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No sale is ever finalNo sale is ever final

This year will mark the 10-year anniversary for my first flight lesson. Over the years, as my ratings and flight experience have increased, it occurred to me that I might have forgotten what it was like to be brand new to the world of flight training.

I intentionally started my flight training at a small, out of the way, country airport. I did this because the level of activity at some of the larger, busier airports here in central Florida was intimidating to me as a newbie. Like many new to general aviation flight training, I was nearly phobic about getting something wrong in the airplane, saying something wrong on the radio, or making any kind of mistake. In my professional life, I had my act together and knew my job backward and forward, so it was difficult for me to fathom taking this training and making an embarrassing mistake in front of others. Although I never told my instructor this, I felt this pressure on every single lesson. While I was fortunate enough to have a very good instructor who was patient, professional, and nice, I never voiced my apprehensions to him.

About two-thirds of the way through my training, I seriously contemplated quitting. As the skills got harder, and the day of my solo got closer, the pressure of not making a mistake became more intense. It wasn't a money thing (the airplane and instructor were about $110 an hour back then). It also wasn't a learning plateau issue. It was just the pressure of actually being measured.

I know my experience is not analogous to everyone’s. However, with an attrition rate approaching 80 percent in our industry, I suspect I'm not the only one who's ever felt this way during their first run at flight training.

With my own experiences in my mind, I want to reintroduce the concept of the consultative sell to flight training.

The elements of the consultative sell, as applied to flight training, look a lot like this:

  • Carefully explain who you are to them, and that you're there primarily to make sure they succeed.
  • Many who will come to your school for training are mid-level career people who are established. They know their job. They're good at it. Now they're coming to a whole new world with a new language, new skills, a new culture, and a new system of academic and practical measurement. Knowing that this is the case, and leveraging it to your advantage as a consultant to your new student will help ensure that you retain this student when the pressure is on for them.
  • From a big-picture standpoint, the simple act of having a standard briefing when talking to new customers that relates to the whole of what they can expect during their training is a big must for your school. This goes way beyond just explaining the syllabus or materials needed for training. Make sure that this briefing includes finance issues, common training attitudes, expectations for completion, and having a way for your customers to vent unnecessary anxieties if necessary.

The FAA expects you or your CFI staff to be a practicalpsychologist when training with your students. I really like this concept. In many ways, when you are working to get and keep customers for your school, you also must function as a practical psychologist.

Remember that there are numerically far more factors that contribute to attrition as compared to retention. Retention for the avocational student is driven by one primary factor—they want to be training with you. If this changes, for any reason, whether it is your fault or not, your student could be gone.

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

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