Higher Ed Corporate Partnerships Part 2: Sales Strategies

Higher Ed Corporate Partnerships Part 2: Sales Strategies

Higher education institutions aiming to develop successful corporate partnerships must be willing to acknowledge that marketing to and engaging businesses is different from marketing to and engaging students

In the first part of this series on higher ed corporate partnerships, I discussed how schools can position themselves to effectively market to businesses.

Once that positioning has been developed, the gold is in the follow-through: finding the right people, showing up at the right place at the right time, and building a sales process to bring corporate partners on board.

Cultivate the Right Mindset for Approaching Corporate Partnerships

Before diving into sales strategies for corporate partnerships, I want to talk a little bit about mindset—because it’s critical to have the right mindset as you prepare to go to market. 

In the context of establishing corporate partnerships, it’s important to recognize that sales is not a bad word. Companies expect to interact with business development representatives; they want someone who understands and can speak their language—not the language of instructional design or higher ed

It may help to think of sales as a form of education: a company faces a challenge, they want to learn how to overcome it, and your institution can help them get to that place.

Preparing for Corporate Partnerships

When preparing for a corporate partnership, here is a checklist to get you started.

Make a List

Begin by identifying the top three organizations with whom you currently have a solid relationship. Learn about what’s important to them and how they view your institution. Then, expand to your top ten organizations, with the goal of eventually having 50+ organizations on your list. 

Remember that these kinds of sales engagements can take much longer than a typical enrollment cycle. You’re on the companies’ time frames—not yours.

Use an Advisory Board

Members of nonprofit advisory boards typically expect to support the organizations whose boards they serve on. Set the expectation that your advisory board members will help build programs that are relevant to their industry. Ask them to commit to sending a set number of students during the first year of the program. 

Provided you’re working with your advisory board in good faith to create programs they’ll find valuable, it’s natural that they’ll want to enroll their people in those programs. It’s a win-win.

Configure Your Product Set Strategically

Consider how you can configure your product set to offer units that are smaller, easier to access, or tailored to specific industries and companies. 

Rather than building a custom course or program, take a simpler approach, like offering a flexible capstone course that allows students to complete a specific project relevant to their industry.

Develop Pricing and Creative Funding Models

Many schools wonder where they will find the budget to build a new program. I recommend identifying the 3-5 largest employers in your area and asking if they’ll be charter members, funding the development of a program that will benefit each of them. 

In exchange for their charter membership, they’ll get to send 10-20 students through the program when it initially launches. This perk doesn’t just benefit them—it also benefits you, as you’ll have a group of students to enroll in the program right out of the gate whose experiences with the program you can learn from.

Keep Learning and Iterating

Developing successful corporate partnerships is a process and it’s unlikely that you’ll achieve perfection immediately. Is your school prepared to learn and iterate? Do you have what I call the “institutional will” to persist through the first, second, and third potential failures? 

If you’re willing to put in the resources to continually improve, these efforts will pay off.

Preparing for Sales

Next up is preparing for sales. Here are several essential actions to take:

  • Codify your sales cycle. Identify the stages of your sales cycle and develop clear criteria for each stage. Understand that this sales cycle will be long—potentially up to 18 months or even two years.
  • Develop your qualifying questions. The questions you ask are important. Test and improve the style of your questions (i.e., making them feel natural) and how to get the information you need to identify opportunities.
  • Document your business process. Because sales cycles can take up to two years, you’ll likely experience turnover internally during that time. Document your processes so that when someone else steps in mid-cycle, they can easily pick up the thread.
  • Configure your CRM. A robust customer relationship management (CRM) system is critical to maintaining contacts. Configure yours to gain optimal value from automation.
  • Measure what matters to you and the companies you serve. Businesses need to know that if they do X, they will get Y in return. Demonstrate examples of that return to connect with them.
  • Communicate a clear value proposition. The best value propositions convey not what you or a faculty member think is valuable, but what your advisory board has proven to you is valuable.

Showing Up in the Right Places

When you’re ready to sell, you’ll need to show up in the right places. A website is essential for building credibility, but it’s generally not where you will conduct business in these cases. Instead, be where the decision-makers and influencers are:

  • Conferences
  • Journals
  • Events
  • Onsite 
  • Professional associations
  • Government and quasi-government agencies

MindMax Can Support Your Sales Process with Higher Education Consulting

If you need support planning and executing sales strategies for corporate partnerships, MindMax is here to help. Our higher education consulting services include driving schools’ relationships with businesses in their community and beyond. Connect with us to learn more!