October: Your School Needs an Automated Follow-Up Process

Even though this is 2016, there are still a number of faith-based and private schools which still have AN open house, a Web PAGE on their affiliated church’s Web site, and a folder with a ton of information on paper which they send to parents of prospective students.  Why?  That’s the way it was done 20 years ago.

Here’s some news…the world is different today than it was in 1996.

1994 was my first full year of selling cars for a now non-existent company called Saturn. Back then, in the car business, there was no such thing as “follow-up.”  The usual way that everyone did business was to ask customers for referrals, but when someone walked into a showroom, the horror stories abounded – from keys to trade-ins that were tossed on the roof of the building, to one of the most famous lines in the car business – “What’s it going to take for you to drive this car home today?”

Saturn was different. There was no dealing, there was no haggling, and the customer was treated with respect. That’s why my wife and I purchased one in 1992. It was a refreshing way to do business. It was different. To use the language that I use on SchoolAdvancement.com, it was “remarkable.”

But eventually, as the “early adopters” became customers, the sales process also required follow-up.  Consumers were comparing the vehicle to other small cars because other product lines began to take notice.  It was a disruptor in the market, and other nameplates were adjusting to it.  That means our processes also had to adjust.  Customers no longer purchased a vehicle on the basis of the way they were treated.  They were comparing, and the process now required follow-up. Our top sales person at the time impressed us all one day when he walked in to our morning meeting with this new innovation called a “laptop” computer. It too was remarkable, with its flip-up screen and compact keyboard, it was an amazing thing. He was going to put all his customers in a file, and get rid of his binders full of customer records.

Since I couldn’t afford one of those newfangled contraptions (hovering around the $3,000 price point), I set about developing an index card system for following-up with my customers.  The front of the card contained information about the customer, their visit and spaces for 5 “after visit” contacts and appropriately spaced dates, which were determined based on the date of their visit – so I could send them a little more information or call them to let them know about a special event we were having at the facility, or something they might not have thought of that pertained to their potential car, such as lower insurance rates, lower maintenance costs, or the 30-day moneyback guarantee. There were so many differences about the vehicle and the way we did business that it was easy to talk about them. After they purchased a vehicle, the back of the card tracked their 3-day follow-up call, their first oil service reminder, their first tire rotation remind, and then a call every year to remind them about their state inspection. I even created a quarterly newsletter – February to emphasize how our customers loved their cars, May because Spring was the time that many people purchased vehicles, August because the new model year started, and November to say “‘Thanks’ for being my customer.” All this was done on paper, with printing and postage, since the Internet hadn’t come into vogue yet.

To my surprise, our General Manager asked if he could see one of my cards, and I gave it to him. A Saturn corporate value, besides Respect for the Customer, was Continuous Improvement, and that extended to us sales consultants. We went to a training every year, and the following year, the topic was “Follow Up – the Saturn Way.” I was surprised to find that my card system was replicated for every Saturn sales consultant across the country!

So what does all this have to do with enrollment at your school? Enrollment is sales. You need to follow-up with families that express and interest in your school, but have not enrolled at the time of their tour.  Today, the tools are there – on the Internet! You need several open house events and times for personal tours since parents expect personalized treatment. You need an interactive, responsive and engaging Web site to capture the attention of parents of prospective students since the Web site is the new face of your school. And you need to ditch the huge packet of information you send out and put it all on your Web site. Of course, you still communicate with families, giving them a little bit of information every two weeks until they tell you to stop or until they apply for admission to your school. Today, with tools like Outstand (at www.outstand.com, an affordable tool, with all features starting at $20 per month), it’s not going to cost a lot of money – but you must have someone to coordinate the system and create compelling content about your school.

But “Sales?” Yes.  Enrollment is a sales process.  If you haven’t noticed by now, if you’re like most schools, parents aren’t flocking to your school anymore.  You need to find ways to generate enrollment for your school.  Its continued existence depends on it.

There are programs today that “automate” processes to make it even easier. In my work with FACTS, I encourage schools to automate the tuition capture process so they can focus on chasing new students rather than chasing delinquent tuition. It makes sense to a lot of people, but they seem to be either afraid of change, or, possibly, afraid of success. They like doing things the way they’ve always done it – even if that leads to self-destruction. And I hope you don’t want to see your school implode if you keep hearing phrases like, “But that’s the way we’ve always done it.”

If you want to see it grow, then follow-up with families that have toured your school. Send them something or call them every other week with NEW information about your school. If you have prepared documentation, you can create a “drip” campaign that sends something to your families automatically via email so that you can call them with invitations to special events, breakfast, basketball games, or school plays, rather than just calling to see “if they made a decision yet.” If you’re looking for suggested material to send, visit http://schooladvancement.com/?page_id=503 for BASIQS – Bringing Additional Children Into Quality Schools.  The Enrollment Estimators will be updated by the end of the month so you can plan for your school’s enrollment for the 17-18 school year.  It’s free – there’s no reason not to try it…”unless you’re scared.”

Why scared?  Not because it’s October, but your school needs to be a great school before it is marketed as such – and that may take a lot of work.  If it does, that’s a difficult realization to make.  However, once you’ve done it, you can make a plan to move forward.  Marketing your great school, however, is a marketing issue, and great marketing WILL NOT lead to increased enrollment.  Great marketing will lead to more inquiries about your school, and getting those families into your school is where the marketing process stops and the enrollment/sales process begins.

BASIQS will give you some tools you’ll need to plan for your enrollment for next year NOW, and provide a suggested timeline and content for follow-up with your families. It’s a manual system in that it uses a binder and papers, which is a great start.  However, if your school has an admissions director (or you are the admissions director), and you’re looking for a tool to make your job easier, and have a budget to help you do so, check out SchoolAdmin at http://schooladmin.com.