Industry-specific advice on networking, tips on using Twitter as a lead generator, and suggestions on how to raise service standards to beat your competition were among the highlights of English UK's annual marketing conference.
Other popular sessions included market briefings on Libya and Chile, advice for new marketers, generating income diversity through transnational projects, and the advantages of being a member of English UK's Core Group.
Huan Japes, English UK's Deputy Chief Executive for Professional Services, said: "I'm really pleased: the speakers have been great and delivered a very consistent message about getting people to think through consciously what they do and the ways in which they are working in sales and marketing and to explore the services they offer."
Almost 140 delegates attended the London event, with those from the South coast and Gatwick airport struggling with such extreme train delays that at least one resorted to calling their language centre's airport transfer service for a lift.
Delegates were very positive about the day. Rory Curley of the Delfin School of English said: "It's been fascinating, incredibly informative, with great outside-industry speakers. It's been really, really good. There have also been some of the best seminars I've been to ever at this kind of event."
Paul Hawthorne of the Devon School of English had been so determined to attend, despite the floods, that he abandoned plans to come by train, driving instead, added: "It's been really useful and informative." Phil Hopkins, who had struggled to reach the day from the English Language Centre in Brighton, commented: "It was a really good day: very inspiring speakers and it's always good to hear from people beyond the industry."
The day began with Andy Lopata's detailed explanation of how language schools facing a increasingly challenging business environment could fully utilise the power of networking to get and retain clients.
"You need to be proactive, stand out from the crowd, need to be master of your own message. You need to remember to stay in touch with people -- and remember, relationship is king," he said.
In a lively session tailored carefully to the needs of the language centres in the audience, Andy raised the question of why people might recommend a particular school. An important aspect of this was to become a better and more trusted partner with agents. "Recognise it's a two-way process," he said, pointing out that the school can affect the agency's reputation, and it can be useful to get post-placement feedback from agents, help make them look good, look carefully at response times and service, and update them on how students are progressing.
"What do you want people to say about you?" he asked, talking about the idea of developing champions for your language centre and the importance of developing a clear niche. He also had lots of advice about networking at events such as StudyWorld, and the importance of arriving early, staying late and avoiding colleagues.
Contacts should be followed up, he said, "24, 7 and 30" -- in other words, after 24 hours, seven days and a month.
In his next, workshop session, Andy answered more questions about this, stressing that the first emails should be "relational rather than transactional. Say something like 'it was really lovely to meet you and I enjoyed what you said about x,y and z. I'll get back to you about a,b and c. That gives you the opportunity for two interactions rather than one and also to create a relationship. If you can build some relationship into it early on I am saying actually, it can work in a different way."
It was good, he said, to build the relationship through different avenues such as perhaps Twitter, perhaps using a programme like HootSuite to sort contacts made at particular events into separate columns.
It was important to specialise, and to stand out, said Andy, explaining that he had been forced to turn down an invitation to appear at the marketing conference the year before: but had recommended three people he "knew and had faith in. If someone stands on stage and is rubbish English UK might have chosen a different approach the following year. Doing that also made me stand out."
He concluded: "Stay in sight, stay in mind. I subscribe to several publications and am always finding things in those I can share with people. But I look at what works for me. Everything you do has to be natural, authentic and genuine."
Another plenary speaker, Twitter expert Mark Shaw, had very similar messages. "There is no barrier to entry, no cost to get on it. You can have the same presence as Dell on any social media.
"But most people, when they go networking on social media, try to sell to everybody in the room. That's a terrible mistake: what you are after is to create advocates. You get to know what they do, they get to know what you do, you specialise and over time they are your greatest sales force.That's what you're after."
Mark, whose earlier career was in selling specialist medical products, added: "Twitter is not a broadcast station. It is a communication channel. Most people have no success on twitter as they are trying to do one-way communication."
"Twitter is brilliant for customer care because it's real time. If I was in a restaurant having bad service the chances are I would tweet my disgust before telling the manager, which gives the business a chance to rectify it. One of the interesting things is how many brands get it wrong, when it's so simple."
There were, he said, 6Bs to success: be authentic; be personal; be committed; be consistent; be interesting and be interested. Twitter was a great way to find potential customers, using search.twitter.com, and used properly, Twitter was "the greatest lead generation tool ever."
It was important to ask three questions before using Twitter: why do you want to be on there (it was important to have a plan); who will be tweeting, and what would success be. "You need proper metrics, like website traffic up in six months. Not followers: that's not meaningful."
Geoff Ramm's concept of celebrity service, he said, had started at a conference where one shop-owning delegate said she made coffee for her customers and had a sofa for them to sit on whilst browsing. "I asked her a question that changed her business: I said what would you do if a celebrity came into her business tomorrow?" Answers for improving her service included wearing her best dress, new hairstyle, proper coffee, and a polished floor. "What's that going to cost your business? But that's the word of mouth area. That's why I am passionate about this: how to improve when you didn't think there were improvements to be made."
Excellent service examples he gave included the South African coffee shop where they remembered his name and football club from visit to visit, the bike shop which had a pump for customers to use when it was closed, and a car showroom which sent personalised videos of cars to customers.
"You've got to do it love doing it, and if you don't love doing it you've got the wrong people in the role," said Geoff, adding: "All I'm asking you is that for every touch point in your service, make it celebrity service. That's the gap your competition cannot cope with."
Elective sessions included Richard Day discussing how using the core group statistics could be built into a centre's marketing plan (look out for a separate story on this) and Manjeet Kumari-Lal, Walsall College's Head of International, giving a masterclass in developing income diversity and building a succeesful business through transnational delivery and projects.
In an energetic session, she explained how to resell and reshape project ideas, consider unique selling points for different markets and think who you are offering a service to. "Do you want to target mass markets or do something bespoke? I'd do the first but if the second, do it with a ministry, get their funding, and sell it on," she said, advising centres to consider where they were going to get their constant income stream as a solid base.
Other tips were to have one product with different variants, to be rigorouus about project planning, to be careful about quality assurance and to know when to say no.
"Think not just about English language but what can you tag on to English language to give yourself a unique selling point... that's one of the things that's enabled me to develop a clear strategy.
"And think about your profit margin. My target was 20 per cent but last year it was 48 per cent, increased by developing strong profits."
Click here to see an album of pictures from this conference in our image gallery.
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