Last month, I received an email from my Alma Mater, asking if I would represent the university at a local college fair. Me? College recruiter? It was a first, but I was willing to give it a shot. To prepare for the event, I reached out to my colleague, Derek Faasse, Regional Recruiter with The University of Alabama, who would also be attending the same event, and asked him to share with me a few tips. I walked away from the conversation and subsequent event with a renewed understanding for how to be a successful trade show booth staffer. Here are my five key takeaways.
1. never leave home without your bag of stuff.
“I have a ‘rolie bag’ of materials for every fair,” said Faasse. “When I make personal student visits, I typically carry a messenger bag with supplies.”
Faasse’s bag contains general admissions materials and university information sheets, a table banner and banner stand as well as “emergency items” such as pens, scissors, markers and bottled water. But even more important than the contents of the bag is the intention that goes with it. In your bag is your confidence, your passion, your ambition. Every time you walk into a booth space with your bag-o-tricks, you walk in with the intention of putting 100% effort into making the show a success.
2. love what you sell.
When I asked Faasse what he enjoys about college recruiting, he spoke about the unique educational programs and experiences that The University of Alabama offered. But it wasn’t a flat sales pitch. It was something in which he really believed and of which he was proud. It flowed so easily from him that I – I who was not even a prospective student – was convinced! “Sign me up,” I wanted to say. But that just goes to prove the core fundamental of sales: you have to believe in – and even love – the thing that you are selling.
3. embrace your weaknesses.
Nothing – product, service or university – is perfect. If it won’t break, then it’s expensive. If it’s cheap, then it may not work. If you have small class sizes, then you probably have a hefty tuition bill. We have to do more than just “know” our weaknesses; we have to embrace them.
“When I was recruiting for Lake Superior State University, the biggest challenge that I encountered was name recognition,” said Faasse. “More often than not, I got conversations started with, “I’ve never heard of you before,” or, ‘Where are you guys located?’ I knew those questions would be asked, so I was always prepared with an answer that sold the benefit of a small, tight-knit learning environment.”
4. be a “relationship builder” first, “closer” second.
Often, we set trade show goals based on number of closes or quantity of sales, but we need to keep in mind that the relationships we forge at these events are greater in value than any one-time sale.
“Well-advertised and well organized college fairs are a great way to meet qualified prospective students, but not necessarily to recruit them,” said Faasse. “Recruiting a student starts after that first meeting, when you get the chance to connect with a student and family and learn more about their academic goals.”
5. search for “matches,” not just “conversions.”
The truth is, not every prospect will make a great client. Again, it’s easy to get caught up with numbers – numbers of leads, number of closes, number of dollars earned – at a trade show, but it’s important to slow down and make sure that the prospect is a good fit for your products and services.
“A recruiter’s job is to get students,” said Faasse. “But the recruiter’s goal should be to honestly portray their school and give a student all the information they need to make the best choice for them and their family.”
This last point is, in my opinion, the most important lesson learned from this experience. Your role as the first point of contact for that client at a show is to help guide them through the process of finding a solution that meets their needs. Sometimes that means they’ll choose your solution, sometimes that means they’ll choose another solution.
“Not every student knows the perfect questions to ask or has placed higher education high on their list of priorities,” Faasse said. “Being able to coach a student through a difficult decision might take time and a little more work, but, in the end, it’s definitely worth it to help a student reach the best decision, whether it’s with your university or not.”
Sometimes exhibiting lessons show up in odd places. Have you ever had an odd job and walked away with some valuable trade show ideas? Let us know in the comments or tweet us @Nimlok!