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Social Selling for Business Schools

social selling

Some years ago, a faculty colleague came into my admissions office and told me that I worked in sales.

I gave him the same quizzical look normally reserved for my British friends when I explain how the American staple of peanut butter and jelly goes together like, well, peanut butter and jelly.

But who was I to argue with Dr. John Powell, a strategy professor and Royal Navy Lieutenant-Commander who had specialized in avionic system modeling at British Aerospace?

It’s just that I never thought that reading applicant files, interviewing candidates, recruiting at MBA fairs, and making admissions decisions was a sales role.

This was academia after all.  This was different.

Or so I thought.

Fast forward fifteen or so years and business schools are increasingly taking a page out of the corporate playbook.

There are CMOs at Cornell Johnson, UNC Kenan-Flagler, and Northwestern Kellogg (just to name a few) much like there are CMOs at Apple, Google, and McDonald’s.

In addition, b-schools are “walking the talk” applying corporate management tools such as Net Promoter Score (NPS) and buyer personas to the admissions process.

Smart strategies.  After all, the days of “build it and they will come” are over.

We’re all doing more to reach more.

State-of-the-art website. Check. Slick webinars. Check. Social media chats. Check.

Yet as technology moves us forward at lightning speed, it’s also important to go back to the basics.

And that means one-to-one relationships that admissions professionals build with prospective students.

Although a premium is placed on expediency on our electronic age, people still crave personal attention.

It’s a paradox really. The more we’re “not seen” behind the veil of technology (laptops, iPads, iPhones), they more we want to heard and understood.

So, how can we combine the best of both worlds?

Enter social selling.

One of the new techniques in the corporate world, social selling enables salespeople (or, admissions folks, thank you, Dr. Powell) to build relationships with buyers where they are.

And today that means online.

In fact, millennials spend 5.4 hours each day on social media.

Social selling adds value to the customer experience journey.

It’s not incessant emails or phone calls asking “Are you ready to buy? Are you ready to buy?” (Or, in this case, “Are you ready to apply? Are you ready to apply?)

Instead, social selling is about providing helpful information that addresses the needs and goals of your customers. It’s about engaging in conversations that nurture relationships. It’s about showing a personal interest in the candidate as an individual. And it’s about being human in a process that can often feel impersonal.

As Social Selling Evangelist Jill Rowley explains:

“The modern sales professional doubles as an information concierge, providing the right information to the right person at the right time in the right channel.”

And that can mean generating leads even earlier in the buying process. (Do I have your attention now? Smile.)

Another benefit.  Social selling isn’t limited to one person. The more stakeholders who engage, the more visibility and awareness for your business school. That includes faculty members.

Here’s a sweet tweet, for example, from Professor Dave Logan of USC Marshall.

Curious about other examples of social selling in business schools? We don’t typically use the terminology, but it’s easy to find them.

Check out recent tweets, for instance. from Soojin Kwon, Director of Admissions at Ross School of Business.

The creativity will make you feel “blue” that you aren’t doing more of it. (Thanks for indulging me. I had to work the slogan in somewhere.)

Here’s another example of inspiring, helpful content that also expands reach through the use of a hashtag. Makes you want to find a cabinet of mentors – like you would, say, in an MBA program. Hint. Hint.

Even Soojin’s first-name handle suggests approachability to bring the business school to a human level.

In addition, the admissions director blogs create another opportunity for engagement while translating institution-speak into a conversation with candidates.

In the blog, Here are New Essay Questions for the Michigan Ross MBA Application, Soojin advises:

“Write as you would speak. To a real person. We, who read the essays, are real people.”

They say that one of the best ways to reduce stress and anxiety is through humor. And what better way to make candidates more comfortable and relaxed during the tense admissions process than by injecting a little laughter?

In addition, Soojin demonstrates empathy with the post “Waiting is the Hardest Part”.

You feel that Ross “gets” you and takes a personal interest.

Social selling can feel somewhat overwhelming when there’s already not enough hours in the day. But it doesn’t mean that it can’t be done.  It’s easy to start a little at a time (even 15 minutes every morning) and it eventually adds up.

Here are few ideas:

  • Establish or optimize a social media presence.
  • Identify the channels where you target audience “lives”
  • Mention a hobby or interest outside of work in your profile to create a connection
  • Share content – even if it’s just a quick update
  • Ask questions to create engagement
  • Connect with current students and alums to create awareness with their friends
  • Like and comment on posts
  • Join LinkedIn Groups
  • Publish on LinkedIn Pulse
  • Write a short blog

You may not have paired the two, but social selling and business schools really do go together.  Kind of like peanut butter and jelly.

Do you have a colleague who has a great social media presence?  What examples do you have to share?