Independent college stores are expert at selling course materials and merchandise to students, but they aren't always as good at selling their own value proposition to campus leadership. As a result of this communication failure, numerous college stores across the US are finding themselves at risk of being traded for lease operators. By employing the following sales techniques, independent college stores can more effectively communicate their value proposition to campus leadership and thwart the efforts of lease operators.
Listen, Then Listen More
Listening is the foundation of sales, because it unlocks critical prospect insights. Listening closely can reveal campus leadership's highest priorities and expectations for the store.
Unfortunately, listening is the most underutilized skill in sales – limiting powerful opportunities for personalization. In conversations with campus leadership, stores should try to employ the "80/20" rule. This rule requires active listening for 80% of conversation, and limits contextual responses to the other 20%. Stores should also employ this principle in conversations campus-wide. What is the student newspaper saying? What is the president saying publicly or in interviews about the cost of content? What program is your campus considering to get content into the hands of more students? Lease operators know how to uncover these cues and utilize them to their advantage.
The pain points felt by leadership at every campus vary widely – and the only way to uncover them is through active listening. By doing so, college stores can customize their efforts to what is most important to campus leadership, making lease proposals irrelevant and/or unnecessary.
Quantify Value With Data
"Actions speak louder than words."
Data is designed to expose the truth, good or bad. It measures actual impact and encourages insightful decisions. Independent college stores provide many unique services to campus. Some of those services are easy to quantify (like sales). Others are far less easy to quantify (like timely delivery of content into students' hands and impact on student outcomes). By identifying areas of "soft data" and developing a process for collection, independent stores can create a more complete and competitive profile of the value they add to campus and the academic mission.
The Power Of “Why”
In the TED talk How Great Leaders Inspire Action, Simon Sinek highlights the importance of selling the WHY before the HOW and the HOW before the WHAT. “People don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it.” Value campaigns that start with “why” offer a powerful framework that focuses on unique business values that are hard to imitate, instead of features that are easy to replicate. Similar features with different underlying values can create vastly different results long term.
At the end of the day, independent college stores are tied to the Academic Mission and the betterment of education. Lease operators, as part of a for-profit corporation, are tied to their bottom line. Inherently, independent college stores have a “why” that speaks much more powerfully to campus leadership. It provides context to their altruistic purpose and long-term campus value: acting in the best interest of their students, even at the expense of profit.
Always Be Closing The Sale
Lease operators are actively courting college leadership for a place on campus. With large sales forces and budgets 2,000x larger than the average independent store, they are able to gain considerable traction -- often unknowingly -- which puts the independent college store at risk. Independent college stores have to similarly vie for the ears and attention of campus leadership, utilizing a very important and exclusive home court advantage: constant proximity.
In order for independent college stores to remain competitive, they need to always be advocating their value. They can do this by keeping key campus personnel up-to-date on store initiatives and data. If a store has a quarterly report, it’s important to make sure campus leadership is reading it. If campus leadership has office hours, it’s crucial for stores to drop by to discuss how they are working towards their needs. If stores are pursuing new initiatives, they should be informing campus leadership of feedback and progress real-time. With frequent, positive communication, college stores can build a connection with campus leadership that will make them less likely to consider the far less personal lease proposals that reach their desk.
Over-Communicate For Clarity
When squared against large for-profit corporations, independent college stores need a voice loud enough to dominate the conversation. In Patrick Lencioni’s The Advantage, it is suggested that people are skeptical about messages unless they hear it consistently over time, in a variety of different situations, and preferably from different people.
Stores need to embed the need for and value of their independence in every conversation they have – from students to employees to faculty to parents to campus leadership. By doing so, the store’s value is reinforced from all campus angles, allowing campus leadership to more readily embrace the store and its value proposition with conviction.
Independent college stores that leverage simple sales skills with campus leadership are more readily able to secure a strong, stable place on campus.