College Costs and the Sales Process
There is a persistent rumor here at Chambers Manor that we have a senior in high school stalking the halls. Evidence comes from the clusters of giant shoes, the odor emanating from one of the bedrooms and a grocery bill rivaling that of a small city-state . . . and there’s the college visits that have crept back into my life.
This weekend the visits were to a couple of beautiful liberal arts colleges in the upper midwest with price tags of roughly $42,000 and $47,000 a year.
I fascinated by their process of value building. Some schools are clearly better at this than others. I won’t rank them here, but I will use this weekend’s examples to generalize about the process of building value in an intangible, like college education.
Let’s start with the direct mail offerings. If you’re looking for differentiation there mi amigo, you’ll be sorely disappointed. No matter, those multiple mailings are there to simply build up some name recognition. “Oh, I’ve heard of that” or “I didn’t even know that school existed” mark the poles of the responses around Chambers Manor. Then come the high school visits. Similar to a chamber of commerce trade show (a small chamber of commerce), the students are further exposed to the Name and maybe some context is placed. In our case it’s “You like track and field? We have a team! Take all these brochures and let’s keep in touch.”
Here’s where we start to see some separation taking place. The better recruiters (which seem to track with the overall tuition of the institution) will use these small pieces of information and do something with it. Again, using child #2 as an example, there is a note or call from the Track and Field coach and more literature exchanged. Prospect nurturing is in full gear here, but that just means that a personal note is sent along with an uptick in general name recognition postcard/general information literature.
This leads me to last weekend’s visits. The visits tend to be 4 hours long and include an overview from the member of the faculty/administration and then a full informational presentation given by the head of admissions. These are impressive presentations. The audience is made up of semi-interested adolescents and over-anxious parents. I have no idea what these presentations were like before a terabyte of information on each school was only a click away, but these efforts were a full court press to frame the context of every school’s information into a couple of key takeaways that both the child and parent could hold on to.
That’s what I wanted to cover today. I walked from Friday’s event thinking, “who pays full price here?” and had that confirmed on the Saturday tour when the head of admissions said, “I don’t know anyone who can simply write a check for $47,000.” That statement was accompanied by a slide that showed a graphic that had a bold “90% of students receive aid”. My immediate thought was “the major donors must not attend recruiting events” quickly followed by, “if no one pays it, why publish it?”
On the long drive back to Omaha, the effort to build value jumped into my mind. The state school is telling us that “90% of students pay full tuition”. The private school is telling us just the opposite. It’s a value play. If I can build enough value in my offering through list price ($47,000), almost guaranteed 4 year graduation, a strong possibility of employment in that 5th year (no tuition, plus income), and high touch personal service. . .then you may see the value of paying 1.5 to double what the standard state tuition is.
There’s no judgement here, just an effort to understand what mental gymnastics these fine institutions and well intentioned admissions folks are leading me through. It’s a fascinating process on a high ticket intangible. An exercise that emphasizes the sales adage “2 parts emotion, 1 part logic” in helping prospects make a decision.
At some point in the future I will walk you through the decision matrix that we’re helping our child use to navigate this process because it’s very similar to the decision boxes that my clients use when picking direction for new business development.