By Jim Pitman
Conducting an excellent introductory flight lesson is one of the best ways to help a prospective flight student make the decision to begin training.
In my experience working with numerous flight schools around the country, I’ve observed a variety of quality and effectiveness related to these intro flights. Joe Hoggan and his team at Bountiful Flight in Woods Cross, Utah, are doing it right. I recently had the opportunity to visit with Joe to learn some of the flight school’s keys to success. He broke it down into five areas:
1) Company culture
2) Welcoming environment
3) Focus on the prospective student
4) Personalized flight experience
5) Focus on the future
The culture at Bountiful Flight is professional, fun, and friendly. But that doesn’t happen by chance. Bountiful Flight owner/founder Jason Clark has worked hard with his team to develop this culture and foster its growth. It’s embedded in every policy and customer interaction, creating a feeling that invites newcomers to hang around and become a part of the flight school family.
As with most flight schools, the Bountiful Flight instructors have a variety of skills and personality traits. “It’s clear that some instructors have a much higher success rate at converting discovery flights to new flight students. We’ve found that it has a lot to do with personality and people skills,” said Hoggan, who is assistant chief/program manager at the flight school. Although brand-new instructors often can conduct excellent intro flights, they may not always be the best choice to showcase your company’s culture.
“We carefully select, train, and monitor our instructors to ensure they are representing our company in the best possible way,” Hoggan said.
Everyone recognizes that the intro flight begins the moment the prospective student steps into the parking lot. The welcoming environment at Bountiful Flight is an important part of its overall culture, but worth distinguishing as its own key to success. When new people first walk in, they are usually greeted by Shawnn Nicholls, “office womanager” and “sweetheart” (as stated on the company website). Nicholls has nearly 20 years of experience in the restaurant industry and does a great job helping everyone feel welcome. Every flight instructor is encouraged to keep an eye out for people they don’t know so they can introduce themselves and welcome newcomers to the flight school. This is all more than just lip service. The entire team recognizes the value of these potential new students and genuinely welcomes them.
Putting the focus on the prospective student also starts right from the beginning. “We follow the old adage that no one cares how much you know, until they know how much you care,” Hoggan said. “We show we care by asking simple but genuine questions about each person’s goals, dreams, and prior experience. Then we listen and take notes.”
I’ve often said that true salesmanship is not about pressuring people into doing something they don’t want to do. It’s about removing the obstacles that prevent people from doing what they already want to do. We can’t do that until we know what people want and what their obstacles are. The team at Bountiful Flight puts these principles into action. By asking questions and sincerely listening, they tailor each intro flight experience to meet that customer’s needs and desires. The customer feels valued.
The intro flight includes a thorough ground briefing, preflight inspection, and short flight in the local area. The instructor focuses on using the information gathered thus far to customize the flight as much as possible. For example, if the prospective student lives in Bountiful, Utah, but often conducts business in Twin Falls, Idaho, the instructor will have the customer climb up a few thousand feet, then point out, “As you know, it’s a three-hour drive to Twin Falls, but you can fly there in about an hour. It’s just right over that mountain range” (northwest of Bountiful).
“That time savings would mean you could start making it home for dinner on the days you have those meetings” (referring to a personal challenge the potential flight student mentioned earlier). Brief interactions like this throughout the intro flight help connect the dots between the potential student’s goals and the value of a pilot certificate. This type of instructor interaction also highlights one of the big differences between the instructor who is just taking someone on a short airplane ride and the instructor who is conducting an effective marketing event.
The fifth element is a focus on the future. This is closely connected to helping each potential new student visualize him- or herself enjoying the benefits of their pilot certificate, but it also involves connecting the dots from where they are to where they want to be. This means scheduling the next lesson. Too often instructors end an otherwise perfect intro flight by saying something like, “I really enjoyed flying with you, have a nice day.” Really? That’s it? One of my mentors, Jim Hackman, said that when you don’t ask the prospective student to schedule the next lesson, you risk leaving the person with a feeling of, “I guess I’m not cut out for this, they didn’t even invite me back.” This is a potential tragedy that must be avoided.
“You’ve got to remember that every intro came to us wanting to fly. The desire and effort is already there. We teach our instructors to remember that we are running a business and people expect us to invite them to buy our product/service. It doesn’t have to be an elaborate sales pitch. Something as simple as, ‘When would you like to schedule your second lesson?’ works just fine,” Hoggan said. “We also tell each person that the next time they fly, they will get to do something even more fun,” he said. The key is to focus on the future and make sure the potential students knows you are excited to work with them.
Jim Pitman has been a flight instructor since 1997. He has been a Part 141 chief flight instructor, Cessna Pilot Center regional manager, and Arizona Flight Instructor of the Year. He flies the Canadair Regional Jet for a U.S. carrier while operating his own flight training business. Connect with Jim at his website (www.FlyWithJim.com).