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Listen your way to better salesListen your way to better sales

One of the strategies I regularly engage in with current and prospective clients is conducting anonymous market research, or mystery shopping. I do this to learn how schools interact with their prospective students, and to gain a better perspective of their company culture and how it is viewed by newcomers.

By repeating this research with many different schools, I've had the opportunity to learn a lot about flight school business culture in the United States.

Flight schools tend to have an excellent safety record, and I believe they really care about making sure that students finish a rating or program in a safe and legal way. Most every school has safe, legal, airworthy airplanes. Good.

Clearly, safe and legal operations must always come first, and may not be compromised. However, one of the big problems from where I sit is that safe and legal is championed to the exclusion of many other things, namely effective sales.

As many schools are learning, having safe and legal flight school operations are not the only keys to success.

“No bucks, no Buck Rogers” – Gordon Cooper in The Right Stuff

Let's take an opportunity to cover one of the biggest problems schools face with selling to the new prospective student: not listening.

I’ve found that flight school staff members who are trying to work with a new flight training prospect and explain how it all works often tend to overtalk, overexplain, and underlisten. In my research notes, I’ve written “G-U-S-H” many times. As with any new product or service, most all newcomers need to get the gist of what's being offered when they’re ready to start. They don’t need or want a mountain of details, program outlines, and aviation jargon.

No one thinks for one second that flight schools are actually trying to run students off at this stage of the game. So, why does this happen so often in our industry?

A basic ignorance of how sales works is at the heart of the issue. In so many schools, staff have not been trained how to listen properly, how to ask the right questions, or how to make an attempt at learning more about what the prospect really wants to hear to make a decision about starting flight training.

Often, school staff readily jump to what they know. In many cases, staff— especially CFIs—will run straight to the Part 61 or Part 141 program they know inside and out, and talk about their fleet ad nauseam. If I am coming to your school for avocational-based training, the chances are very low that I'll actually care about the difference between Part 61 and Part 141. For many avocational-based students, it’s just not a factor.

Your staff may often find it more comfortable to monopolize the conversation. Unfortunately, they’ll often start overwhelming the prospect with loads of program details and jargon at the beginning of the sales process. This is almost always the wrong approach and can have an undesired effect. In most every situation, the correct answer is getting them to talk about themselves and their wants at the beginning of the process. After all, it’s the potential beginning of your business and training relationship with them.

Listening well, asking the right open-ended questions, and getting a good feel for why they want to come to flight training should be a part of how each new student starts with you. Ever go to a social event and strike up a conversation with someone only to have them monopolize it? In a social setting, it stymies conversation; in a business setting it comes across as moderately unprofessional.

With these ideas in mind, what can you do to minimize the overselling/underlistening behaviors and mindsets at your school?

  • Practice what you will and won’t say to a new prospect before you’re on a call with them. Use your experience with scenario-based training to make this learning effective for your team via a role-play arrangement. While it might seem awkward at first, you’ll find it to be very fulfilling in the long run. It might even be fun.
  • Practice listening and asking the right open-ended questions.
  • Please quit talking about your personal ratings, hours, and past aviation experience, unless you are specifically asked for them. You wouldn't be sitting on that side of the desk if you weren't supposed to be there.
  • Slow your speaking pace during in-person meetings and phone calls with new prospects. A medium pace is almost always too fast. Save your uber-fast-paced language skills for communicating on frequency with your local tracon.
  • Talk about the understated professionalism of your school, the patience of your instructors, and the level of enjoyment that you build into the flight training experience.
  • Show them your syllabus, and explain how it works when the time is right. This usually doesn’t occur until after you’ve gotten them to talk about themselves for a good bit.
  • Many schools pride themselves on a shiny new fleet. I agree that “eyewash” is an important part of the sales process in flight training. However, avoid making this your primary focus. Instead, focus on your team and the specific reasons why they can help your prospective student achieve their individual goals. Relate historic facts about your school’s ability to perform in a way that meets their needs.

Above all, listen. It works in relationships, and it works in sales. Next time we’ll cover some scenarios on how to conduct the training for your staff.

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