Micah, you‘re the rare kind of guy that breaks down a lot of those typical stereotypes about salesmen. You’re such a great listener and do so much work to help our whole team start getting a handle on the real needs of our clients. Thanks for your 11 years of work at North Star! As we celebrate your workiversary, tell us what the last year has been like for you. What are some highlights?
Micah: Both professionally and personally, it has been pretty crazy. At this time last year, my wife was still working through some significant health challenges. She’s in a much more stable place now and we’re grateful for that. And when I think about the work front, a year ago, we were coming off of a really dry season in sales, and website sales in particular. This helped us to reimagine our website offering, which led to our new tiered pricing model.
So, yeah there has been a great deal of change in the last year. Everyone is facing a lot of uncertainty right now and we’re having to make hard decisions, but we’re more confident in our positioning today and the direction we are moving than we were a year ago. In that sense, there is a level of stability even though the waves are still crashing hard in different ways.
Tell us more about the tiered pricing model you mentioned. I know that was a lot of work and schools have been taking advantage of that new offering.
Micah: We had gotten to the point where we went to market with a single solution, and it was increasingly out of reach for school clients with limited marketing budgets. They couldn’t afford a fully custom website. Our tiered pricing model allows us to give our school clients options they can select from that best meets their needs and their budget. The fastest, least expensive tier in our new website solution is often an incredible upgrade from what many schools have when they first come to us. It doesn’t stress their budget as much, but it still improves the overall look, feel, and functionality of their website. It also puts them in a system that can more easily scale and grow with them over time, which is a benefit for schools working with current website solutions that are more restrictive, or costly to upgrade.
What’s your approach to sales conversations when a school gets in touch with our team, Micah?
Micah: Usually, I just ask, “What’s prompting the need for the conversation today? What’s happening in your world?” Most often, schools will come to us either because they have a specific problem or need in mind, or because they’ve been referred to us by another school or Rick Newberry at Enrollment Catalyst. I ask questions and I let them unpack the problem, and often, before long, we pivot to think more broadly or deeply about their marketing strategy. They might come to us saying declining enrollment is an issue and looking for a lead generation campaign to fix that issue. It might be, however, that they haven’t necessarily considered how their old clunky brand or website is affecting their ability to generate leads. They might not be able to afford a bigger solution right away, but these issues never come up in a vacuum. I like taking through our Principles of Prioritization so they can see how the different pieces fit into the whole marketing puzzle.
This is one of the most rewarding parts of my sales role — helping the customer rethink their most pressing need. Not just selling something for the sake of a sale, but working with them to determine what the real issue is and then working with them to solve it. That might include the project they are asking for in the first place, but just as often it means helping them realize that it’s a bigger or more interconnected problem than they knew. For example, many of the PreK-12 school clients we serve have a more school-centered approach to messaging. They aren’t truly thinking first about their prospective parents.The joy of our sales approach is I get to help a customer think through a change in that focus. When it’s not all about talking through your features and benefits but understanding your customer and what problems they are trying to solve, you start connecting with families in a better way. In addition to a website revamp, you might need to pull over and think about how your value can be tailored to each customer segment.
What kinds of topics or trends are surfacing in your calls with clients these days?
Micah: Every conversation begins and ends with COVID-19 and how schools are navigating marketing and enrollment in this season. Back in March and April, it was all about helping schools promote themselves to parents who could not leave home or come to camps. So that led to our ReSearch offering, which has been helpful for many of our schools. They’ve still been able to generate leads in an uncertain time.
Right now, the primary conversation is helping schools use their back to school or reopening plan to leverage lead generation and enrollment growth. The number one question parents are asking schools all over the nation is, “What will school be like when we start back — will you be on campus, or not?” Some schools are behind on getting a message out there, and others have a 20-30 page detailed back to school plan that is helpful but overwhelming for parents looking for a school solution. We’re helping them put together an attractive, high-level back to school campaign that works as a lead magnet for parents. Especially for parents who have been waiting to hear if a school has a back to school plan before they make a decision.
What other news can you share from home these days?
Micah: Well, I’ve been reminded recently that I’m getting older. [Laughs.] Our oldest child is 11 and the second oldest about to be 10. It’s an exciting time but also, the issues we’re facing, or will soon be facing, are so different than they were when the kids were three, four, or five. We’re hanging in there like everybody else is in this season. Lot of days feel like groundhog day. Same things week after week. But we’ve been trying to not only spend some good family time together but look for ways to get together with and invest in people as we can. In-person relationships and fellowship are a casualty of this time.
We’re also working through a garage conversion and turning that into a playroom or bonus room. On the weekends, the boys and I have been running wire and framing up a wall, and that’s fun and rewarding to see something like that come together and know you had a hand in getting it done.