Graduate Management News

Don’t Shrink From Being a Salesperson

Dennis Nations opened a session for admissions professionals titled, “To Sell or Not to Sell—Is That the Question?” with a definitive answer: “I’m Dennis Nations, and I’m a salesman.”

But Nations, director of admissions at Babson College’s F.W. Olin Graduate School of Business, quickly acknowledged, “It took me 12 years to be comfortable with that word.”
The terms “salesman” and “saleswoman” carry a stigma for many admissions professionals, but when it comes down to it, what recruiters really do is sell – consultative selling, said Nations and Jennifer Kaplan, head of diversity campus recruiting for Credit Suisse. They led a session that framed recruiting as selling at GMAC’s Annual Industry Conference.

“What is true sales? It’s an art form backed by a lot of homework,” said Kaplan, who worked in college admissions for 12 years before becoming a corporate recruiter. We have been salespeople since we were kids, trying to convince our parents, she added.

Kaplan emphasized that you are your school, and the impression you leave will be the impression people have of your school. You can never guarantee anything─especially admission─but you must also never turn off a candidate.

“One negative interaction goes back to (the student’s) campus,” she warned. “The world is small.”

As a recruiter, you have to know your program, but rather than concentrating on the virtues of your program, you should focus on your customers and your customers’ needs, Kaplan said. The first step in selling is asking questions and listening carefully to the answers so you can figure out what personality type you’re dealing with and how to best answer any prospect’s fundamental question: “What’s in it for me?”

Nations led an exercise on selling by personality type, asking small groups to name program features and list different ways to turn them into benefits by different personality type:

  • Driver/assertive personalities want accomplishment and want to know what your program can do for them. You can provide options, probabilities, and challenges.
  • Amiable personalities want acceptance and want to know why your program is best for them, in a non-threatening, friendly way. You can address values and provide assurances, opinions rather than options.
  • Expressive personalities want applause and want to know who has been part of your program. You can offer testimonials and incentives.
  • Analytical personalities want accuracy and want to know how your program can help them. You can provide hard evidence in a logical manner.

If prospects ask you about negatives about your school, don’t run and hide from it─that’s what gives selling the reputation of used car sales, Nations advised. You should acknowledge a negative, while also thinking of how it can be turned into a positive. “Not everything is rosy all the time, and the best salesmen admit that,” he said. “It adds to your credibility and trust.”

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