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Turning instructors into marketersTurning instructors into marketers

Flight school owners face a conundrum when it comes to how to treat flight instructors in the sales and marketing process. One school of thought says to keep them out of it and only expect instructors to teach. Another says they are vital parts of the puzzle and make them dive in. But many times this is an academic debate, as the staff isn’t big enough to allow for dedicated sales and marketing assets.

Enter the CFI as a marketing professional. In many ways instructors are uniquely and appropriately positioned for this. They hopefully have a passion for flying, they offer an example of what students can aspire to be, and they are in need of cash, which means they want to fly as much as possible. However, convincing them of the direct relationship between actively courting new students and increasing numbers on their paycheck can be difficult. So make it easy for them.

Many businesses have a written policy that rewards employees for referring new people to open positions. Recommend someone who gets hired and earn $500 instantly. If the person stays for six months, earn another $500. This is just one of many examples. Because the employee’s reputation is on the line, he or she is more apt to recommend quality people.

A similar program could work wonders with instructors. Instead of positioning it as a commission, which can turn off those who don’t want to feel like salesmen, explain it as a bonus program for bringing in new students. If the student soloes, the instructor gets $250. Once the student passes the checkride, the CFI gets another $250.

The benefits to structuring the program like this are three-fold.

  1. It involves the instructor in the health and growth of the business without making him or her feel like a salesmen. The school benefits from more students, the instructors are more engaged in the sales and marketing process, and the CFIs are happier because they are flying more.
  2. It brings in quality students. Instead of a commission process that pays a bunch of money up front, a referral program ties the instructor to the student, and hopefully brings in better students as a result.
  3. It gives the instructor an incentive to finish the student. You may think your instructors aren’t drawing out your customers’ training, but chances are it’s happening. The CFI has virtually no monetary, regulatory, or social pressure to finish a student’s training in any sort of timeframe. In fact, the opposite is true. But give them an incentive when the student passes the checkride, and you can bet the CFI will work hard to make sure that student finishes. The psychology of money is powerful.

A natural aversion to a program like this is to say that you already pay the instructor, and that’s incentive enough. But you pay them to fly, not find new students. You’re already paying for that through the various marketing channels. Chances are that even with the incentive, the marketing cost per student will go down. With all the other benefits, it’s not hard to see how it could pay off.  

Ian J. Twombly

Ian J. Twombly

"Flight Training" Editor
AOPA Pilot and Flight Training Editor Ian J. Twombly joined AOPA in 2003 and is an instrument flight instructor.

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