What Colleges Tours Can Teach Us About Sales

By Lindsay Tanne

So much of the dialogue surrounding college admissions today is about applicants "selling themselves." As the co-founder of an educational consulting company, I certainly recognize the need for students to cultivate their brand. Yet while the student's personal pitch is paramount, colleges themselves can often provide an inadvertent lesson in branding and marketing as well.

As they gear up to apply, many students will tour colleges to learn about their options. What they may not realize, however, is that even before they enroll, their business education is already underway. In fact, this process is one of the first lessons many students will get in marketing and sales:

Educate, Don't Sell

The more selective the college, the less likely admissions officers are to "sell" in the traditional sense. For example, some of the most competitive schools don't track attendance (or note "prospects") at their tours; the college assumes a certain level of interest among all visitors. While some students might find this off-putting, it's also alluring in terms of maintaining prestige. Instead of selling themselves, the presenters offer advice about the application process. Students walk away feeling informed rather than desired, which is perhaps the strongest motivator of all. In education - and in any service business - the most compelling sale doesn't make the customer feel "chased," but rather educates and empowers. Just ask the Ivy League.

Deliver the Unexpected

I can't tell you how many students return home from a college visit not gushing over the curriculum or the research opportunities, but instead the cookies in the admissions office, or the way the lawn was set up for a special event. While it's easy to write off these details as being insignificant, the reality is that people remember the unexpected (for better or worse!). Moreover, thoughtful touches often represent the kind of place the school is - signaling that it's warm, community-oriented, and focused on the individual experience. In business too, the small details can make a big difference. For example, a handwritten note when a new customer signs on, or a personalized thank-you to a frequent referrer can meaningfully impact the perception of your company.

Foster a Personal Connection

Often, college tours will gather students from across the country and around the world, opening them up to creative opportunities for dialogue and exchange. I consistently hear from my students that the best tour guides encourage participation and make the experience interactive, learning about the students' interests and tailoring the visit accordingly. Outside of the college context, the more interactive and personalized a sales experience can be, the better. The best way to start a meeting with a prospective client is by asking questions. This not only allows you to customize your pitch, but also to foster a genuine connection with the person across the table.

Higher education certainly has a lot to teach us, and sometimes not in the ways we'd expect. The real lesson, though? The opportunity for learning (in college and in life) is all around us. We just need to be willing to look beyond our textbooks.

Since 2007, as co-founder of LogicPrep, Lindsay Tanne has been helping students make academic decisions, tell their stories, and provide colleges with captivating answers to the question of "why choose me?" Lindsay and her team have helped hundreds of families in the U.S. and abroad successfully navigate the college application landscape.