Articles from Margaret Adams

It's holiday offer time – or is it?

There's been a lot of news coverage about Mega Monday, Manic Monday or Cyber Monday this week. In case you missed it, the Monday in question was the last Monday in November and it was a big shopping day. It was forecast that £537 million would be spent on-line in the UK on that date with £22.7 million being spent by the hour.Were any of these shoppers spending any money with you whether on line or off line?Were you ready and waiting for the shoppers who were committed to spending on Mega Monday and who were looking for something to spend their money on?It's time to spendIn the old days, when most organisations had training budgets, providers simply tried to get managers to spend their funds with them. Today, lots of organisations don't have training budgets, but they do have funds that they can choose to spend on products and services during the year.The fact that there isn't a training budget doesn't mean that employers won't buy training. If something that you are selling takes their fancy, or if they notice your offer at a time when they're thinking of spending, then you're more likely to make a sale.That's why Mega Monday and similar occasions matter to you. That's why you need to be aware of the events during the course of the year that encourage people to buy.Did you seize the opportunity?Did you prepare well for the pre-Christmas buying period? Did you get in touch with employers with new offers during November? Have you repackaged what you do to fit the time of year?For example, if your programmes attract VAT, have you encouraged employers to buy before the VAT rise that comes into force in January 2011? If you're starting a new programme in the Spring Term, have you given employers a chance to make their bookings early to receive a bonus, or a special thank you of some sort, for making their purchase sooner rather than later? Did you do any bundling of popular and less popular programmes to help make more sales? Did you offer Christmas taster sessions?If you haven't been in touch with your employers, and if you don't have a seasonal offer, then the chances are that they won't be thinking about you and what you could sell them when they make those pre-Christmas purchases.What's more, if you haven't been in touch, someone else could have your employers' attention right now. Someone else could be making sales and building a relationship with your employer customers, especially at this time of the year.Be there when employers are buyingThe best time to be trying to sell something is when people – including employers – are expecting to buy. That's why the period leading up to Christmas is a time when lots of organisations promote special offers.Even if you've missed the opportunities at the end of November, there are plenty of chances during the year to make a time-limited offer around an event in the calendar or to fit in with a special occasion. Create offers linked to these events and you are more likely to get the attention of your employer customers.Getting employers' attention is what this is all about. Once you have people's attention you can engage directly with them and then make them an offer.Therefore, start to think about the right times to get in touch, the right offers to make and the type of response you hope to generate. You might find you'll have your own Mega Monday sometime next year, if you do.

Are you assessing the value of your e-newsletter for employers?

Many providers produce e-newsletters for employers. Some providers produce them monthly, some quarterly. One or two providers produce weekly or fortnightly updates. However, few providers work out how that e-newsletter is supporting their business, and if it is helping to build strong working relationships with employers. This is a shame, because a well-targeted and relevant e-newsletter is an asset to almost every business.It's a good idea, therefore, to check if your e-newsletter is adding value to your employer engagement activities. Here are three questions to help you to work out the answer.Are you sure employers want to receive your e-newsletter?There's only one way to be sure that employers want to receive your e-newsletter and that's to require them actually to sign up to receive it in the first place. Lots of businesses – including quite a few providers – work on the basis that people who have given them a business card have also given their permission to be contacted on a regular basis. In most cases this isn't so, and it's a big mistake to make such an assumption.Your list may be a long and growing list, but if it's filled with people who haven't asked to hear from you, then it's probably not going to bring you much business.The best way forward is to put a sign-up form on your website and ask employers to opt in to receive updates from you. If they don't join your list, then you know that they aren't interested in what you want to say to them.Do you know if employers read your e-newsletter?One of the main advantages of having an e-newsletter rather than a print newsletter is that you can use your web-based analytics package to check what happens to your communications once you have sent them out. For example, you can find out if employers open your e-newsletter or if they delete them unread. You can find out if your e-newsletters "bounce", that is if, for some reason, they fail to arrive at their destination. You can find out if employers forward your newsletter to other people.This is information you need to collect. It's important feedback on the state of employer engagement in your organisation and of the value employers place on the communications they receive from you.Do employers take action as a result of reading your e-newsletter?You are sending your e-newsletter for a purpose. Your e-newsletter is one of the channels through which you promote your organisation, maintain contact with employers and build your business. Of course, you want employers to do something as a result of reading your communications.You might want them to click on a link in the e-newsletter to learn more about your programmes. You might want them to contact you in order to take advantage of a special offer. You might simply be asking them to get in touch with you.Whatever the outcome you're looking for, both on-line and off-line, you need to track actions employers take as a result of invitations sent via your e-newsletter. This will help you to work out if your newsletter is helping you to build your employer-related business.Using the feedbackThe answers to these questions will help you to decide if your e-newsletter is earning its keep and achieving the objectives you have set for it. If employers value your current e-newsletter, you'll know that you're supplying information they want to read. If you find your newsletter isn't working, you'll now know there's something about it you haven't got quite right – yet.Either way, by asking these questions you'll be helping to improve employer engagement in your organisation.

