Always Be Selling

As a vendor selling into higher education, I’ve learned just how skeptical…no, scared…people are of the word “sales” in this industry.  Wait, am I even allowed to call it an ‘industry’? Anyway, like it or not, you’re always selling something.  However, this isn’t a post about the ongoing debate about whether or not students are “customers” and whether or not higher education should be sold as a product.   There have been many books and blog posts written on this topic over the years.  In fact, The New York Times covered both sides of this debate last year as part of their “Room for Debate” series.

While you may not view yourself as a sales person, you are in fact always selling.  I’m not talking about turning yourself into the guy in this picture necessarily, but he may have some tricks up his sleeve to help you sell your products.

The products you’re selling are your ideas.

In navigating the world of multi-departmental decision making and committees and top-down hierarchy that many higher education administrators deal with, there’s always an opportunity to sell your ideas. In fact, it’s because of this complex decision making structure that selling should be an integral part of your day-to-day job.

To paraphrase Ben Affleck from the movie Boiler Room, “A sale is made on every call you make.  Either you sell them [your idea] or they sell you on a reason [you] can’t.  Either way a sale is made.  The only question is, ‘Who’s going to close?'”

For more on the Affleck school of sales, visit this article (WARNING: includes some NSFW dialogue in the videos).

Here are my PG-rated thoughts on the matter.

You may have a great idea, but that won’t help you sell it.  The key to selling your idea is building a solid business case.

In the corporate world, many organization use “Solution Selling” methodology to help overcome common objections to ideas.  The key to building your business case is to focus less on the idea and more on the problems you’re looking to solve with that idea.

Rather than just promoting a specific product or tactic (eg. “We need to get on Facebook.”), focus on the organization’s pain(s) and addressing the issue with possible resolutions to those pains that include sound, strategic planning…not just products or tactics (eg. “We’re having difficulty retaining current students.  This has impacted our overall budget.  Other organizations have seen success in engaging students by integrating their communications efforts with social media.  What if we were to…)

It seems fairly obvious, but all too often we get hung up on the tools and not the problems that we’re looking to solve.  It’s another spin on the strategy vs. tactics conversation.  Additionally, we often get hung up on our individual pains.  “This would make MY life a lot easier.” But another key to selling your ideas is how they will impact both the organization as a whole and other individuals within your organization.

Solutions Selling Methodology helps you:

  • Diagnose your organization’s pain points
  • Identify key players affected by your institution’s pains
  • Create shared goals and objectives
  • Discover possible solutions to address your pains
  • Establish a value proposition for possible solutions
  • Creates a win-win resolution across every member of your organization

Now, let’s assume you’ve got a solid idea and and a general idea of its benefit to your organization.  It’s now time to organize those thoughts into a comprehensive business case that brings all of your key decision makers and influencers on board.  Here is where solution selling can help.  They offer a framework to help you organize your business case by helping you identify:

  • Key players in your organization
  • How each player’s pain is linked to the other’s
  • The causes and effects of living with that pain
  • The benefits of overcoming that pain
  • Examples of what others have done

It’s impossible to learn everything there is to learn about solutions selling in one blog post, but hopefully this gives you a preview.  For those interested in learning more, there are several books on the topic, but the New Solution Selling by Keith Eades is considered gospel by many sales professionals.  But we’ve always wondered what solutions selling would look like through the lens of those working in enrollment marketing and admissions at higher education institutions.

Inspired by solutions selling methodology, we’ve seen how many educational institutions have struggled to build consensus within their organizations to launch new technology initiatives.  As a result, this week we’re holding a Workshop at the UPCEA Marketing Seminar that’s intended to help institutions build their business case.  In this case, we’ll be looking at building a business case for CRM since that’s an area where we feel we know a thing or two, but we hope the lessons learned can be applied to building a business case for any broad initiative you may have on campus.

Below are some examples of the excercises we’ll be going through with attendees to help them identify the right solutions to addressing those pains.  Here are some examples of each “solutions selling” artifact followed by a “worksheet.”  For those of you that are unable to attend the session in person, use these worksheets to jot down your own thoughts about the pains YOUR ideas can help solve within your organization.

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