Telephone and Recruitment Procedures
by Robert Wolfe
Whatever the means of advertising employed by a dojo — brochures, a Yellow Pages™ listing, or word of mouth — a potential student will almost always approach the dojo through a phone call. How that initial phone call is handled will likely prove to be the most critical link in the chain between civilian and deshi. Our arts speak for themselves, and nearly all visitors watching a class are immediately caught by the spirit, challenge, and beauty of training. The trick is getting the potential student through the door to see what we do.
The phone procedures used at the Itten Dojo are based on a series of articles which appeared in the monthly magazine Martial Arts Professional, “The Trade Journal of the Martial Arts Industry.”
When MAP first appeared, I took it to be a very thinly veiled advertisement for Century Martial Arts Supply products and seminars, and pretty much dismissed the publication out of hand. The judgment was premature. While Century continued for some time to figure prominently in the magazine, MAP evolved to be become such a thorough and reliable business reference that I would not wish to do without it.
One of the most useful features of the early years of MAP was Rick Bell’s monthly column, Saved by the Bell. Mr. Bell is a karate instructor and president of Easy Pay Tuition Services, and his methodologies are based on wide experience in both martial arts and more mainstream commercial endeavors.
I’ve never been any more inclined to adopt all of Mr. Bell’s strategies than I would be to employ a tuition collection service, but the fact remains there are basic principles of salesmanship that are appropriate for use even in the context of a traditional dojo. With modification of two of the four elements of the program described by Mr. Bell, we were able to develop phone procedures which resulted in a 30% increase in the rate of converting phone calls to appointments.
Bell’s program employs “The 4 P’s”: Pivot, Profile, Praise, and Prompt. Bell subscribes to the philosophy of “If you can’t buy it over the phone, don’t try to sell it over the phone,” and his 4 P’s are intended to achieve an appointment with the potential student, rather than convey every possible detail about the history and characteristics of the school.
Typically, a potential student calls to gain additional information on which to base his selection of a school and begins by asking some sort of question, usually about the nature of training or the cost of lessons. While we traditionalists often take a dim view of someone leading off with the latter question, I’ve found it advantageous to remind myself that civilians don’t know the rules, and any potential student I cut off right at the very beginning of the conversation is someone who probably won’t have the chance to learn.
The really important thing to note is that asking questions is interviewing, and whoever asks the questions controls the exchange. Mr. Bell is adamant on the point. “You must take control of the interview by starting to ask the questions.”
Most of the time, I don’t even answer the caller’s first question. Regardless of what he says, I usually respond with something like, “Are you looking for training for yourself or your child?” or “What are you looking for in training?” One question to avoid is “Have you trained before?” My experience is in line with Mr. Bell’s opinion that the previous training question makes a caller feel he might not qualify as a student, when, in fact, it’s often easier to work with someone who’s a “blank slate.”
We use “The Pivot” without modification.
Once The Pivot is accomplished, my questions are designed to provide me a clear picture of what is motivating the potential student to seek martial arts training. What gets a student into the dojo isn’t really important, since even the motivations the student is aware of will quickly change, but the more I know up front the better my description of our program will address what the potential student perceives as his needs.
“The Profile” can also be used with no concession to the special requirements of a traditional dojo.
Here’s the point at which we need to diverge somewhat from Mr. Bell’s procedures. Bell uses the Praise step to tell the caller how his training program will meet the needs identified during “The Profile.” Although he cautions against an oversell, Mr. Bell seems willing to attribute to his art just about anything a potential student might be looking for. (Or, more accurately, anything a parent might be looking for. Since most commercial schools are completely dependent on children’s classes, most of Mr. Bell’s examples address the situation of a parent searching for training for his child.)
While I agree the range of benefits from training is broad, I think there are degrees of benefits that should be made clear to a candidate for membership in a traditional dojo. If a caller says he is looking for self-defense, I’ll point out that aikido is popular with law enforcement officers and emergency response personnel, but I’ll also be sure to state that it will take a lot longer for the average student to develop practical self defense skills in aikido than would be the case with a punching and kicking art.
In some cases, a person inquiring about aikijutsu decides that swordsmanship may be closer to what they really had in mind.
If I don’t think either of our programs match the expectations of the caller, I refer him elsewhere.
The final step in Mr. Bell’s procedure, “The Prompt is where you insist, in a nice way of course, that the caller take some action, which, in this case, is to come to your school in person.” Mr. Bell advocates a series of specific techniques to hook the caller into making an appointment, including getting an idea of the caller’s work schedule and stating a need for the caller to make an appointment with a third person (such as the staff member in charge of Mr. Bell’s “I’m A Winner” program for shy kids, for example).
We don’t use “The Prompt” in this manner at all. In fact, I consider the procedure described by Mr. Bell to be manipulative, completely inappropriate, and contrary to the spirit of a traditional dojo.
Instead, if the caller seems to be a reasonable candidate for membership, we extend an invitation for him to make an appointment to observe a class and/or receive a package of detailed information.
Most people seem very pleased by the prospect of the information package. From the reactions I receive, my impression is few other schools make any provision for a personal, follow-up letter, and yet students who enroll in our dojo often cite the letter and information package as a primary factor in their selection of our school.
Depending on the profile formulated in the initial call, our information packages may include our brochure, a map with the location of the dojo, a schedule of tuition and fees, background data information on aikijutsu or kenjutsu, or a reprint of an article we’ve published.
In certain cases where the caller does not respond to the information package with a request for an appointment, I will send a final correspondence to take advantage of the “three hits” rule brought to my attention by Mr. Weiss. The third contact may be one of our monthly calendars, or a note, but in any case it’s something that requires virtually no effort on my part. Nonetheless, the third hit does produce occasional enrollments.
The Bottom Line
I keep records of contacts and enrollments so that I can evaluate the effectiveness of our procedures. By means of a matrix in my day planner book, I can note the progress of an individual through what I consider to be the significant steps in the recruitment process:
• Contact — the prospect calls the dojo.
• Appointment — the caller sets a time to observe a class.
• Visit — the guest actually shows up to watch.
• Interview — the guest formally requests and sits for an interview.
• Enrollment — the application and release form is signed, and the prospect becomes a conditional member.
• Deshi —the student is around long enough to become part of the group.
The following counts illustrate our rate of converting contacts to deshi in the five months prior to our implementing phone procedures based on the articles by Mr. Bell:
• Contacts: 42
• Appointments: 19 (45%)
• Visits: 17 (40%)
• Interviews: 13 (31%)
• Enrollments: 10 (24%)
• Deshi: 6 (14%)
In the five month period following implementation of revised procedures, we improved our conversion rates to:
• Contacts: 36
• Appointments: 27 (75%)
• Visits: 22 (61%)
• Interviews: 19 (53%)
• Enrollments: 15 (42%)
• Deshi: 10 (28%)
Most interesting, to me, is the fact that even with six fewer people entering the application queue in the five month period, we emerged with four more new students than in the five months prior to our revision of procedures. The increased rate of appointments was a bow wave that carried through the entire recruitment process.
We approach every aspect of the operation of our dojo with the same degree of focused effort and analysis we habitually bring to the mat. Our experience with more systematic phone procedures clearly demonstrates that a higher level of professionalism, applied to a critical aspect of the operation, produces remarkable results.