Are you using these killer metrics to measure your success?

Anyone who has worked in the FE sector for any length of time knows a great deal about metrics. It sometimes seems that someone is measuring just about everything the sector does.Some measurements are important because they shed light on your progress and success. Some measures help you to work out if you are achieving your goals.In the field of employer engagement there are two metrics that really do illuminate success and draw attention to where more needs to be done. They are so valuable that they can be called "killer metrics".Are you using these metrics?If you are, what do they tell you about your success with employers?Killer Metric One: The ratio of new business to repeat businessThis metric is all about the volume of new employer business you gain set alongside the amount of repeat business you do with employers. In other words what proportion of those employers who do business with you once go on to give you a second piece of business?This is a useful metric. It offers you an approach to finding out, in broad terms, how highly your offer is valued by employers and how satisfied your employer customers are with what you do.If you find a significant proportion of employers you engage with do business with you once, and don't come back, then you have an issue to investigate and a ready-made group of customers with whom to investigate that issue.If lots of new employers come back to you for further support, congratulate yourself in the short term. Then use the current new business to repeat business ratio to set a benchmark for your future performance. Monitor the trends over time to see how well you're doing.Killer Metric Two: Measuring the cost of acquiring new businessHow much does it cost you to get your first piece of business with a new employer? Will you be spending more this year on the task of getting new employer business than you did last year?There's a strong case to be made that year-on-year your cost of acquisition of each new employer customer should go down.After all, if you're good at what you do, the longer you are in business, the more repeat business you'll get from satisfied customers. You'll also get lots of referrals, because employers who have experienced your provision will tell other employers about your service and recommend you.Follow the logic of this and as time goes by the cost of getting each new customer will go down. That's because you will have an unpaid sales force out in your marketplace promoting you and acquiring new business for you. Thus, you will need to spend less on prospecting, that is, looking for new business.If you accept this argument then spending the same or more each year on getting each new customer is a bad sign. It suggests that you're not building up enough goodwill and support for your work in your marketplace. It also suggests that you may have issues about the perceived value of what you do to resolve.Either way this metric provides you with useful information.Measuring the right thingsThese two metrics are valuable in helping you to judge the quality of your organisation's relationship with employers.Use them to help you to set your year-on-year success targets for your work with employers and as a means of measuring if employers value your service. Both metrics will help you to build your success with employers, so if you're not using them now, you might consider using these metrics for the future.

The most important question to ask employers...

As you begin to gear up for the new academic year you'll no doubt be reviewing the information you hold about employers. You'll probably also be thinking about the sort of information you need to gather to enable you to match what you do to employers' interests, needs and wants.The chances are you currently input lots of information about employers into your customer relationship management system (CRM). You probably make sure you record the size of the employer organisation, whether the organisation exports or not, if it's got a high staff turnover and so on. Yet, very few providers log answers to a question that is guaranteed to help them to build strong business relationships, engender trust and encourage collaborative working with employers. They don't record the answers, because they don't ask the question. Is this a question that you ask your employers?The most important questionThe most important question you can ask of a business, and one that will help to differentiate you from your competitors, is a very simple question. It is: "What sort of business are you looking for?"This question is so rarely asked that you might find employers truly surprised when you ask it. This question is a valuable one, because the answer will help you to understand an employer's business aspirations and key objectives. The answer will also be a lot more helpful to you than information about the employer's business plan or marketing strategy. That's because the answer is a succinct and clear indication of where an employer is taking his or her business. That's just the sort of information you need to know in order to target your marketing accurately.Helping employersThere is, of course, a question hidden within this question that both parties understand. It's a question that focuses on helping the employer to succeed. If you seek out information about the sort of business employers are looking for, you'll be starting to position yourself and your organisation as advisers to the employer organisations you are hoping to sell to. You'll be taking on a new role, when you ask this question. Implicitly, you'll be offering to help to build the employer's business. Employers will appreciate your action because business success is what matters to them.Of course, you'll need to record carefully the information you receive, and then act on it. You'll need to think about how you can match employers to business opportunities you hear about, and when - and how - you can make introductions to help your employer customers achieve greater success.What's interesting is that if you do start to ask this question, and ask it regularly, you'll find that employers are more ready to speak to you, more ready to listen to you and more likely to do business with you.It's no accident that expert business networkers, along with people with huge followings on Twitter and Facebook, position themselves as people who help others first and seek business for themselves second. In practice, of course, these successful business people understand that the two actually go hand in hand.Add more value to employersThis September then, you can enhance your business prospects with employers without brochures, offers, prospectuses or any of the tactics you normally use to drive sales. You can ask this most important question often and make sure you use the answers to add value to employers by actively helping them to achieve their goals.You'll find that their success leads to your success and that looking after your employer customers' interests is good for your business, too. That's really what makes this the most important question of all.

