Did he just use the “S” word?  First of all, which “S” word would that be?

Indeed, “sell” is not a verboten word in today’s lexicon when it comes to marketing our schools.  Actually, the more important words are “salivation,” “sizzle” and “steak,” and the difference among the three is congruent to the difference among a parent’s experience of a school, wanting to enroll their children in a school, and knowing a school exists.

A number of years ago, the sales paradigm changed from just selling the steak to selling the sizzle.  It was not enough to sell the features.  One had to sell the benefit of the features.  For instance, if I was trying to sell a car with anti-lock brakes, I could say “This car has anti-lock brakes.  They’re a safety feature.”  The customer now knows a feature of the car they’re looking at.  But if the customer is interested in how many airbags the car has, or if it has front wheel drive, or if it’s blue with gray leather interior, then the presence of anti-lock brakes is meaningless.

However, if I say, “You said safety is important to you since you have two small children.  This car has anti-lock brakes, which are a safety feature.  In regular braking systems, if you slam on the brake pedal, the wheels lock up and you cannot steer the car, which could make you lose control.  With anti-lock brakes, if you slam on the brakes, the on-board computer automatically pumps the brakes so that you can maintain steering control.  This way, you can steer around a car that has stopped suddenly in front of you.  Insurance companies realize that they help to avoid accidents, so you may be able to get a discount on your car insurance too.”

Two things are important to note.  First, I had to talk with the customer to know they have small children, and then remember that the customer does.  Second, I have to sell the benefit of the feature…especially if those benefits come with a premium price tag, and are not “standard.”  More about that in a minute.

Let’s relate that to schools.  Perhaps you bring parents into a newly remodeled classroom for kindergarten students, and tell the parents, “Thanks to the hard work of some of our parents, we have completed our remodeled Kindergarten classroom, complete with new lighting fixtures, carpeting, and window treatments to make for a more welcoming atmosphere.  Our classroom computer connects to the projector and smartboard, and has charging stations for students working on their personal devices.  Even though that’s great, it’s not enough, because that’s “the steak.”

But parents could be thinking – “So if I enroll my child here, I wonder what they’re going to expect me to do?” or “My child takes off his shoes at home because there’s carpeting on the floor.” or “Who will supervise my child using computers since they’re connected to the Internet?”

Here’s the sizzle – “Our newly remodeled Kindergarten classroom is designed to provide a comfortable learning atmosphere.  Your children might be used to sitting on the floor at home, so we’ve carpeted our room so that the transition to school will be a little easier for them.  The computer workstation is for the teacher’s use and is movable to be positioned in different areas of the room, depending on the groups children are working in.  The children will be able to receive computer instruction, especially in safety and keyboarding training on their personal devices, and they have access to several charging stations so they don’t run out of power in the middle of a lesson.”

While that describes the “sizzle,” today, that’s not enough either.  Just a few short years ago with the explosion of social media, benefit-selling took the next leap into contextual selling.  That involves the benefit of the benefit.  As for the “sizzle,” it’s just a sound.  Now think about what that sizzle (and the scent) cause you personally to do.  That’s right…salivate.

As for that Kindergarten classroom, here’s the benefit of the benefit: “When we read stories, the children can relax and sit on the floor.  Our all-day Kindergarten program realizes that children need a nap in the afternoon, so the carpeting is more comfortable for their after-lunch nap.  The lighting was chosen to be energy-efficient yet dimmable, and our window treatments can be adjusted to filter out glare from a very bright morning sun.  The charging stations allow them to keep their devices powered up so they don’t miss out on anything important, and are situated at various points in the room so students won’t have to crowd together in one place to charge up their equipment.”

How can you monitor this type of conversation?  Have someone audio record a tour given to a parent of a prospective student…then review it, and ask yourself, “If I was a parent, and I heard what I just heard, would it move me to enroll my children here?”  What’s even more enlightening is if you record yourself and then do a self-evaluation.

As for those “standard features,” many experts believe that we should market our schools on those things which parents say they choose our schools for:  excellent academics, a safe and caring environment, and a strong faith-based foundation with Gospel values.  Personally, I believe that’s why enrollment is still declining in many areas of the country, even though there have been innovative programs to help fund schools enacted within the past 20 years, and continue to be approved in the form of tax credits, scholarship programs, vouchers and personal contributions by those who support the ministry of faith-based schools.   Those qualities are expectations of a faith-based school today…and you can’t market expectations.  You need to market what’s remarkably different about your school.

If you’re ready to make the realization that “Enrollment is Sales,” contact me for a tool you may want to use to help keep in contact with your families of prospective students!  Drop an email to me by visiting this link and requesting information about “BASIQS” in the subject line.

© Michael V. Ziemski, SchoolAdvancement, 2006-2021 (Original Publication Date: 20061009)