After monitoring a number of school development projects I have realised that there is a word that intimidates the average educator / school owner far more than terms like ‘finances’, ‘business’, ‘profit’, etc. It is the taboo word ‘sales’. When I first started talking about sales to my clients I came across looks of shock, confusion, negativity, even rejection. What would ‘sales’ have to do with a school, which offers education to young learners? Getting deeper into conversation, school owners would rather talk about ‘registration’, ‘enrolment’, etc. However, ‘eggrafes’ is the result of a whole procedure that I would define as ‘sales’ whether well-planned, random or even just lucky. The registration of a student is the ‘closing of a sale’.
I have dealt with lots of reactions from my clients about defining the term. The overall attitude was why, at the end of the day, should we adopt a term that sounds so disturbing and feels so incompatible with our educational nature and role? The answer is simply that words and terms determine our attitude towards procedures on a psychological basis. Terms act symbolically. On a more technocratic basis, lack of use of the right term has distanced the real nature of registrations as sales, from the art of sales. So much has been written, taught and designed regarding the art of sales that has never reached either the school owner or his/her staff, just because the most important time of the school year for the viability of the business, September, has never been related to ‘sales’.
Successful sales will define the success of our overall marketing plan, our business plan and most importantly, the viability and growth of our school business. Sales are related to marketing but are not marketing. Marketing is developed to support the overall identity of our school and communicate it, but at the end of the day, marketing exists to support our sales. Every well-organised company has to have separate procedures for sales and marketing, including separate budgets and resources. However, it is sales that will bring the customer to our business and make him/her commit to the initiation of co-operation, which at the same time I would call the ‘closing of a sale’. Below are the ten basic principles for successful sales:
1) Sales are not marketing: Sales are related to marketing and its tools (i.e. advertising, campaigns, etc.). However, marketing serves the overall identity and image of our business and is addressed not only to the target group of our activity, but also to the extended community that our target group belongs to. That’s why marketing has to be planned long-term, under the provision of a highly-controlled sequence of events. A sale is the individualised action, addressed directly to a specific potential customer or a small homogenous group of customers, and is interpersonal. The potential customer, whose interest has been adequately intrigued by our marketing, will then have to be dealt with individually, investigated individually regarding his/her needs and then convinced that our specific product is the right one for his/her needs.
2) A sale cannot be heavily standardised as a procedure: There is no recipe for closing a sale, as it is not only about the obvious needs of the customer to obtain what we have to offer. In highly competitive environments like ELT, it is also about the inner needs of the potential customer, such as his psychological need for comfort, power and security (COMPOSE). The individuals responsible for sales require thorough training to be able to identify the psychological profile of the customer and effectively respond to it.
3) A sale should not be based on assumptions about the customer’s perception: The potential customer, just like all of us, hates to contradict him/herself. People, by nature, are afraid to change their opinion on something, as such about-turns are often heavily criticised within our social and professional circles. It is vital therefore to constantly elicit approval and acceptance of our arguments when dealing with a potential customer. This brings him/her closer to us rhythmically and effectively.
4) Your argument is more powerful when it comes from the mouth of your potential customer: This is a safer but more complex method of making your potential customer commit him/herself to your business. Design specific questions that will elicit specific answers, describing your own product. Guide your potential customer to express his/her needs in ways that will reflect your competitive advantages.
5) Always have specific members of staff who deal with sales: Sales is a department on its own. People who deal with sales, whether administrative staff or teachers, have to be well-trained, skilled communicators. Invest in them in duration and you will see that added experience bears added value.
6) The key word for successful sales is good product knowledge: Your product is multidimensional. It is non-tangible, and as such is highly dependant on unforeseen conditions, the receivers of your service themselves, and overall the human factor. Train your sales staff profoundly regarding your educational programmes but also train them to show that your school knows how to make a student learn. Your product is not only the lesson, but also the successful student. State the obvious to your potential customer. Very few do it.
7) Never be a part of your sales force: You are the owner, the head of the business and educational system, the school policy itself. Sales are based on successful negotiations and negotiations are based on the principle that there are only winners and no losers. When the potential or existing customer deals with the business policy itself (you), there will definitely be a loser at the end and it is more likely that this will be you. Use your separate sales force as the filter between you and the customer. This gives a more professional impression to the potential customer, and gives you time and space to reflect on a problem before it reaches you. Then when you really need to deal with the customer yourself, after his/her first encounter with the sales person or team, you really honour him/her.
8) Be strict with the time management of a sale: Give your potential customer lots of time to talk and listen, to absorb what he/she hears, and to commit him/herself to his approval and acceptance of your competitive advantages. This means give lots of time when you are in control of the sale procedure. When this procedure finishes, control is then passed over to your potential customer, as he/she is the owner of the decision. When you reach this point, give as little time as possible. Do this gently and politely, but firmly and confidently.
9) Play ‘table tennis’ with responsibility as the ball: Give your potential customer the right to understand that this decision is very serious for him/her and that now it is their job to prove it to you. Pass the ball of responsibility onto them and show them that you understand fully that they know the best for their child. It is then and there that they will have to weigh technicalities (i.e. cost, distance, etc.) against the welfare of their child.
10) Prepare a sales action plan and train, train, train: Like every plan, your sales action plan and relevant resources should be evaluated after each sales period, and any necessary correctional action taken. Correctional action will affect both your marketing plan and your sales action plan for the sales period to come. Give your sales staff enough time to reflect on their performance, and organise appraisals. Enjoying the opportunity of only one (main) sales period per year, exploit the knowledge and feelings of your convinced and existing clients and incorporate this feedback into your annual training sessions. Most of all, never stop training yourself and your sales team. Customer trends and attitudes change constantly, as do your product and competitive advantages. Always be one step ahead.
My warmest wishes for successful sales.