Are you making the most of Twitter?

A year ago many providers were still hesitant about getting involved with social media sites such as Twitter. However, over the last year, quite a few have taken the plunge, joined Twitter and started tweeting. Now the questions being asked are about how to use Twitter to help to build relationships with employers and to bring in more employer business.What is Twitter?Twitter is a micro-blogging platform which allows you to post - that is make public - short messages of up to one hundred and forty characters. You can converse, in the public arena, with those who are following your messages or tweets. You can follow people on Twitter yourself and thus receive their tweets, too.Twitter is big business, but working out how to use this medium effectively takes some thought. When you come to think about your approach to using Twitter, what should your guiding principles be? If you can answer the following questions, you'll be well on the way to effective tweeting.Why are you involved with Twitter?There are more than seventy-five million Twitter accounts, but why did you sign up? Why are you tweeting? The Twitter guidelines for government departments include such objectives as: expanding the reach of departmental or corporate messages, communicating with the public in a human and less formal voice, providing thought leadership and credibility and providing an easy way for the public to interact with government.You've probably got involved with Twitter because you want to achieve some of these objectives in the context of your work with employers, but which objectives are the most important? What exactly do you want to achieve as a result of engaging with Twitter?If you produce guidelines explaining your aims, you'll help those managing your Twitter presence to create the right messages and to cover the right subjects via your organisation's tweets.Who do you want to meet?When you tweet it's a good idea if you are clear about who you want to converse with. Are you interested in creating a Twitter community within a geographic region? Are you looking for all employers in your area to follow you or just certain types of employer? Are you looking to create links with important stakeholders in specific industries?These are important questions, because your answers will shape the content of your tweets, how you choose to position your Twitter presence and who you decide to follow.What do you want to say?If you know why you're on Twitter and who you want to meet, you'll have a good idea of what you want to say.If you're looking to use Twitter to start a conversation with a new audience, then think about what will interest them. What will make them want to read your tweets? Most employers, for example, want information. They also want signposting to updates on subjects that affect their business, such as changes to taxation, new developments in their industry, new legislation and so on. Make sure you offer them these types of tweets.Remember, too, that Twitter is social. It's about dialogue and conversations. If you only tweet about your courses and your events, you won't generate much interest or many followers. If you want people to be interested in your messages, it's a good idea to offer that valuable information and guidance people are seeking more often than your promote your courses and events.

Is it time to get rid of your prospectus?

Have you had lots of prospectuses printed this year? Have you got hundreds of them ready to be sent out over the summer or available in reception to be picked up and browsed through?If you have, do you know how many of your prospectuses are ever read? Do you know how helpful your prospectus is in bringing students and employers to you? At a time when every one in the public sector is being asked to consider whether activities still need doing, or if they can be done in different ways, do you need to ask if your organisation still needs its prospectus?Who reads it?Do prospective students, their parents, their employers and other interested parties actually read your prospectus? As far as you're aware, do people look out for your prospectus arriving in the post? Do they go out of their way to call into your building to pick one up? Do you ever see people reading your prospectus avidly?Most importantly, do people use the information in your prospectus to help them to book onto your programmes? You may not know. However, this information is easy to find, and there's still time to make sure you are able to gather it in September.If you print different course booking codes on your website from the ones you use in your prospectus, you'll be able to do some analysis of the sources of information people use when they are booking programmes. You'll be able to find out quickly which of your materials people refer to when they make a booking, and hence which of your materials are helpful to your customers.Who is influenced by it?Prospective students and employers make their choices about which provider to use in lots of different ways. You need to know if they use your prospectus as part of their decision-making process.Students often say they chose a provider organisation because a friend had attended, or because an older brother, or sister or even a parent had studied there. It's also very common for students and employers to use the internet to find out what is available in a number of provider organisations. They compare options based on the information they find on websites and then make their choices.If they are influenced by advertising campaigns, people are most likely to cite radio advertisements and posters as having drawn their attention to a provider organisation's offer. So what's the situation in your organisation?Do you survey, or can you survey, at least a sample of your students to find out why they chose you? Can you also find out which of your published materials and approaches to advertising influence those choices? It's information worth having. The results will help you to decide how to divide up your advertising spend. They will also help you to be more confident that you know which of your approaches to advertising work.Do you need it?Do you need your prospectus? Is having a prospectus adding value to your organisation? What's the cost of your prospectus or your various prospectuses? Do they bring in business? Do they pay for themselves? Do they help you to generate income? What's the return on your investment? If you stopped printing your prospectus, or printed fewer copies, what would be the likely impact on your enrolments and income?Unlike the people who claim that only half of their advertising works, but they're not sure which half, if you can find answers to even some of these questions, you'll know how well your prospectus works and if you really need it for the future.Margaret Adams is a consultant who helps provider organisations to work more closely with employers. 

