Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Sales by Any Other Name...

I was called to task by a reader of the blog-zine recently for using business terms like sales in my writing. The anonymous emailer (didn’t send the comment here) said I was demeaning the academic enterprise with terms like sales.

“WE do not SELL anything. We provide opportunity that will be beneficial to the student if only he or she will reach up and accept whet we offer through study and appreciation. Academia is untainted by monetary and bottom line considerations that drive corporate operations. Please stop employing such degrading terminology.”

Well, call it what you want. Label it admissions or recruiting if it makes you feel better but we all know what it actually is. It is sales. And there is nothing wrong with that. Nothing at all.

Sales are core to the academic setting. From the professor in the classroom evangelizing a theory, the researcher promoting a grant idea to get money, fundraisers convincing alumni to donate or a president working to convince from the bully pulpit, they are all selling.

We need to erase the discomfort of the used car salesman, life insurance agent, telemarketer, Herb Tarlek images of sales from our minds. Selling can be and usually is an ethical and valuable profession. Willy Loman may have been a flawed father and husband but he saw the beauty of the profession of making connections and building respect. Sales.

And as a person who sells better, stronger futures, an admissions salesperson helps others each time he or she helps guide a person into college. There is not much else that is as important for a student and the college itself. If you did not help that man or woman commit to coming to your college and seeking to graduate, the faculty would have no one to teach after all. No education would take place.

There may be people on the campus who do believe that “this would be a great place to work if it weren’t for the students” but there would be no place without the students. And who helps sell students on the school? You do. In a sense, you are the essential piece in creating the school.

If you did not do your job, and do it well, there would be no school. Yes, you cannot do the job alone. No sales person works alone finally. Sales are a group effort. There must be products to sell. Services to promote. Value to impart. Colleagues to assist you and then process the sale to make it an actual transaction.

But let’s face it; you are the primary point in the sales process. It is your skill in presenting the school, the program of study, the future and the demands that turn a lead or show of interest into a potential student. So the better you can do your job, the more successful you, your colleagues, the school and the students will be.

Yes, you are there not just for the school and your own attainment but primarily for your client’s success. If a prospect does not become a student and then a graduate, you have not fully succeeded. Not simply because of referrals from students and graduates who will make your success in academic sales easier and greater but because mutual, shared attainment of goals and need fulfillment are the essence of academic sales.

If you merely talk someone into an application, sure you might meet a weekly objective. But that is not academic selling. That is just the first step in a longer sales process that in the case of arm twisting application getting may not lead to your, the schools nor the potential student’s real and needed goals.

An application is not the sale. The student excited, convinced and eager to come to school and graduate is. The real close to the sale is not even graduation. It is becoming an alumnus referral for the school. Some one so happy with the college or university that he or she sells for you.

And by the way, every one of us is a salesperson for the school. The way we are perceived every day is a projection of the college. How we act, teach, communicate are all part of the selling of the school. Our student customers are making buying decisions all the while they are on or off campus. Go to class? Study? Do the homework? Stay in school? Dropout? These are all buying decisions that are based on how we are all perceived. How we present the school.

Walk through the halls with a smile and a greeting for everyone and you present, portray, project, sell reason to stay in school and graduate. If your enthusiasm shows in the classroom or office, you are letting students know they are important and selling them your excitement for learning, the school and for them. And they will buy it. Buy it and become more compilable learners and students who will do their homework, pay attention, complete forms, even pay bills more readily making their and your lives better and more pleasant. This is all part of selling the school too. And the college, university, community and career college will be better for your inadvertent selling. Calling anything you want. Just being nice, polite, friendly, enjoying your work, students and others...Doesn't matter what you call it. Just do it.

And oh yes, thank you for doing it. And thanks to all the professional salespeople who keep the college and students headed toward success. If it bothers you to think of yourself as a salesperson, call yourself an enrollment missionary or whatever. Just keep doing it and thanks.

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Anonymous said...

My career in academia hasn't had a damn thing to do with sales.

People like you are partially responsible for ruining higher education. How can you stand to look at yourself in the mirror every morning?

Neal Raisman - NRaisman & Associates said...

Your career in academia had everything to do with sales. You would have had no students in your classes without academic sales. There would be no endowments to support faculty if there were no academic sales. There would be no learning if you do not "sell" you math information to the students. If a faculty member does not generate an intellectual transaction between what he or she has to offer students and the students agreeing to buy into the presentation their brains ring up NO SALE and learning does not take place.

Anonymous said...

Jack Maney is only half correct when he says "People like you are partially responsible for ruining higher education."

Let's go all the way and call the kettle black...the advent of private equity and venture capitalists that subscribe to the sort of rubbish Neal Raisman is peddling here HAVE IN FACT RUINED higher education.

There is nothing wrong at all with employing all the tools of a rigorous sales enterprise to recruit students...BUT, once a "customer" becomes a student (on the first day of class), that individual ceases to be a customer.

The "customer" of the institution then immediately shifts to the future employer of the student, and the student shifts to the category of "product."

This simple confusion has been introduced by the aforementioned capitalists and has crippled small to middling institutions...and it apparently continues to have its prophets like Dr. Raisman.

Some of us, however, still understand the Old School Formula...which has nothing to do with surveys, customer service, and kissing the %*$ of the students...

Anonymous (because people like Neal Raisman are not only clueless...they are also dangerous!)

Neal Raisman - NRaisman & Associates said...

Thank you for calling me dangerous. One of the best things I have been called in years.A capitalist...nah. Much to 60's for that.

BTW, I have never called for anyone to kiss anyone's ass. I do believe that students are entitled to much more than we provide them and that yes, they are our academic customers.

Let me ask you a question please. If a person becomes a student on the first day, how does that differ from being a customer as well? Is a student somehow a different class of people?