Thursday, March 6, 2014

Want referrals? Build relationships.

Ask any virtual school and they will tell you that word-of-mouth is the greatest asset to increasing their enrollments. Friends sharing their experience with others, inviting them to learn more, those are what show up time and time again as the number one driver for new students.

And yet, these same schools continue to increase their media costs by focusing on digital, television, radio, and even print ads while ignoring the potential for referrals. Of course, asking for referrals means you have to have built the relationship prior to the ask, or else it will fall flat.

Perhaps this is why virtual schools rely on the traditional media strategy, trying hard to find more leads to toss into the top of the funnel with the hope of more falling out at the bottom after being sifted through, while existing families leave at an alarming rate each year.

Building real relationships with your families and students requires vulnerability, authenticity, care, concern, time, effort, commitment, and desire. It is easier to sit in an office and develop a media strategy from afar, reading the data points, analyzing emerging trends, and searching for ways to increase click through rates by another .05%.

The problem though is that it is also riskier. Media strategies will not build loyalty. Relationship Strategies can. It is not a play on words, and understand that media plans arise out of Relationship Strategies, but the focus, the intent, and the outcome is different.

Relationship Strategies open you up to the potential of building authentic bonds with your students and families. And, as you strengthen these bonds with each and every touch point opportunity, it becomes only natural for you to be able to ask your families to share their experience with others.

Imagine a virtual school web site that said, "95% of our families say they would recommend us to a friend. And, 95% of them did."

What is your goal? "Would" or "Did"? A well-defined, genuinely-executed Relationship Strategy can move you from "would" to "did" when it comes to referrals.

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