Sell the differences, not the similarities

How is your school like the school down the street? Maybe the one down the street is a private one like you, maybe it’s a community college, maybe a traditional college. Whatever it is, you don’t want it to end up looking like you in the eyes of the client. In the same context, you don’t want to level the playing field too much in comparison with a community or traditional college either. You’re not like them, and that’s good!

Admissions people need to learn how to sell the differences in schools, why you aren’t “like” someone else. People like differences, particularly where money may be concerned. If you are like the community college down the street, well, OK, but they are a lot less expensive to get the same thing. So, have your admissions people make a list of why you are different than your competitors. What do you have at your school that differentiates you from the rest of the “noise” in the marketplace? Financial aid, individual attention, career services, smaller classes, etc., probably won’t cut it. Everyone will claim to have that, too. Accreditation, caring faculty – Nah.

In 33 years of on-the-job research, here is what I think needs to be different – the admissions people talking to prospects. They are, without a doubt in my mind, the most important part of the Do-They-Attend-Or-Not scenario. And the reps need to be “differently-different” than the guy down the street, or the community college (not much of a stretch there).

Now, different could be in the eye of the beholder, so let me narrow it down a bit. The reps have to exude both confidence and finesse. They have to listen more than they talk. They have to know their programs backward and forward, without the use of flip charts or PowerPoints. They have to engage in eyeball-to-eyeball conversation with support material to do exactly that – support! They have to have great eye contact, have an office setup that doesn’t look like home, have pictures of students doing what they train for. They have to be able to lead a GREAT TOUR, and know how to stop and introduce their prospective students to the people that will help the students succeed after they start school. They don’t need to be good closers, but great openers. They have to smile a lot and actually enjoy helping the person sitting across from them. They have to see the potential in everyone and help the people sitting across from them make a decision today, right now, about changing their lives tomorrow. And if you get people like this for reps, pay them well, because they will earn every cent of what you give them.

They have to like to compete against themselves and against each other. They believe that playing fair is, well, fair. And they need to be able to adjust quickly if something needs to be adjusted. Attitude is everything in admissions.

See, once you have this person on the payroll you will see what I see – the differences.

They are out there, but probably working someplace else and generally don’t ever look at the classified newspaper for a job. They have their next job in a clear line of sight if need be. So referrals and personal observation is the best way to find them. One of my best admissions representatives was the one I met when I was buying a new suit at Macy’s in Southern California, and the next best one was the tour guide we had at Universal Studios. They were both looking for more, and we provided a way for them to grow.

When selling differences we never talk in terms of other schools being either good or bad. Different schools tend to cater to different types of people and learning abilities. Your college tends to be focused on people who want to ________________________________________. And at your school you have found that the graduates tell you that the best part of going to your school was_______________________________________.

Test it out and ask the admissions people, “What’s different about us?” See if what they know is (1) right, (2) enough.

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