You Schmooze, You Lose

This could be more of a Development article than a “Marketing Matter,” but since Marketing is the process that eventually leads to Development, it fits.

When I returned to development 14 years ago after being out of the field for about 13 years, I realized a couple of things: marketing and education are very similar, and sales and development are very similar. That relationship gave me a better understanding of why for-profit businesses have “Sales and Marketing” Directors, and non- and not-for profit businesses have “Marketing and Development” Directors. In business, “Sales” can be considered to be more important than “Marketing,” since marketing costs money, while sales generates money for the business. For us non-profit educators, “Marketing” knowledge is a priori to Development.

Think about it…if we know we’re in need of a product, especially in our day and age, we pretty much know where we can go and get it, and if we don’t, we can always search for it on the Web.  But if we simply ask people to donate to our school, no matter how wonderful we know it is, “No” is the most common response we receive.

Of course, the answer isn’t a hard “no;” it’s a euphemism, such as “I’m sorry, but not at this time,” “I really can’t afford anything right now,” or, “Perhaps in a couple of months.”  Think about the Phon-a-thon stage of an annual appeal. There was probably a direct mail piece generated, several reminder postcards, perhaps some supportive advertising, and then, and only then, a voice making the ask via telephone.  A direct appeal phone call from out of the blue with out any kind of preparation is akin to those telemarketers or robocalls that make your home phone ring when you’re sitting down to dinner because you’re probably at home at that time.

Business also lives by the adage that “a satisfied customer” is a business’ “best advertisement,” also reinforcing the mindset that sales can produce better marketing results.

So what does all this have to do with the term, “Schmoozing?” The word “schmooze” is one of a series of words which came into the English language from Yiddish. Merriam-Webster offers this definition:

To converse informally :  chat; also:  to chat in a friendly and persuasive manner especially so as to gain favor, business, or connections. (Source: https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/schmooze. Accessed 7.9.2017)

However, Dictionary.com has a more harsh definition:

To chat idly; gossip. (Source: http://www.dictionary.com/browse/schmooze. Accessed 7.9.2017)

While it’s great to have a chat with someone, and making connections is what Marketing and Development is all about, there’s a very negative connotation to the word.

Think about the last time you walked into a home improvement store, and a person came up to you and asked, “Can I help you?”  That’s about as casual as you can get, since “can” implies ability. The salesperson had better be able to help you.

If they came up to you in a home improvement store and said, “Hey, that’s a great looking tie,” and then you start a conversation about clothing, that’s very casual conversation, but it’s not purposeful.  If the conversation continued, you might start thinking, ‘What’s this person getting at?  I don’t want to talk about clothing.  I need to get a pair of work gloves and get back home.”

Not if someone walks up to and says, “You look like you’re looking for something.  May I help you find something you’re looking for?” and then happily escorts you to where those work gloves can be found, there’s the start of a relationship.  You might even ask for that person’s name, and make a comment about them on social media.

This is the tone of the dialog that must happen in your school to engage parents of prospective students.  If a parent of a prospective student comes to the school, and is met with a “Can I help you?” greeting, how different is that from every other school that they’re investigating?

© Michael V. Ziemski, SchoolAdvancement, 2007-2017 (Original Publication Date: 20070709)