I have been conducting a lot of secret shopper engagements recently. For these projects, I take on the role of a parent and experience exactly what they experience during a client’s school tour. In the last month alone, I think I have taken around 8 different school tours!
Getting the school tour right is one of the most critical things that you can do to improve your student enrollment. The hardest part of enrollment marketing is getting a prospective parent interested enough to tour your school. But what is almost more important is giving them an incredible school tour, and most critically, “closing the deal” as they are walking out your door.
What are the benefits of having a strong school tour? Let’s look at two hypothetical K-8 schools.
- School A has 100 families tour the school and manages to enroll 60 new students. They have a “closure rate” of 60%.
- School B has 100 families tour and enrolls 70. They have a closure rate of 70%.
The ten incremental students that school B enrolled equates to about $65,000 in additional state funding or tuition (1 student = $6,500). That is enough to hire an additional teacher! Taken over the entire time these students are at the school (assuming these 10 were kindergarteners), this is an additional $585,000 more for the school!
You can see how improving your school tour can have significant financial benefits.
Though each school will present itself differently, here are four ways that you can improve your tour experience and enroll more students.
Make a strong impression with a great “pre-tour” process
Your target parent is generally going to be a millennial parent. These parents, who grew up with the internet, can be frustrated when they go to your website and can’t find the dates of your open house/tours or (even worse), you ask them to call to schedule.
In this critical “buying stage”, you need to make it very easy for them to register for your tour. The ideal solution is to create an online form that once they complete it – writes directly into their calendar. There are many plugins for WordPress websites that are free and can automate this for you.
Once you have all of their contact information in this online form (remember to ask how they heard about you for future marketing purposes), send them a nice confirmation email with a link to your marketing video about your school. You are in the courting process now and this first impression is going to set the overall tone and their perceptions about your school.
Ensure that their first impression of your school is a welcoming one
You must make the first impression as welcoming as possible. Consider reserving a few prime parking spaces out front for “Future Parents”. A small touch but one that is welcome. On the day of their tour, have a sign out front that welcomes Mr. and Mrs. Smith by name to your school.
When they check-in, administrative / reception staff should greet them by name and let them know that the person who is giving the tour is expecting them. You probably only have a few families a day touring. This makes it very easy to print the list out to give to your receptionist so she can greet people by name. By the way, notice that good hotels will always do this when they welcome guests. This instantly creates a relationship and a warm feeling.
Ensure that your front reception area is clean and doesn’t have boxes or other things stacked around it. Too many schools don’t think through the fact that your front office creates the first impression. It is not a storage closet.
These are all small things, but they add up to creating the impression that they are wanted and welcomed at your school.
It might be tempting to jump right into the tour, but before you do it stop!
Take the next 5 minutes and ask the parents more about their child. What are her strengths? Her interests? What does she want to get out of her time at her school? Knowing these things will allow you to customize the tour for that child’s interest.
Remember, they are not “buying” your school. Instead, they are “buying” the experience that their child will get at your school! Your tour should be about the benefits of your school to their child!
Armed with your knowledge about the child, you can now use much more powerful language during the tour. “This is where Emily will take her freshman English class.” Or, “This is where Nate will meet for robotics”. Talking in this fashion helps the parent to envision their child at your school.
During the school tour, try to have your principal or head of school at least stop by and introduce herself. If you are the principal who is giving the tour, great, but if it is a different staff member, the principal needs to at least make an appearance and introduce him/herself. People want to meet the leader of the school.
I can appreciate that a principal is pulled in many different directions during the school day, but student enrollment needs to be prioritized and families will appreciate that you thought they were important enough to interrupt your day.
One of the most critical things that many schools don’t do during the school tour is showing a classroom in action. You must include this in your tour!
I know that no teacher likes to deal with the “disruption” of a touring parent coming to their classroom, but the classroom experience is the core thing you are “selling” to the parent. If you are touting how great your teachers are and how strong your academic program is – then let the prospective parent see it for themselves!
Tell your faculty that since they are the stars of your school, you need to show them off during the school tour.
Tell your story the right way
Your tour must be scripted out with key talking points. There is so much to cover that if you haven’t thought through your tour in advance, it can be very easy to forget something. Once you write it out, you may find that you have missed an important point that you want to tell people about.
When I review school tours for a client, I always want to see if they cover the following things:
- Their academic successes, rating on state grades, graduation rates, curriculum, etc. This is much stronger if it is quantifiable (% of honors diplomas, state rating, etc.)
- Do they give a compelling story of what makes their school different from the one down the street?
- Do they discuss cost? This is more important for a private school, but for charter schools, don’t assume that people understand that a charter school is free.
- Do they showcase their diversity? More and more parents want their child educated in an environment that looks like the real world. Don’t make a parent ask for this – bring it up proactively.
- Are they talking about the level of technology at their school, or better yet, how technology is weaved throughout the curriculum?
- Where do students go after this school? If you are a high school, you need to talk about what colleges your graduates are admitted to. For elementary schools, mention the strong high schools that rave about your graduates.
- What is your “wow factor”? What is the one thing that they can get at your school that is so super cool that the parents wish they were students again? Don’t have a Wow? Then you need to think about making one.
End with a strong close and continue to nurture them until they enroll
Don’t make the mistake of finishing the tour, wishing them goodbye, and hoping that they call you. The follow up is the most important thing you can do to drive your enrollment numbers higher. Let them know the next steps that they need to take. Is it a shadow day? Is it filling out an enrollment form? Don’t be afraid to try to close them. At the very least, make sure that you ask them if they have any additional questions or concerns that you can answer.
Once they leave, follow up with a thank you card. Continue to touch them weekly to encourage them to enroll. I once worked for a sales manager who told me that he never lost a sale by following up, but he lost a lot because he didn’t follow up. You can automate a lot of this and it doesn’t take a lot of time, but don’t be afraid to court and recruit these parents.
These are all simple tactics that you can start to employ tomorrow to improve your tour process. Some of them might seem a little challenging at first, but over time, they will become second nature to you.
If you would like more guidance on how to improve your school tour, click here → School Secret Shopper. Clients repeatedly tell me that having me conduct a secret shopper project was the best money that they have spent on their enrollment and recruitment.