Are You Ready to Bring Your Search In House?

(You may be more ready than you think.)

At this year’s NACAC conference in Houston, we were delighted to see so many of our old and new friends in person in ways we have not been able to do so since—well, you know. While last year’s event in Seattle gave us a taste of what a return to large-scale conferences would be like, Houston gave us the full meal. Hugs, handshakes and high-fives were joyful reminders of the human power that drives this profession. 

Our conversations with colleagues at this year’s conference accelerated a pattern we have seen among so many of our clients over the past 18 months: an increasing interest in colleges leveraging the tools they already possess to bring their search in house. It is certainly not a new phenomenon: in 2016 Sam Waterson, RHB’s President, wrote Make Search More Relevant: Bring It In House On Your Campus. He followed it with another piece in 2018, Using Your CRM to Own Prospect Relationships: Integrated Marketing and Enrollment Tactics.

In the years since then, RHB has empowered dozens of colleges and universities to do just that: utilize their CRMs to bring their search in house and own their prospect relationships (and data) at every point of the student journey, from discovery to deposit.

And, based on conversations we’re having with other colleges, there are many more getting ready to do the same thing.

Is it time for you to bring your search in house? How do you know if you’re ready, not only to start but also to sustain managing your search in house? Is it as scary to do as some might lead you to believe? (Spoiler: it isn’t.) What does life look like on the other side of bringing search in house, and what are the impacts on budget?

Over a short series of three articles, we will address all of these questions (and more) to help you do what your CRM was built for: managing your entire funnel, measuring performance in real-time, and adjusting and adapting quickly.

In this article, Alex Williams, RHB’s Senior Vice President for Relationship Development, explains the RHB way of empowering you first to discover the truth about your institution, and then show and tell those truths in beautiful and compelling ways through an in-house search.

One of the most rewarding aspects of my career has been to see how technology has the capability to transform offices, teams and processes. I’ve said countless times that technology is just a tool. This remains true. But tools allow you to think creatively about how you can reshape processes based on system functionality and how those shifts then allow you to repurpose time saved to other valuable efforts you might not have had the capacity to previously realize. 

As organizations continue to trudge through the Great Resignation, a recurring theme in my conversations with prospective clients has been centered around how to get it all done. What used to be a workload handled by three is now managed by one. Human capital has shifted; workload has not. And so part of my role is to help prospective clients envision how RHB can provide guidance, support and lend our expertise to aid in easing that burden while continuing to propel an organization forward. 

One of the services we offer in that arena is assistance in bringing search in house. It was also one of the primary drivers in my decision to join this team. I’m fascinated by search. 

The biggest detractor to an institution’s decision to take on this work isn’t budget—outsourcing search is significantly more expensive. The biggest detractor is anticipated workload and internal capability. In conversations with prospective clients, we address this. RHB’s responsibility in a search project really crosses a spectrum from discovery through design and execution. We fill those gaps for an institution where needed. In some cases we’re doing it all. But our role is to augment teams and stand this capability up in-house in year one and train a team how to execute it on an annual basis moving forward. 


Our search projects, like everything at RHB, start with a period of discovery. We’re a curious team by design, but it’s vital to the success of these projects that we not only understand your students and families, but that we also understand the positioning of the institution and how the organization is structured. Depending on an institution’s needs, RHB has services to complement all of these areas. Most notably for search, we would engage in Circles of Influence and a Coherence Inventory. These two processes allow us to evaluate existing infrastructure and collateral while simultaneously completing qualitative research via Circles. These questions allow us to assess two questions in our Three Satellites process:

What is true about your institution?

What does your institution say is true about itself? 

Answers to these questions provide the foundation for our strategic work in building out communications in terms of topic and tone. At a macro level, these services allow us to aid institutions in positioning.


Upon completion of our discovery phase, RHB then moves into strategic conversations with your enrollment team where we’ll define timelines, cadences, topics, stories and an overarching strategy for executing search. Is there a requirement and lift on the institution’s side here? Absolutely. You can’t be successful in bringing search in house if you aren’t willing to collaborate. But this is also the spot where institutions begin to feel the lift.

RHB’s responsibility here is to aggregate all of the data from discovery and distill it into actionable communications via multiple channels to reach your audiences. This is also the stage in which we make recommendations on name purchases and inform those buys based on historical performance and aspirations. Once the strategy has been defined, our team is prepared to execute search.


“Execution” sounds so intense when you use that word as a header. To be fair, it is kind of intense, but only on our side, not yours. During this phase, we pull together our team of writers, designers, developers and consultants to engage search directly within your CRM. At this point in the process, you will be familiar with our enrollment consultants. This phase will introduce you to our Slate and Related Technology consultants who will implement the defined strategy and train your team on future iterations.

Like any project, you should expect back and forth on writing and design with final approval resting in your hands. Depending on our project, we might be engaged in sophomore/junior search where we actively engage beautifully designed, dynamic search portals within Slate, senior search with more dedicated CTAs on application, or additional communication flows geared at families. Our strategy changes with each institution, as it should. 

Your stories are yours. Your design is bespoke. Your experience is owned by you.

Next Steps

At the end of our engagement, our technology consultants–in tandem with our enrollment team–will guide your team through the modifications necessary to update search for each cycle. Most importantly, this will also empower your team to be able to make modifications that allow you to be responsive to shifting markets and priorities throughout the cycle. This level of flexibility is something you simply can’t obtain in an outsourced model. 

All of our search projects include comprehensive reporting, giving your team real-time insight into performance and the funnel. Our process also includes elements that allow you to progressively grow profiles over time, providing unique insights not accessible via traditional outsourced search. These insights allow your team to be more actionable and focused on the important part of their job, making connections with students and families. 

Our clients who engage RHB for search don’t look back. They look forward with more focus and more flexibility with a sustainable solution that requires low effort and significant return in future years.

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Alex Williams

Alex is the Vice President of Relationship Development at RHB.