We’ve got some news you may not want to hear.
Admissions is sales.
Whew, ok, now that we’ve got that off our chests, let’s talk about why it’s such a hard pill to swallow.
Unfortunately, sales has gotten a bad rap over the years — mainly due to a few shady habits used by a few unscrupulous sales professionals. You know, the sorts of tactics abused by the pushy, sleazy used car salesman trope we’ve seen in pop culture (and maybe even experienced in person once or twice).
But there is such a thing as a positive sales experience. Like, for example, when you work with sales professionals who are informative, helpful, honest, and behave more like trusted consultants throughout your decision-making process (rather than someone hocking snake oil). And that’s the kind of sales we mean when we say admissions is sales.
Often, when people experience a positive sales experience, they don’t even know they’re being sold something. They feel comfortable — as if they wield all the power in the decision, and their salesperson is merely enabling them to make the best choice.
Today, we’re delving into why reframing admissions as sales isn’t a bad thing, plus 15 admissions strategies to help you grow enrollment founded in ethical sales.
Is Viewing Admissions as Sales Taboo?
As an admission professional, hearing your job described as a sales position can make you uncomfortable. Even though sales isn’t always synonymous with “aggressive” or “dishonest,” the idea of selling in education is still considered taboo. But it’s time for a change.
“The more I embrace and read and research sales tactics, the more I see a return on that information,” says Monica Sullivan, Director of Admission at Nerinx Hall. “I worked with my Student Ambassadors this summer, focusing on the concept of selling and closing deals. We looked at the Disney customer experience text ‘Be Our Guest.’ I encouraged them to look at how we can improve our own guest experiences on campus.”
And really, that’s the crux of the issue: when we see sales as forcing opinions rather than providing experiences, it’s difficult to put admissions and sales in the same camp. But when you recognize that successful sales means ensuring prospects feel good each time they engage with your brand, it’s much more appealing.
15 Admissions Strategies Rooted in Sales
Here are several tried-and-true sales techniques you should include as part of your admissions playbook:
1. Pitch your institution
Strive to tell a compelling story. Make sure you develop and define your school’s value proposition. Why is your school the best option? What makes it unique? Find the unique twist that will keep parents interested.
2. Know your competition
What do other schools offer, and how do their offerings differ from yours? Take time to research your competitors, so you know how to highlight what’s unique and special about your institution.
3. Create a sense of urgency
Never put stress on prospective families, but show them why acting quickly and enrolling as soon as possible benefits their child.
4. Develop consistent messaging
Whether a parent is engaging on your website, through social media, on a phone call or video chat, or in person, it’s critical they enjoy a cohesive experience. You and your team should ensure your school’s brand voice, tone, and messaging is consistent.
5. Share your unique value proposition
Your families need to know what makes your school different from the rest. You’ve got to communicate your value upfront. Some of the best ways to do that are by re-visiting your website, solidifying your branding, and making sure your message is consistent and specific.
6. Use rapport to establish relationships
They say great salespeople have “the gift of gab,” and often, admissions professionals do, too. The best admissions teams establish genuine relationships with people through empathy and authentic conversations.
7. Research your target audience
Consider creating personas to better understand your audience — including their interests, pain points, challenges, and goals for their families. The more you know about them, the better you can tailor your messaging to their needs.
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8. Be solution-focused
Rattling off a list of the many extra-curricular activities you offer and awards you’ve won is nice, but it’s not always enough to drive a parent’s interest. Instead, focus on how your school can help them overcome specific challenges. For example, you may want to share how your school prepares students for an ivy league education, or how your smaller class sizes ensure students enjoy more focused attention than they may experience in a public school setting.
9. Nurture leads
Great salespeople stay in touch with their prospects for weeks, months, and, in some cases, years before they close a deal. Continue to provide value and scale your efforts by sharing relevant content via automated email campaigns. (This is where admissions and enrollment software can come in handy.)
10. Set specific goals
Salespeople are highly goal-oriented and numbers-driven, and identifying specific objectives helps them stay focused. Consider setting a specific goal for each quarter, season, or admissions and enrollment cycle.
11. Measure your performance
Be sure to identify key performance metrics and track them carefully. Identify where you excel and fall short, and then use this data to optimize future efforts.
12. Be persistent
A great sales professional knows tenacity is often the key to success. Don’t annoy prospective families, but don’t let the relationship die, either. Be sure to communicate regularly. (And, when you do reach out, always find a way to provide value — such as a useful resource or an invitation to a school event.)
13. Be direct
The parents you serve are much like you. They’re busy, want to do what’s best for their family, and don’t like vague or ambiguous responses. By answering all their questions honestly and candidly, you’ll foster a sense of trust and confidence.
14. Make the ask
Like any customer, sometimes all a prospective parent needs a gentle nudge before they’ll make a decision. After they’ve had time to learn about your school, met faculty, and toured the campus, ask them: Do you think our institution is the right fit for your child?
15. Always be closing
“Glengarry Glen Ross” got something right — it pays to always be closing. The work isn’t over when a new student enrolls. To ensure retention, you need to keep parents engaged long-term. And, often, that means getting everyone on the same page.
“For your strategic enrollment management efforts to bear fruit, you need to ensure all teams are on board and prepared to do their part,” Monica says.
“Sales” doesn’t need to be a dirty word. In fact, it’s much better if you embrace proven sales tactics as part of your admissions strategies. These 15 techniques will help boost your numbers. And they’ll also help you build better relationships with prospective and existing students’ families, too. Sales strategies can help you take your families from accepted to enrolled.
If you’re looking for strategic questions you can ask families during the admissions process, download our 25 sales questions cheat sheet to get started.