With the economy contracting at the fastest rate on record, pressure on independent school admission numbers is set to increase still further, which is why it is important now, more than ever to ensure that you maximise EVERY possible “lead” to secure a “sale”.
I’m purposefully using commercial terms like “lead” and “sale” because there are a host of practices and techniques used by professional sales teams that can be adopted into your school’s admissions process to help convert enquiries into new pupils.
In this article, we will look at 7 commercial sales tactics that you can adopt immediately to improve “sales figures” from your “Salespeople” and some clever bits of technology that can help supercharge your Admissions process.
Set targets & measure success against these targets
Every commercial sales team works to a “target”, and any salesperson worth his salt can tell you exactly where they are to target at any one time.
So what does success look like for your school? Do you have a very clear idea of how many pupils you need, and how many enquiries need to be ultimately converted during your current admissions cycle? Set this figure, make it known amongst all staff and regularly communicate performance against your target. I appreciate that this can be a sensitive issue with staff, but I would encourage you to develop a feeling of ownership of this target and wherever possible foster a feeling that the whole school can work together to achieve it.
Who is your Sales Team
More often than not, the obvious salespeople in any school are those responsible for admissions. This might be a whole admissions team, it might fall under the remit of your Marketing Manager, your Registrar or your Bursar. These people take the “leads” generated by your marketing activity and “convert” them into new pupils. However, commercial organisations recognise that EVERY member of staff CAN have an impact on sales conversions, and the same is true in your school.
Surprise & Delight!
Every contact with a potential new parent is an opportunity to build on the sale, to help convince them that you are the right school for their child. Sales can be lost because a parent doesn’t feel like they are being well “looked after” throughout the process.
Commercial sales teams recognise the need to do something a little different and to ensure that potential new customers are delighted with the service that they receive throughout the onboarding process. Independent schools can adopt this approach to help ensure that they are successful in securing pupils in the future. A little extra effort and providing a “special” level of service can have a dramatic effect on lead conversions.
Understand your Admissions Process
Make efforts to ensure that you understand the journey a prospective new parent will be taken on following an enquiry to your school. Is this journey remarkable? Will your response stand out from the other schools they will have enquired to. Will it serve to convince parents that your school is the right choice for their child(ren)?
Think about that first response, how can you do things a little different to the rest?
- Vidyard is an online tool, available for a small annual subscription. This smart tool allows you to create personalised video messages, with animated thumbnails that can be played directly from an e-mail message sent to a parent. The applications for this in your parent communications are huge, but as a first response to an initial enquiry, a personalised video, from the headteacher is likely to really stand out and have a positive impact on any potential new parent. Even better is the fact that the videos take seconds to record and are fully branded to the school. You can even add a clickable link to the end of your message providing parents with access to your school calendar to book a tour or meeting.
- Calendly is another tool which can make booking meetings, tours and open day attendance simple and easy. A simple link provides parents with access to your calendar, where they can select a suitable date and time and book their appointment. You can control booking availability and have multiple calendars for different purposes.
Both Vidyard and Calendly, provide a professional and personal interaction with parents and serve to show how comfortable your school is with modern technology. They also save a great deal of time for both your staff and the new parents.
Track leads and follow-up EVERY one
We conducted a recent mystery shop with a number of independent schools, all of which are struggling for pupil numbers, and were amazed when we did not receive any response for a whole week from one of the schools. It might seem obvious, but you must look to maximise the return on your marketing expenditure. There is no point in working hard to generate interest only then to delay the follow up on these “hot leads”
It is important to know which of your marketing activities provides the best return on your investment. This means, therefore, not just tracking which activities provide the most leads, but which actually lead to the most conversions (the newest pupils). This will, in the long run, save the school money on marketing activity that might seem to generate interest but does NOT actually produce tangible results.
It is also important to recognise where every lead is in your marketing process. Make sure that your process is proactive and designed to bring parents on board. Don’t just hope that everything is going well – communicate as often as possible during the decision-making process. You should be able to clearly indicate exactly how many parents you expect to come on board and be able to highlight parents that might need more to convince them
Follow a recognised sales technique – Solution Selling
Solution selling is a common technique used by commercial salespeople and it lends itself perfectly to school admission sales. This technique involves encouraging your potential customer to talk as much as possible by asking lots of “Open Questions”*. The idea is to ensure that you gain a true understanding of what it is that your parents “Need” for their Son / Daughter, and from the school. Once you understand this you can present back to the family the benefits of your school provision and show how these benefits solve their needs.
Solution selling is effectively a process that you take EVERY potential parent through in order to drive them towards a decision to commit to your school. This process can be adapted to 7 easy steps for school admissions and is outlined below:
- Introduction – Your first response to their enquiry. This should involve some of the practices we have already discussed.
- The Conversation – Ask lots of questions about the family and particularly around what they are looking for from a school. Ask about the child’s interests, goals and ambitions. Remember you are aiming to uncover their “need” – what they actually want.
- Confirmation – Confirm that you have understood this need.
- Match the benefits of your school provision to the needs of the parent – show how your school answers these needs and provides the right environment to foster the child’s interests, goals and ambitions.
- Close the Deal – Ask for a commitment from your new parents (see below)
- Overcome any objections raised – If you can’t get a commitment, what is stopping the family making a decision. Find out what this is because chances are you will be able to provide assurances and overcome many of these objections…and when you have, ask for commitment again.
- Follow up – Parents will expect the same level of attention to continue once they have made a commitment. Consider the communications that can be sent out in the period between a parent making a decision and the child starting at the school. These communications provide an opportunity to bring the family into the school’s inner circle. Include them in positive school news items, invite them to school events and encourage their interaction wherever possible.
It is important to recognise where any parent is in this process and ensure you have a tactic in place to move them to the next stage and ultimately to a decision.
Close the Deal
The biggest mistake that commercial salespeople make, is actually one of the easiest to fix. They don’t actually ASK FOR THE DEAL! The same is true in a huge number of independent schools that I meet – even when admissions staff think they have closed the deal, it turns out that they have never actually asked the parent to sign on the dotted line.
Again this is a sensitive issue. Often schools do not want to appear to be too pushy and “the hard sell” goes completely against their brand character. If however, you have followed the sales process, if you have asked lots of questions, unearthed the need from the parents and spent the time to show them how your school matches their needs, well then you are entitled to ask if they are going to send their son/daughter to the school.
There are lots of “closing techniques” covered in commercial sales training, but the very simplest is actually the best. Build up your relationship with your potential new parents, support them through your admissions process and show them what the future looks like for their child in your school, and then ask them if they are happy to make a commitment. No hard sell, just a genuine offer to provide the best provision.
Those members of staff responsible for admissions in your school are your sales team and they should recognise targets and work together to achieve them. By thinking commercially about how best to convert the leads that your marketing activity is generating into new pupils, you can ensure that your school is in the best position to survive and flourish in the future.
I’m passionate about helping and supporting schools to thrive. If your marketing and admissions need to become more focussed, or you just want to ask some questions please feel free to get in touch with me.
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Blue Apple Education are School Communication and Design Experts. We believe each and every school is remarkable and unique in some way. We see it as our duty to unearth what this is and to convey the essence of this both beautifully and convincingly.