I still remember a conversation I had with a gentleman when I was about 23 years old. He was recruiting me to sell life insurance – New York Life I think. I listened. He wanted me! Nevertheless, I was scared by what I thought was a stigma of selling life insurance. Little did I know that everything I would do in my career shared many commonalities to that of a successful insurance salesman…cold calls, making appointments, managing a schedule, marketing, communication. Nevertheless, no regrets. I didn’t think I wanted to be in sales. How naive was I? We are all in sales one way or the other. We are either selling a product or selling ourselves.
Sales often gets a bad rap. Is it because people believe that someone in sales is trying to convince or trick you to buy something that you don’t need or want? We treat the word “sales” with kid gloves in higher education, particularly with faculty. I’ve been told, “Don’t use the word sales. It makes them (faculty) uncomfortable.” The words “recruitment” and “enrollment management” are so much better right? But, the truth is that those of us in higher education, particularly recruitment and enrollment management, are in sales. It’s what we do. We have something of value that people pay for. Often the more important question we ask is how much will people will pay for the value we provide. As a result, we must justify our value and rightfully so. Today, more than ever, students and parents are questioning the value of private college education. College administrators are spending much more time today on providing outcomes of a degree and establishing a value proposition. People must expect outcomes or value from what they buy. Regardless of your role; whether it’s admission counselor, faculty, coach, music director, aid officer, the job is to articulate the value of the product. We sell our college experience.
Response to recent blog comment connected to sales:
Following my last blog, I received a quick text from a friend…we’ll call him Jim. Jim tactfully accused me of taking advantage of the word “guarantee”, possibly overusing it. He felt the word guarantee was too strong. We have a 4-Year Graduation Guarantee at Doane College. He had remembered years ago when we worked together and I scoffed at the notion of any type of guarantee in higher education calling it a gimmick. I remember and he was right. At the time, I felt it was a gimmick. Anyone can offer a guarantee provided they are ready to back it up. In our line of work, it’s tough to offer satisfaction guaranteed or your money back. The outcome of an education isn’t always that tangible.
At Doane College, we’ve had our guarantee for many years. In fact, we were the first in the state to offer this. It’s a signed contract between the student and the college faculty and administration. The student does their part and the college does theirs, the result is graduation in four years. It’s not rocket science. In fact, it’s what students and parents expect. But, they also know it doesn’t happen as much as people would like.
Over time other institutions have implemented a similar guarantee. For example, Midland University did so just recently. So, to my point, anyone can do this. Or can they? You see, the value of our 4-year Graduation Guarantee isn’t in the signed contract between the student and the president. The value is in the ownership that our faculty have in the foundational reason for the guarantee. At Doane, the faculty feel like it is their duty to graduate our students in four years, if not sooner. This became obvious to me when I first got to campus and began to watch how our faculty interacted with students during advising. But, we don’t just stop there. We also have what we call our HELPS program which stands for Higher Education Life Planning Systems. This program supports our alumni whose chosen field just doesn’t seem to fit anymore. It provides two semesters of free tuition to graduates who have gone into the workplace and not been able to flourish. It brings them back to campus for coursework to prepare for better career opportunities. So, in a way, it is satisfaction guaranteed, or come back for free.
So yes, anyone can create a contract and implement a guarantee. But that doesn’t mean the culture is any different. The culture at Doane College has been around for many, many years and the 4-Year Guarantee is a component of our beliefs and our values. Similar, our HELPS program takes the guarantee to the next step. This is not a sales gimmick. This is not purely administrative. It’s a way of life on our campus and one that I believe cannot be easily copied.
QUESTION TO READERS: This is one man’s opinion on sales in higher education. I welcome thoughts from others. Tell me, do you believe admission counselors are (or should be) sales representatives or are they purely advisors/counselors to prospective students/parents?