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How shark fishing helps you catch new customersHow shark fishing helps you catch new customers

When you hear flight school owners discuss their business development issues, many will talk about “sales and marketing” as though they are a singular thing, much like we think about salt and pepper. I agree these two disciplines come as a matched set. However, the similarities between the two are often over-estimated.

Sales and marketing are fundamentally two different skill sets that necessarily drive towards the same purpose: getting new customers. When I highlight the contrast between the two to flight schools, I use a shark-fishing metaphor to drive home the differences between the two disciplines.

In case you missed the last 78 iterations of “Shark Week” on Animal Planet, or if you're not a Jaws or Hemingway fan, here's what I'm talking about. Shark fishing basically consists of a two-part process:

Step one is to take your big-enough boat to waters where sharks can be found. Once you've found the right spot, lay down a slick of chum to help attract the sharks to the boat. Chumming the water around your boat is exactly analogous to marketing: You're enticing the appropriate demographic to come and have a closer look and get interested in your baited hook. You’re creating an energy around your boat/brand.

Step two is to put your line in the water: something tasty on a steel hook. Dangle it in the pre-chummed waters. When the sharks get close and bite on the hook, you get your chance to reel them in and close the deal (sales).

Now imagine having one without the other. Without chumming, you might get a shark wandering by that smells your baited hook and decides to nibble. Typically, it will take him much longer to show up. Conversely, with only the chum in the water, and no baited hook, you're left to hope that the sharks will simply leap into the boat based on the smell of the surrounding water. Good luck.

What I see happening in our industry is often a lumping of these two disciplines and schools assuming because their time, effort and energy are being spent on one that the other is handled by default. This is rarely the case.

Recently, I've seen examples of some schools spending large amounts of money on singular marketing events and then doing no marketing for several months following, i.e. dumping all their chum in one spot. A marketing budget, like chum, has to be spread out over time, distance, and geography to be utilized most effectively.

Therefore, effective marketing is not ever a singular event, but rather an ongoing daily, weekly, monthly, quarterly, and annual process without a finite end that must be maintained throughout the life of your business. Its results are usually not immediate, and it can often take several months to yield something quantifiable from a campaign.

This level of effort partially explains why many owners will go for the singular large event instead of planning and investing the blood, sweat, and tears in an effective campaign to reach a certain business development goal. It’s a shortcut that often leads nowhere.

Effective marketing is always about the campaign of marinating your target demographic with the good news of your brand and offering.

I've also said before that sales is way more of a process than an event. With only very few exceptions, much of our industry simply wants the “instant-start” customers that require little or no sales process. I'll point out again that this is an unfortunate mindset, and that our industry is leaving money—writ large—on the table with this across-the-board practice.

In the next article, I'll cover some of the better practices you can use to effectively dovetail marketing campaigns with your school’s ability to sell its products and service. Getting these two disciplines to work in effectively for your school doesn't have to be difficult, expensive, or enigmatic. Patience, persistence, process, and a vision for where you want to go are the key.

P. Jerry Lee is president and founder of aviation marketing and sales training firm Mach1 Consultants.

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