by Jeremy Tiers, Director of Admissions Services
My Monday morning started off with a visit to the dentist. Fun times, right? After 30 minutes of scraping, polishing, and flossing, I was able to exit the building with no cavities. Thank goodness. Back again in six months.
Getting today’s typical teenager to talk in something other than one-word sentences has been described as “like pulling teeth.” Throw a cell phone into that equation, and things can go from difficult to down right exasperating.
In the world of college admissions where your livelihood is impacted greatly by the decisions of 17 and 18 year olds, having the right communication strategies is crucial. If your prospects aren’t talking and engaging with you consistently and you haven’t been able to find that “sweet spot” to connecting with them, things need to change and fast. Even if your application numbers are up, you cannot expect to increase enrollment without consistent, back-and-forth conversations with prospects (and parents).
The first step is understanding that a large majority of your recruits don’t want to start the conversation. This is a key piece of data that Tudor Collegiate Strategies has uncovered from the focus group research we do as a part of our on-campus workshops. Some recruits are shy. Others are down right afraid. The bottom line is most of today’s teenagers don’t know what they’re supposed to ask you or how they’re supposed to ask it. Without your help, they may never take the lead and talk to you about your institution.
Here are a handful of strategies you can use to better connect with your prospects both now and in the coming weeks:
Make sure your phone skills are up to par. If you’re nervous or unprepared when you get on the phone, your prospects will sense it, and it will make cultivating your recruiting relationship harder. One solution is to write out talking points ahead of time (like we do for our clients). Try and align those talking points with the subject matter in your recent emails and letters. Also, remember that your prospects are looking for someone who possesses confidence. The reason they need confidence from you is quite simple. When you begin developing your recruiting relationship, your confidence may be the thing that helps separate you from the competition, or it may be the only thing that keeps you in the conversation.
Supply information in small doses. We all know that a teenager’s attention span tends to be short, so keep it simple. Don’t overload your prospect with multiple topics or questions at once. Regular dialogue about specific aspects of your school’s “story” is much more valuable.
Offer value in the conversation. Your prospects, no matter their age, have no interest in being on the receiving end of an aggressive sales pitch during every conversation no matter how great or prestigious your school is. In fact, it’s a major reason why counselors struggle to get prospects to answer that second, third or fourth phone call. We hear stories all the time from prospects who tell us they won’t answer the phone even if they know it’s a college representative calling because the previous talk was boring. You’ll eventually provide more value when you position yourself as a resource instead of a salesperson.
Figure out their passions. Studies show that young people are learning new ways of thinking and relating. An outcome of this developmental process is that they are very focused on themselves. What I find works best is when you can connect with their passion. If you can start a conversation with a topic that is of special interest to your prospect, you can then easily introduce other topics that you want or need to discuss.
Ask open-ended questions. Stay away from questions that can be answered with “yes” or “no.” When you ask open-ended questions, you allow your recruit to provide you with insights that will aid you in their recruitment.
Get their opinion about specific issues. In a recruiting situation, if you ask them, “So, what did you think of our campus when you visited?” you’re going to get an indecisive answer. For most kids of this generation, that’s too big of a question and one that they may not have had time to form an opinion about. On the other hand, if you ask them, “So, when you were inside the dorm room, did it seem like a place where you could enjoy living?” That’s a much better question because it gives your prospect a chance to zero in on a specific opinion, plus it allows them to visualize. Smaller, more specific questions tend to get the best and most detailed responses.
Bring pop culture into play. Teenagers love to talk about the latest movie release, video game, music album or celebrity scandal. When in doubt, begin the conversation with a statement or question about something from the current pop culture landscape. You don’t need to offer an opinion or even appreciate whomever or whatever it is you are discussing. Your recruit will gladly do that for you.
When it’s over, don’t linger. Another big complaint that our research with your prospects has revealed centers around recruiting calls that drag on. There’s a recruiting call rule we tell our clients to follow. Click here for those specifics. Regardless of how much useful information you feel you still have to provide, when a call drags on you will lose your prospect’s interest and may even damage future interactions.
Follow up quickly. How often after a phone call with a prospective student or a visit by that student to your campus do you send out an email or a hand written note? This generation wants to know that you’re interested in hearing from them. The best way to do that is to immediately reach out, tell them you enjoyed your recent conversation, and ask him or her if they have any follow-up questions and understand the next steps. When you do this, you open the door for more communication.
Be yourself and not who you think they want you to be. Despite evidence to the contrary, there remains a myth that says adults need to be cool in order to connect with teenagers. The reality is they want you to be genuine. If you try too hard to get them to like you, don’t be surprised if you achieve the exact opposite. Focus on being yourself and letting them see the real you when you’re recruiting them. I’ll even go so far as to tell you that it’s okay from time to time to poke fun at yourself.
Often times I find that admissions counselors make communicating with their prospects far more complicated than it needs to be.
Keep these simple strategies handy, and use them consistently. They work and will let you enjoy more productive conversations with prospective students no matter what stage they’re at in the recruitment process.
Want more in-depth training and lessons on how to develop a creative and effective recruiting communications plan? All you have to do is email me directly at firstname.lastname@example.org