Monday, August 05, 2013

Selling the College

The decision to attend a college or university is based on the pure selling of the school to the student and the family. The college markets itself with the website, slick brochures, view books, letters, campus tours and even phone calls from current students or alumni to sell the institution to a prospective student. These are all handled almost exclusively by the sales team of the recruitment office and marketing. They are the ones that develop and handle leads that can be turned into applications.

The goal of marketing is to receive an application from the prospective student and thus turn a lead into a qualified lead. That is a lead that has come closer into the enrollment process and shown an interest by actually completing and submitting an application. A simple lead is not of much value until it is moved into the qualified lead category. But that does not mean that the student is actually going to decide to attend. Not at all. Much more selling has to take place to move the application into a decision, a clear empathic choice to attend. It is during the period from application to decision that many schools put on a full scale sales campaign to get the applicant to commit to the school. This is when service is quite high especially in schools that have a selection process. Once they have told a student that his or her application has been accepted and the student can come to the school, an all-out push takes place to convert the application into a commitment with a deposit. Once the deposit or some sort of commitment is made, the prospect lead becomes a highly qualified lead and likely to become a completed sale.

For admissions to increase their sales they and the school need to realize the way students look at the world has changed. What they are looking for has changed. How they act and interact with their environment has changed. Colleges and schools have.....not changed. And they wonder why enrolling and retaining students is getting tougher. Higher education institutions need to get away from old worn out admission and retention approaches. They are not helping. The market mind has shifted and they have not kept up. Admissions offices need to create an atmosphere that is more informal; one in which a potential student can relax yet still feel as if it can be a formal, getting business done arrangement.

Colleges need to find a model that would convey to students that this is a place in which I can see myself and also create an affective bond to from my own experience. A place that feels like what I know and with which I can identify.

The answer- Starbucks or a coffee shop.

After observing the target market for schools, these locations are where the potential enrollees go and spend large amounts of time talking with friends, reading, doing homework, tutoring or getting tutored, texting, WIFI-ing and generally hanging around. It is surprising how much work, often collaborative work, is done in a Starbucks-like atmosphere.

So it became obvious that this should be the structure. Get out of the cubicles. Dump the formal desk that evokes negative affective responses. Set up a Starbucks-like zone area. Small intimate round tables (or small squares/ rectangles) where potential students can sit with an admissions rep or even better, two and just talk. Create a Starbuckian-like atmosphere with colors that relax, photographs that will set a calming atmosphere and even music playing quietly in the background. Keep in mind that today’s students have grown up enveloped in music so much that it is de rigueur in all they do – even watching TV. It will not intrude. It will enhance.

Get a multi-purpose coffee machine than can make lattes, and other frou frou drinks they are used to having. They are available in numerous formats from school owned to vended products and at a range of costs. And use a premium grade of coffee. Potential students have grown up on Starbucks, Seattle’s Best, Pete’s and other quality brands. Also, for non-coffee or tea drinkers, get a small fridge so you can offer soft drinks. A cookie or some nosh will certainly be a value-added.

To create an affective connection and increase the students’ feeling 0f connection with the college. schools need to connect not to only to their sense of what students want but what they really do want.. Starbuck-like places are where they connect so bring that to them. And reap the increased enrollments as Herzing College is.

Herzing College, a college system with 12 campuses in the US and Canada that focus on career education created a new admission’s structure that is a variant on the Starbucks approach and has increased enrollments significantly.
The College has moved out of the cubicle/individual office approach to admissions. That’s where an admissions person sits in a cubicle or office behind his or her desk. In the cubicle mode, the potential student generally sits to the right or left side in a typically non-descript office chair. Both have to strain a bit to look at one another and make good eye contact. This traditional set-up almost always reminds students of Dilbert or a movie favorite of theirs, Office Spaces. A space that is connotative of a dull, business-like, corporate, uncaring, undesirable work situation.

Potential students report during campus service audits that they also relate the cubicle to negative k-12 experiences like a high school student would do when called down to the vice-principal’s office (i.e. in trouble) or when a teacher is tutoring or explaining something. They are recalled as superior/inferior situations. And the student is the inferior. Not a good memory to evoke. Neither is felt as a positive experience yet college admission’s offices do all they can to recreate it.

Herzing has done away with the individual offices for admissions advisors. At Herzing, all the admission advisors share a “bullpen space” rather than have private offices. The private territories were replaced with nicely appointed interview rooms that are used by all the admission reps on an as-needed basis. The interview rooms are more relaxed, intimate and less corporate in their furnishings (round table, floor lamp, plants, etc.) and design. Much in the way that some companies like Steelcase, and many of their clients, have done away with cubicles and replaced them with common workspaces and shared meeting rooms to create a greater sense of community and cooperation.

The result has been that Herzing admission advisors have enjoyed an increase in applications and enrollments; greater cooperation and increased success, personally and by teams.

If this article makes sense to you
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: More Customer Service for Higher Education
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