Marketing myths: Enrolments and marketing are the same thing

In a free-association test, most people — including most school Heads — will equate the word ‘marketing’ with selling: pushing the goods.

In this popular view, marketing means taking your school and pushing it onto prospective parents. Nothing could be further from the truth. Not only is this an out-of-date view of marketing, but it also confuses the sales and marketing functions. Modern marketing is the generous act of helping someone solve their problem using channels that speak to many people at once. Sales — yes, your enrolments team are salespeople — perform the generous act of helping someone solve their problem one family at a time. Of course, in schools, both enrolments and marketing teams also perform many other duties that keep your school operating effectively.

In the years BG (Before Google), a school enrolment professional had the information and therefore the power in a relationship. When prospective parents wanted information about the school’s fit for their child, they had to go through the enrolment professional. If they wanted to talk to the school Head, they had to go through the enrolment professional. The enrolment professional — your salesperson — was involved at the very beginning of the relationship and they had most of the leverage.

In the AG (After Google) years, your enrolment professional no longer controls the relationship. There is an overwhelming amount of information available online: not all of it created by you. Now, prospective parents can check out your school themselves, they can find you on LinkedIn or Twitter and read your blogs. Prospective parents will actively go around enrolment professionals until the last moment and then enter the conversation with a lot of information. Now it’s the prospective parents who have the leverage.

In the traditional model, marketing owned the message of your school, while enrolments owned the relationships. While this distinction might have served your school in terms of roles and responsibilities, it rarely led to the type of collaborative approach demanded by today’s prospective parents.

Getting marketing and enrolments (sales) on the same page has always been a significant challenge for schools. In the integrated school advancement model, there can be little distinction between who owns the message and who owns the relationship. Marketing must improve its relationship building; enrolment must get better at message building and delivery. Communication is where the two meet.

Personal selling, the generous act of helping someone solve their problem, is just one form of communication, as is advertising or public relations. So, it is right to say that personal selling is a subgroup of marketing, but this does not mean that those involved in the sales activities (enrolments) do not require a unique set of skills and competencies to be successful. It is a recognition that personal selling is just one way of communicating with prospects and customers.

Selling some products or services can be achieved without personal selling — think of a can of Pepsi or a Netflix subscription. However, buying into your school is a complex, multi-layered, emotional decision that carries high risk if parents make a mistake, and a high price compared to the free alternative down the road. You employ salespeople because individual interaction is required to secure enrolments. Winning enrolments is the sole focus of your school’s sales efforts. Although, in the end, the effectiveness of marketing must also be judged on enrolments, communication is only one of the disciplines put to work by marketing which has a much wider scope of activities.

So, sales (enrolments) and marketing are different disciplines that share the same goal. But in a digital world, lines between the two have become increasingly blurred. Ultimately this requires closer alignment between enrolment and marketing teams, forming an integrated school advancement team.

Brad Entwistle is the Founding Partner of imageseven. Since 1990, he has led his team on a mission to amplify the impact of schools by working directly with school Heads, tailoring solutions to maximise their communication and marketing effectiveness.

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