Most people in provider organisations who promote programmes to employers have tales to tell about the proposals they've made, that somehow didn't turn into business. "It was a great meeting. The employer really liked the proposal." Yet, three weeks later there's still no agreement to go ahead. Why's this? What went wrong?

There could be lots of reasons, but are you sure you're actually giving the employer a good enough reason to take action right now? Ask yourself the following to help you to work out if your offer really is so compelling that employers won't be able to wait to snap it up.

Will your offer be there next month?

Do the proposals you make to employers include deadlines? Is the offer in your proposal only available this month? Do employers know that you're planning to raise your prices for that programme at the end of term? Is it clear in the proposal that there's only so much time available in which to arrive at a decision before the opportunity will be lost?

It's important to stress the limitations to your offer. Employers will often recognise that a proposal is good value and really worth having, but put off deciding to make the purchase until after something else has been bought, or until the next quarter, or until after the reorganisation has been completed. Employers will always be tempted to do this if it appears that your offer will remain on the table for weeks and weeks. It's your job to ensure employers know that time is running out and that a decision is needed now, so set those deadlines.

Do you have a limited number of places on offer?

Some providers like to boast about how many learners they have the capacity to enrol on their programmes. This approach isn't too helpful, if you're trying to get employers to commit to work with you sooner rather than later. When they believe you have lots of capacity, employers will reason that they will be able to access places whenever they choose.

Far better to suggest that resource is scarce and precious. Tell employers this, because it's probably true. Even where you potentially have lots of places on offer, you probably recruit learners in groups and only decide to open a second group when the first has filled up.

Let employers know when there are only a few places left in a particular group. Tell them that the group will probably be full by Friday. Ring employers and ask them if they want places reserved before someone else takes them.

Is your programme special?

If employers believe they can shop around for an NVQ or an apprenticeship programme that is much the same wherever it's offered, they will buy on price. Show employers that your programme is different from those offered by your competitors - in ways that are important to them - and you will become that employer's provider of choice.

Once an employer accepts that your programme is different, and that it's what he or she is looking for, ask if there's any reason to delay in agreeing to your proposal. There almost certainly won't be.

Promoting your programmes effectively

Sales people know that it's important to give buyers a reason for accepting their proposals now rather than putting them aside until next week or next month.
You're already spending time promoting your excellent programmes. Spend time, too, reminding employers that they will miss out on something valuable, if they don't take up your offer soon.

If you're not doing this at present, maybe it's time to inject some urgency into the buying process.

Margaret Adams helps provider organisations to do more business with more employers more often. 

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