From education to employment

Educationalists do NOT like the word “sales” – Selling T-Levels to Employers

Erik Pollitt, Learning & Development Coach, Sales Geek

Why engaging with employers is essential for #TLevel success 

When delivering training sessions recently to FE colleges on how to get local employers involved with T Levels, one thing became clear very quickly; educationalists do NOT like the word “sales”.

As a Sales Geek, by both name and nature, I managed not to take this too personally.

But the truth is, although there are different drivers for colleges aiming to get buy-in from employers than from a commercial organisation selling products and services to them, the drivers for employers in the other direction are in fact very similar.

Getting someone to “buy-in” to something, is pretty much the same job as getting them to “buy” something.

Understanding how to get employers involved with T-Levels, and other types of apprenticeship, is very much the same as understanding how to sell.

To be successful, it’s all about the same things:

  • Relationship building
  • Understanding needs
  • Demonstrating value, and
  • Closing the deal

So, if you will forgive the use of sales terminology in the following, an overview of how to be successful selling T-Levels to prospective employers would look something like this:

First contact

The reason I think many people believe they don’t like selling, is that they most associate it with the first contact stage. First contacting a potential customer brings us face-to-face with some harsh truths.

These harsh truths are universal and will never change. Brace yourself. They are:

  1. People are selfish
  2. They don’t care about you (unless you are in a relationship with them already)

That might sound harsh, but wishing it was otherwise will do us no good. When I say selfish – I don’t mean we live in a world without kindness. But in truth, people’s prime interests come from their own centre.

Even the most altruistic person can only operate effectively from within themselves. Even when motives are altruistic, it still comes back to themselves (and their own altruistic motives) as their prime motivator. In that sense, unless they know you, they don’t care about you, which is what can make first contact feel so difficult.

However, these universal truths can be countered by a fundamental understanding, which will help you overcome them and successfully “sell”.

It’s not about you

A universal truth in all sales is that, whatever you do, it’s not about you. It’s about the customer. It’s about what they want, not what you want to sell them. And there’s a very simple step, in getting this information from a customer: Ask.

Possibly that’s oversimplifying it, but when I say “Ask”, what I actually mean is to aim for “Consultative Questioning”. Taking a genuine consultative interest in your customer makes it about them, not about you (and remember they don’t care about you), and opens up the conversation in a direction that leads to helping them out, rather than helping you out.

When you’re approaching an employer to talk to them about T-Levels, that talk should be more about questioning than telling. Asking employers open questions about the skills gaps they are facing or even their overall challenges as a business is a much better way to start a relationship than by taking an informative or explanatory approach from the outset.

What you have to do is establish what their needs as a business are, and then work out how you can supply that need – not tell them what you’re selling and then see if they need it. If you can work out through a consultative process, what needs a T-Levels work placement would satisfy for the particular employer you are talking to, rather than a generic idea of an employer you may have in your head, then you’re much more likely to achieve success as a mutual benefit.

Understand why we buy to create Value

Once you’ve established the specifics of the employer’s need, the next step is to develop a proposition of the value you can provide that will meet that need. Understanding buyer behaviour is crucial to developing your value proposition. No matter what’s on offer, buyer behaviour is governed by some simple rules, deep-rooted in human behaviour.

People buy for all sorts of reasons, but the deepest reasons are personal. Your value proposition therefore should not be generic, it should be tailored as much as possible, not only to the organisation you’re talking to, but the individual person. How will your proposition help that person individually? In the case of T-Levels placements, how will taking on a T-Level placement directly benefit that individual?

This of course will change from individual to individual, but if you’ve taken a genuine consultative questioning approach at the outset, then the drivers and personal needs should be clearer than if you’ve taken a purely informative approach.

Closing the deal

Another sales cliché many educationalists dislike is the idea of “closing the deal”. But if we have taken the above approach as starting points, closing the deal should be seen in the same way. It’s simply the process of ensuring all parties are fully happy with the details of the arrangement proposed.

The important thing to remember is that objections are not the same as rejections. They are usually just things that need ironing out before closing off on the arrangement.

The key is to welcome the objection, acknowledge it and relate it back. Every objection overcome brings you closer to the mutually beneficial outcome you have been working on together.

The real secret is to understand that, in promoting T-Levels, you are in fact “selling”, but selling in the modern world is probably not what you think it is.

Erik Pollitt, Learning & Development Coach, Sales Geek

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