A well-presented man knocked on my front door, and introduced himself by handing me his business card. He was from a concrete resurfacing company and he wanted to improve my driveway. I invited him inside and noted his well-honed marketing skills.  While he was trying to sell me a driveway, I was following his marketing methodology. He was playing all the right psychological notes and his sales pitch was professional and convincing. Here’s how it went:

The salesman at my door started the conversation by commenting on my nice house and attractive garden – a compliment.

He offered to enhance the look of my house with his product – aroused pride. He pointed out the other houses in my suburb that had resurfaced their driveways – identification.
With a couple of simple questions he gauged my interest in his product with non-intrusive enquiries such as, ‘had I given any thought to having this treatment for my home?’ – tapped a latent desire. He took out a brochure to show me various styles of surfacing and how they looked on other houses – visual referencing.

When he detected that I might be interested in his product, he asked if a resurfacing expert could call another day, measure my driveway and discuss costs with me. I agreed to his proposal, and at this point the salesman said goodbye – indication from me to buy.

Two days later a representative rang to make an appointment. I had given thought to the salesman’s conversation and I was expecting this call – anticipation of purchase. The resurfacing expert came to my home with his samples and calculator and measured up. He told me this company was the oldest in the business and showed me pictures of houses they had transformed – reassurance.

He offered a special discount price if I signed up soon. He asked when he could call me back to get a decision – closure.

In the space of one week this marketing approach has moved my decision making from a low-priority, back-of-mind to a high-cost purchase commitment: I was ready to sign up – commitment.

This simple marketing strategy worked on me for three main reasons. It aroused a dormant desire to do something about my driveway; it tapped my sense of home-pride; and it achieved commitment in small steps.

As a marketer myself, I knew perfectly well the psychology of marketing at play and I was happy to go along for the ride. Here was a company that understood human nature and was using it to influence my decision-making.

Implications for schools

In education, when you are selling our school to prospective families, we can apply the same effective marketing strategies. Let’s see how they can work with a family who visits your school or your booth at an expo. The best way to get any relationship off to a good start is with a conversation that opens with a compliment.

A few simple questions will allow you to gauge the family’s level of interest in your school. Without too much pressure you can outline your school’s finest qualities and suggest how they can enrich the life of their child and tap the family’s sense of pride in their child.

A show of the successes of past and present students serves to reassure prospective families about the quality of the service you offer.

A selection of non-intrusive questions will help you determine where the family is in the decision-making process and how quickly or slowly you need to proceed to gain commitment. You may have a few months to build anticipation, or a few years, if the family has just started to shop for a school.

A tour of the school will supply a visual reference, and a discussion about any anxieties or special needs will assist you measure up the family and personalise your product to suit specific requirements.

How to lose a sale

Now, to one of the most important parts of the sales process – the follow-up. Many a smooth sales rep has taken a customer to the brink of commitment but neglected to close the deal. The rep invests the company’s time and resources to build a sense of excitement, but then lets the lead go cold.

I’m afraid that’s what happened with my concrete resurfacing salesman. I was ready to buy a new driveway. I had done my research by looking at other resurfacing jobs by the company and I had my husband’s agreement to spend the money. I was waiting for the follow-up visit to sign up, but the vital call never came. I never heard from the company again!

The weeks slipped by and as I sit here writing this story, looking out my window, my driveway still needs resurfacing. Be careful not to fall into this common trap and fail to follow-up. Keep a database of your contacts and make sure you finalise the sales process with a letter to reassure the prospective family that you really value their business.

Never assume that because you don’t hear from a prospective family, they are not interested in you. Follow up with a phone call. They may have lost your number, forgotten your name or been too busy to fill in the forms. Only when the enrolment form has been signed can you claim a concrete sale and justify your investment of time and effort.

Dr Linda Vining is the Director of the Centre for Marketing Schools. This is an extract from her new book PURPLE POWER for memorable school marketing, available by emailing office@marketingschools.net