by Jeremy Tiers, Director of Admissions Services
It’s still happening a lot, and that’s not a good thing.
During each on-campus workshop that I’ve led over the past year, I’ve taken a straw poll with many of the admissions counselors. The question I ask is, “What’s the most frustrating part of your job?” The winning vote getter and to be honest it’s usually by a landslide is (drum roll please)…making recruiting calls.
There are two statements that counselors make frequently:
- “Only one or two out of every ten students answers the phone”
- “I feel like I’m always doing most of the talking”
Let me start by addressing the first one. It’s a classic mistake that many of those counselors, and their counterparts at other institutions, have made a hundred times before: They jump right to the phone call as their first point of contact with a new prospect. Ask yourself this question – What do you do when your phone rings and you don’t recognize the number? You let it go to voicemail. It shouldn’t come as a shock then when a majority of your prospects do the exact same thing.
Why is that?
Our research, which is feedback from your prospects, says the Natural Communication Flow for your recruits should begin with mail. A letter is easy to take in, and there’s not a lot of risk for the student. It’s a safe interaction. If they don’t like what they read, there’s no pressure to respond. Skipping right to a phone call on the other hand often leads to a very uncomfortable situation. The teenager gives one-word answers, and at the end of the call you know little if anything more than when you started.
So, what should you do as you prepare to contact a prospective student, especially if its the first time you’re talking to them? Here are a few vital tips I want you to keep in mind:
- Have a purpose. There are two things our research has uncovered when it comes to how prospects decide which schools they’ll listen to at the beginning. First is the importance of being very clear on what the recruit needs to do next. Second is to clearly communicate whether or not your school has a serious interest in them. When you call a prospect, have a clear purpose that guides your conversation with him or her. Calling them without a plan just because they’re on your call sheet is setting yourself up to fail.
- Communicate that purpose. Tell them the reason for your call, and make sure it’s centered around them. If you’re doing more than 20% of the talking with your prospect on the phone, you’re talking too much. The most effective phone calls are ones where the recruit feels comfortable to ask questions, and more questions, and even more questions.
- The first 10 seconds of your call should be incredible. How do you do that? By scripting an amazing opening as to why you’re calling them, and what’s in it for them. In the same way that we recommend your letters and emails be original and have a strong opening sentence, the same holds true for your phone call. Actually, it’s even more important because unlike letters, phone calls don’t have the visual component to help make an impact and keep your recruit’s attention. Are your first 10 seconds incredible? Are they engaging? Do they create curiosity and excitement? Most importantly, do they stand out from the other calls they will be getting from counselors? If the answer to any of those is no, it’s time to re-work the opening of your prospect call.
- Don’t be a salesman. When you first contact a prospect, don’t assume they’re going to automatically be interested in your school and what it can offer them. Students tell us time and time again that they want the focus to be on them. The last thing they want is a sales pitch from you.
- Share a laugh, gain an advantage. Study after study tells sociologists that we love to laugh and are looking for a “connection” with the people we meet. Your prospects are no different. If you can create a little lightheartedness in the phone call and share a laugh with your prospect, that will go a long way towards deepening your relationship and making them feel like they know you and like you.
- Always set up the next conversation. This tip is so important I just had to include it even though it’s got nothing to do with starting a successful recruiting call. You MUST end the phone call with a clear idea – both in your mind and in the mind of your prospect – of what comes next. When will the next call take place? What needs to happen between then and now? What is their “to do” list? For the same reason you don’t want to start the call weakly, you don’t want to end the call weakly.
The phone remains one of the main recruiting tools that every admissions counselor uses. It’s also becoming one of the most challenging communication methods because of some of the unique, ever-changing traits of today’s teenager.
Want to be even more prepared when it comes to making recruiting phone calls? Each month we give our clients specific talking points that build on the recruiting messages their prospects are currently receiving. Email me for more details!