The “5 steps to selling” approach is a classic. But is it still valid?

By Tony Attwood

One can go back 80 years, or possibly more, and find books on marketing which suggest that marketing is a five step operation which runs through these approaches:

  1. Awareness: making the potential customer aware of you and your product or service.
  2. Generating leads: the list of people who are interested and might eventually buy.
  3. Trial Sign-Ups: getting people to have a look, have a go, ask for an inspection copy.
  4. Convert the sign-ups to customers: you know they are interested, now you give them a reason to buy.
  5. Customer Retention: staying in touch to get them to buy more.

These days, however, many people selling to schools don’t use this approach at all, and instead prefer to send out an email advert and get an immediate sale.  And if you can do that, that’s fine. But if not you might want to look again at the old 1 to 5 approach but maybe with the odd modification.

One popular variation these days is to combine points 1 and 2 by writing an email that makes the reader aware of the product or service, and then gets the reader to go to the website to learn more.

But at that point you still don’t know who that person is, so what you can do on the website is to get them to sign up for something.  That something can be anything from a free trial (point 3) to receiving a free briefing paper on a topic.

However one should never forget that the essence of point three is about getting the customer’s email address (and then absolutely not abusing it!) so that you can follow this up.

If you are stuck on how to do it, drop schools.co.uk a line (Stephen@schools.co.uk) and give him a few details about what you sell (ideally with a link to your website) and we’ll come back with some “point 3” suggestions.

Point four is obvious – you’ve got a person’s name and email address or phone number, and now you want to get a sale.

The best way to do this is to use whatever you have learned about your potential customer.  But beware, what tends not to work is phoning and saying “is there anything I can help you with?” or sending them the same sort of promotion that everyone gets.

What can work, however, is writing to these people as if they are a member of a group (while recognising to yourself that they are not).  So you can’t expect them to have read all 100 pages of your website and say “As you will have seen on…”

But they are interested.  So you can try, “One of the things that many teachers are now doing…” as if this is a bit of insider knowledge that you are sharing.  But you really have to make it believable – by this stage in the process heavy sales techniques or the suggestion that they are going like hot cakes (if hot cakes indeed ever did go) are really not appropriate.

The final point – staying in touch – is the one most firms miss, either because they don’t subsequently write at all to their customers or because they write irrelevantly.  You need to try to give the reader information that will be helpful and useful.

Obviously you have seen how schools.co.uk has done this, because you are reading this.  We aim to send out some information each week on selling to schools in terms of how to write promotions and so on (rather like this email), along with something on our services (offering the summer mailings to nursery schools, Scottish schools, and those involved in A levels at the moment) and once a week with something completely bonkers (The Toppled Bollard stories).

And because we know that we not only get more thank you letters concerning the Bollard tales than we do about anything else, but we also get more abuse about the Bollardic tales than about anything else (typically along the lines of “Do you really think anyone actually reads this rubbish?”) we allow people to opt out of just the Bollard on Friday, and stay with the remainder.

Of course it’s not necessary to stay with the five steps, because technology and attitudes have changed, but in my view, knowing the five points still gives us all an interesting guideline and helps one stay focussed.

If you’d like to read some more thoughts on ways of marketing to schools, you’ll find many more listed on our home page.   It’s jolly informative and….  Well, ok… it’s informative.

If you want to discuss anything such as how to get more sales for your product or who’s going to win the Premier League this season call Stephen on 01604 880 927.  Or email him  at Stephen@schools.co.uk

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