn Ads, Facebook Ads, PPC, and overall organic social media. 

Jessica: Which lead generation channel brings in the larger amount of prospective students and the higher quality students?

Kate: From a paid advertising perspective, LinkedIn is the channel where we get the most qualified leads. From an organic lead generation standpoint, I would say our website is our strongest channel for where we generate a higher amount of organic conversions, generating the highest rate of return.

Jessica: How has COVID-19 affected your enrollment KPIs? 

Kate: We had to cancel 12 programs in total. We did face some challenges encouraging professors to switch to online teaching; this is something that we’re still working on. Also, unfortunately, we had to lay off some of our staff due to COVID. We were able to switch some of our in-person programs online and launch new online programs. That being said, we have seen our program enrollment numbers decrease, but as we set up the new online programs we are seeing things pick up again. 

Jessica: Now more than ever, Universities are forced to step away from in-person recruiting and in-person events. What has Vanderbilt been doing in terms of online engagement and recruiting? 

Kate: Other than doing online webinars, we launched a type of virtual experience called: A Closer Look, which simulated the Vanderbilt campus environment. We had a virtual lobby that you could come and be a part of as a student or staff member, and we also invited incoming students as well as accepted students. We did a series of professor talks which were broadcasted via Zoom in order to give students a sneak peek of our courses. We launched this virtual experience for 3 weeks. Our main objective was to get students who were admitted or incoming to keep them engaged and informed about the COVID situation by experts in the field as well as inform them about the safety measures that we were taking as a University. 

Jessica: Pre COVID, what were the challenges that your team was seeing with digital marketing? 

Kate: Continuing to refine our target audience was a continuous challenge for us. Through implementing Salesforce and Pardot, we were able to get more information on our prospects whereas before we did not have the data to support it. The challenge was trying to figure out exactly how to build out those people and target them more effectively. 

Higher education institutions are constantly using new technologies to enhance their digital marketing and recruiting efforts. In addition, most universities are now forced to adjust to a new online landscape for recruiting and reaching prospective students rather than opting for in-person outreach. CRMs and Marketing Automation platforms such as Salesforce CRM, Marketing Cloud, and Pardot are becoming increasingly popular in the education industry as they allow tracking current and prospective students and nurture prospects through every stage of their admissions process, leading to growth in student enrollment. Other universities like Vanderbilt are leaning towards this shift. Check out this case study on how Santa Fe College Implemented Salesforce to change its applicant perceptions through data and increase student enrollment. Also, learn about how Indiana University used Salesforce for their prospect nurturing and recruiting and also used Salesforce to enhance their internal processes. 


What is UniCentrico by Centrico Digital? 

UniCentrico is a Canadian-Ecuadorian recruiting service and platform that helps North American universities identify and connect with prospective students from Latin America. UniCentrico uses digital marketing to help universities identify and qualify prospective students. For more information, please contact Jessica Luna Higher Education Marketing Head at


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