College’s have sent out their RFPs (applications) and through combinations of personal visits and written responses, my son and millions of other kids are competing to “make the sale” – a seat in the entering class of 2008.
The colleges have a sales job, too. They want the kids they admit (“buy”, and I use that term somewhat loosely) to accept their invitations rather than divert their attention to other colleges who admit them. With kids applying to seven to ten colleges each, college admissions officers are acutely conscious of their “yield,” the percentage of students admitted who decide to enroll. This is one of the primary measurements of admissions office performance.
Jonathan Reider, then a Stanford University Senior Associate Director of admissions quoted in Stanford Today Online, said, “My feeling is that, although kids choose schools for all kinds of reasons, usually some kind of personal connection has been established that helps them make their decisions…. Yield is a year-round activity.” Colleges use combinations of regional meetings, high school visits, on-campus visits, telephone calls, alumni interviews, letters, and emails to establish personal connections and maintain visibility and mind-share.
And so it is for us as sellers. Although buyers choose sellers for all kinds of reasons, usually some kind of personal connection has been established that helps them make their decisions. While making those connections is part of the sales “art,” there are systematic elements that any sales person can use to establish personal connections, maintain visibility, and increase yields, just as college admissions teams do:
- Define clear lists of target prospects and customers. One of the toughest steps – the limits established by lists focus our energies.
- Define objectives for each of the companies we’re pursuing. For example, this could look like a 3 x 3 matrix. Down the left side, the row headings are priority levels or intensity of pursuit – high, medium, and low. Across the top, the column headings are our objectives – for example, gain visibility/enter, retain, and expand.
- Develop and implement systematic “touch marketing” disciplines.
- Plan touch strategies for companies in each cell of the matrix. This might range from two times a year for prospects in the low priority “gain entry” cell of the matrix to twelve times a year for high priority “expand” customers.
- Create interesting attraction messages or information to share at each of those touches. The content of these will vary depending on our objectives and where, in the matrix, our prospect names appear.
- Establish personal connections. Some number of the planned touches should be “informal;” rub shoulders with them at conferences, community events, or trade shows, or find reasons to share information or discuss mutual interests other than sales opportunities.
- Execute the plan. This is the “year-round” part.
The trick in this approach is to keep it going… and going….and going…. even though we have other responsibilities and priorities to manage. Whether we use systems index cards in recipe boxes or elaborate contact management software, the trick is to keep it going.