Sales in Higher Education? Yes!
Home 9 Message from the Mentor 9 Sales in Higher Education? Yes!

My first introduction to sales was in the higher education industry. As an Admissions Advisor, I was held to conversions and enrollment goals. I found a passion for helping people, and 14 years later, I had moved up from an Advisor with individual goals to a Regional Director of Enrollment Management overseeing numerous campuses and Advisors, enrollment goals, retention goals, and overall P&L. But, when I first took the job, I remember hearing the word “sales” and quite honestly, having a negative reaction to it. “No, I like helping people. Not selling them something.” I now know it’s truly one and the same.

Why did I and many others have that negative reaction to sales, especially in higher education? If a college doesn’t enroll students, how can it financially thrive and pay its staff and faculty? It can’t. Schools must operate like a business, whether for-profit, private, or public. And students, like traditional customers, deserve to have an enjoyable experience as they decide which school is best for them. And how do they make that decision of what’s best for them? Through their interactions with an Admissions Advisor, first and foremost.

I spent nearly 15 years working for an organization that treated every student like a VIP customer. Just because we had goals to hit didn’t mean we didn’t put our students first. In fact, it was the opposite. Every student and student interaction counted. So instead of winging it, we put every Admissions Advisor and then Academic Advisor through Carew’s Dimensions of Professional Admissions™ (DPA) program. We armed them with tools to understand the student’s perspective and remove the filters that sometimes hinder effective conversations. And guess what happened…better conversations were being had, and conversions and enrollments skyrocketed.

When I first told my Academic Advisors that they would be going through the DPA training, their reaction was, “But we’re not Admissions…we’re not selling them anything.” So, I asked the team what process they used when a student that enrolled wanted to drop, and I heard a variety of answers, all essentially saying, “We explain why they shouldn’t.” However, with retention rates only in the 70-80% range, it clearly wasn’t working. The team agreed to give the training a real shot, and within hours, they were engaged; light bulb moments were going off left and right, JUST like when Admissions went through it. And guess what happened…better conversations were being had, and retention rates increased dramatically.

John Drea, an institutional assistant professor of marketing at Illinois State University, recently wrote an article in Harvard Business Publishing: Four Ideas for Every Institution to Consider. Drea states, “The higher education marketplace of 2030 will be significantly different from what it is today, so continuing to pursue your current markets by tinkering with existing strategies may not be enough.”

When institutions confront financial challenges, a natural but unfortunate reaction is to cut costs, avoid risks, and hope admissions has a good year. This puts a lot of pressure on Admissions Leaders, Advisors, and those alike. Carew’s Dimensions of Professional Admissions™ training program empowers admissions professionals with the confidence and competence needed to recruit more students, enhance overall effectiveness across all touchpoints, and optimize the student experience from recruitment to enrollee.

Drea states that there is a need to create an environment of innovation and a willingness to try new solutions that make sense for your students and your institution. It’s time to let go of the negative connotation around sales in higher education. Why shouldn’t you treat your students like customers? Provide your staff with the tools they need to give your students a world-class customer experience. It’s a win for your students, team, and organization.

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