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Limbo is a profitable place to beLimbo is a profitable place to be

It’s a typical Tuesday afternoon at your school. The phone rings, and on the line is an eager prospect looking to learn more about flight training. The front desk person passes the baton to a CFI who is between flights, and they talk for 15 to 20 minutes and give the new prospect some kind of ad hoc spiel. If your school is like most, a reduced-cost introductory flight of some kind is offered and is often used as the cornerstone for trying to get the prospect to come by the school and see what you’re all about.


This kind of introductory arrangement has been used widely for nearly 60 years in the flight training industry as the way to “get people in the door.” In theory, it’s a really solid model.

However, would you be surprised to learn that more than eight times out of 10, the CFI or staff member representing the school doesn’t even ask the name of the inquiring phone prospect? What’s even more stunning is that more than 50 percent of the time, that person won’t even try to set an appointment to get the prospect to come in and take the intro flight, tour the school, or meet the staff.

Our industry clearly has a mindset of “if you build it, they will come.” This doesn’t work, and it’s causing us to leave money on the table and miss opportunities with new prospective students.

Rule of thirds

When selling most any service, widget, or product, if you get in front of the right people and you have the right product offering, a certain number of them will take the product without any additional sales process. Let’s call this group instant-starts. If you have a decent school, reasonable airplanes, and CFIs that have a pulse, you’re already getting this group of new customers.

There’s another group of prospects out there that are simply tire kickers, i.e., they’re never going to start with you. They often don’t have the time, energy, or funding to really get into flight training and continue on with toward the accomplishment of a rating or program. They call or come to your school and may have little more than a cursory interest in aviation.

Here’s where the problem lies. Most every flight school will lump all of their prospects into one of these two categories. For our industry, there is often no in between.

There is a third, and often overlooked group of prospects out there who reach out to your school—and because they are unable or unwilling to start right away—they’re often dismissed as being tire kickers. This group almost always requires process and professional follow-up to get started with flight training. If you are unprepared to effectively reach out and follow up with people who have contacted you, and shown a basic and sincere interest in flight training, then I’m certain your school is missing out business that you deserve.

Some quick numbers

Let’s say as a flight school, you have four new starts a month, or about one a week. Perhaps you had 20 to 30 people call your school with a genuine interest in one month. How many of those 20 to 30 did you follow up with? If you were able to get just one or two new starts each month by conducting professional and organized follow-up, and not simply hoping that some of these people will call you back, what would that be worth to you?

Would it be worth a 20-percent increase in business?

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

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