Three reasons why you should double your employer engagement targets

The times are interesting as well as uncertain. Money is tight and likely to get tighter which means that departmental belt-tightening and staffing cuts could take place in many provider organisations over the coming months. This means that business development units, along with other departments, will be thinking about how to achieve the same, or better, results with less resource.Perhaps the best solution to the current problem is to consider doubling your employer engagement targets and aiming to bring in a lot more money from employers, despite all the proposed cutbacks in resources. This is, after all, an area where there is plenty of scope for FE to increase its market share and market penetration, so there is some justification for adopting this strategy.Here are three reasons why it makes sense to seize the opportunities for growth that cutbacks in funding present to those in FE working with employers.Higher targets will give you a chance to develop new products and servicesMany providers have been trying for some time to persuade employers to pay for programmes they have, in the past, received for free.This is proving to be a challenge. For many employers, further education has always meant free education, and the prospect of having to pay for what used to be there for the taking doesn't sit well with them.In such a situation sustaining your current levels of engagement along with income from employers is going to be an uphill battle, especially if you're also trying to meet your targets with fewer people and a reduced budget.However, aiming to increase income from employers by significant amounts, will give you the opportunity to make a strong business case for allocating resource to new product development. You can justify the cost of revamping existing programmes in line with employer expectations, adding in extra elements, reshaping provision and presenting a more relevant and new offer to employers, by arguing that what you're trying to sell at present is not what employers are prepared to buy.You can also make sure that you know which programmes will be attractive to employers by working closely with them at the product design stage and by deciding only to develop programmes for which you know there is a demand. As a result you'll have a fighting chance of meeting targets linked to new products that you know employers actually want.On the other hand working as you have done in the past will mean you'll be expected to carry on more or less as before whilst squeezing a little more out of what has been allocated to you. That will be hard work for what could be limited gains.You'll have the opportunity to build your brandWhen you're working in a small and relatively insignificant - but hardworking - area of your organisation, most people will overlook you. That includes employers.The fact that you're in a small unit doing something a bit different from what the main organisation does will mean that you won't be seen by employers as central to your organisation's work. In fact, many employers may find it difficult to work out exactly where you fit in and how your work is relevant to their situation.From that position, you'll struggle to build awareness of what you do. You'll also struggle to gain a large enough share of the marketing budget to enable you to make a strong and lasting impression on employers.If you're going to meet significantly increased income targets it won't be enough to keep in contact with employers you've already done business with, and aim for a few referrals, or a few extra pieces of work following a one-off advertising campaign. You won't be able to bring in lots more work, unless you take steps to build your market share and to promote your brand.With larger income targets to meet you'll need make sure you get your messages out to more employers. You'll need to market in different ways and get your name, and the benefits you deliver to employers, in front of a lot more people.To achieve this you'll need to use a wider range of both off line and on line marketing and promotional activities. You'll need to promote strong, clear messages that will be understood and valued by employers who don't already have direct contact with you. You'll also have to take steps to reinforce your messages regularly so employers don't have the chance to forget about you.Doing all of this will take more resource than you have at present, but you're also committing to bring in more income as a result of your efforts. That makes your new promotional strategy worth implementing.You'll have the opportunity to be taken more seriouslyOnce you're tasked to bring in a larger share of your organisation's income, your influence within your organisation is likely to grow, too.Sitting at the edge of a large organisation is not a good place to be, especially when you're competing with big departments for money, people, accommodation and other resources. Move away from the creeping death of incremental increases to your income targets and you can start to plan differently about how you will address opportunities in order to deliver enhanced benefits to your organisation.Bring in several more percentage points of your organisation's overall income and you'll be able to ask for a bigger say in organisational development matters. You'll be able to justify your proposals because your contribution will become more important as the amount of money you bring in grows. Moreover, the more you contribute, the more seriously you will be taken by senior people and the closer to the decision-making centre of your organisation you will travel. 

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