Over the holidays, I had the chance to spend some great time with family and friends. I got to see a lot of kids open a lot of gifts and enjoy the season. Always a good time! Seeing kids open presents and enjoy the holidays often reminds me of many of the people I've talked to immediately after they've earned their first pilot certificate, soloed for the first time, or gone on their first-ever flight in a general aviation airplane.
For many people who embark on an avocational flight training journey, it is the fulfillment of a lifelong dream that is just now being realized. What other business can say they can help people live a dream that has been with them for more than 30 years?
On the day I became a certificated flight instructor, the realization that I then got to help people achieve their aviation dreams was immediate to me. It was one of the best memories of that day.
As a purveyor of flight training, you often get to help your customers achieve their lifelong dreams. Make sure that you leverage this emotional energy to help get new customers started and help keep the customers you already have motivated and ready to finish their rating or program.
Let’s look at a few techniques that you can use to leverage that natural energy many of your avocational flight students will come to you with.
Get them talking about why they are interested in flying. A good leading, open ended question here is: “What got you interested in learning how to fly?” or “When did you realize you wanted to be a pilot?” Give them all the time they need to answer you. Ask them other open ended questions in such a way that they completely spill their dream to you. This is an important part of the sales process.
Next, get them to talk about what they want to do with their certificate or rating once they earn it. This is a very important step two. You will run into the occasional customer who perhaps hasn’t thought this far out. The key here is thinking beyond the $100 hamburger. Whether it’s day trips to Catalina Island, Mackinac Island, Key West, or the Poconos, make sure they understand what they can do with their new qualifications.
Once they engage in training, take the time to show them how to use an airplane to get what they specifically want out of it. If their focus is business flying, make it a point to teach them about crew cars at FBOs—and get one a time or two. If they are a weekend cross-country type, offer to take them to a few long-distance destinations as part of their training. Many instructors are up for this, provided that a hotel room and a meal or two is covered.
If you do this, your student will graduate from a rating or program knowing how to do exactly what they want to do with their certificate. I think the problem that we often run into in flight training is that so many instructors go into training others right after being trained themselves. Many have had the professional aviation experience, and very little of the recreational aviation experience. If a customer graduates from your school knowing how to have fun with an airplane in a way that is relevant to them, you’re helping them to live their dream. They’ll reward you for it in the long run.
There are some potential pitfalls with this approach, however, and it’s important to know what to watch out for.
For the avocational student, avoid leading the sales discussion with details about your certificate program, unless they specifically ask. I would start almost every initial conversation with the “why are you interested” question.
Don't make the mistake of not talking to them about their dream during training. Getting them to self-state and re-state their goals and dreams during training assists in keeping them motivated when the chips are down, or they arrive at learning plateau. Obviously, this takes a little finesse and it needs to be brought up in the correct context.
Don't make the mistake of failing to celebrate important milestones in their training. These are waypoints that lead to their dream. First flight is a big deal. Soloing is a big deal. Successful checkride is a big deal. Do not fail to make an appropriate amount of hoopla at each waypoint.
In the years pre-dating me as a pilot and CFI, I had a former boss who owned a nice Cessna 182RG. I had the chance to fly to a number of destinations with him. Those journeys helped to re-awaken the dream of flying for me. He called aviation “the last bastion of coolness in the business world.” If we're going to believe and uphold that kind of legacy, we’ve got fully realize what it is we’re actually selling.
P. Jerry Lee is president and founder of aviation marketing and sales training firm Mach1 Consultants.