Building the initial appeal of the school may be thought to be the easy part of the deal. On the one hand it is all about words and no action and on the other it does not put the school to the test immediately.
The moment the clients are at the doorstep of the school, we know two things: first that our marketing has worked and second that now is the moment to see if the school can pass the reality test.
A sales is after all a relationship
Mr Themis Sarantaenas, marketing consultant, made mention of A(ttention) I(nterest) D(esire) A(ction) as a guide to successful registrations in one of his recent articles in ELT News. Let us revise the steps.
Although it sounds absolutely reasonable that we need to give clients our full Attention, it might be easier said than done for reasons we all know.
Sometimes the problem is the multiple roles of the school owner or the lack of training on the part of the staff that doesn’t allow them to handle tasks such as this one.
There is nothing worse than a school which publicises its interest in the individual student but can clearly not devote fifteen minutes to that students’ family without interruptions.
Since the family are already at the school, we assume they are Interested in the school. The trick now is to maintain their interest and hopefully arouse it even more.
The way to do that is to be able to reiterate the story the school tells, its ethos, its aims and what makes it stand out from the others.
This can be done while walking the premises and showing parents how our teaching methodology is actualized, the way the classes are arranged etc.
Showing classrooms to parents is a great springboard to presenting the methodology of the school in a tangible way.
It is also the second reality test the school has to pass. Sometimes the photos taken are so much edited that they bear very little resemblance to what the client sees and this always creates disappointment.
Finally, schools should be living examples of the kind of teaching and learning that takes place there.
Therefore, instead of boasting freshly-painted but empty walls, classrooms should have some projects done the previous year as well as work posted by the teacher as a means of scaffolding learning.
A word of warning: if any projects are worth keeping they ought to be in pristine condition and also well arranged so that they create a pleasing whole.
By this time clients have several Desires, part of which, we hope, is to register their child in our school. The problem is that clients do not only want to be told.
They want to be heard as well. Sometimes asking potential clients to tell us their story is more important than presenting our school to them.
We ought to examine the learning history of the students, his/her concerns about his/ her progress and the reasons why s/he has decided to change school.
Much like with our classes, we should strive to develop rapport with our clients as this meeting will hopefully be only the first of many more to follow. So, if everything works as expected, it is time for Action.
Before we move on though there are two things I‘d like to mention. Firstly, that the information learnt through this first meeting is as valuable as gold and should therefore be properly filed and shared with the teacher/s.
Secondly, potential clients in our school tend to see and notice a number of things: our tone of voice, our attitude towards our colleagues, their attitude towards us and most importantly the students who might already be in the school and the language they use when addressing members of staff.
These things ought to be taken seriously into account since they are the ultimate reality test that can easily disprove any cleverly-crafted flyer.
The actual relationship
Sometimes schools seem to be interested in parents as long as they are not their clients yet. The moment they become clients they lose 50% of their appeal.
This is because some schools owners feel daunted by the ‘sea’ of clients which is out there and which needs conquering. Behind this notion there is an underlying feeling of (dare I say?) greed.
This is the same greed that has led Greek FLS to market prices and freebies more than values and principles.
The reason I relate these two cases with greed is because school owners are yet to define their market.
If, for example, a client comes to school and wants to know nothing other than the price and we represent or own a school that is interested in providing a well-rounded, personalised education, our aims in life clearly don’t meet. This is not our client.
A school as the one described above cannot form any relationship with a parent who looks at the bottom line, but does not examine the content.
To sum up, the sea of clients should not be our concern. What we should focus on is ways of maintaining the relationship built with our clients. In order to do that we have to make sure that the story our brand tells is properly translated into actions.
This means that all members of staff should be able to give the kind of learning experienced initially promised and abide by the methodological principles of the school faithfully and consistently.
In a country where a lot relies on chance, coincidences and happy accidents, clients who invest good money on their children’s education do not want to take any chances.
If the school actually manages to exceed client expectations by remaining passionate and interested in the client even after the sale, then this is going to be a long lasting relationship which is bound to generate others.
Maria Sachpazian BA education / RSA dip/tefl (hons) is the Academic and Managing Director of Input on Education a company which provides academic, business support and consultancy to Foreign Language Schools.She is also an educational management specialist who has worked as a teacher trainer and materials’ developer. Maria works as an EFL teacher at the Straight Up Markoyannopoulou schools