The big negative place is the sales pressure they put you on. Every time I came in here, the sales pressure here is almost unbearable. Its like walking into a used car lot.
I’m still trying to figure out how many lessons we actually paid for, because I feel like we were owed one more. Everytime we came, they told us a different number of lessons that we had left.
Plus they try to rush you to finish your purchased lessons so you can buy more.
Do I blame them for doing this? Well yes and no. I understand thats how they make money – selling dance lessons. I just wish their wasn’t so much pressure.
Finally, one time the dance lesson was cut a few minutes short to discuss purchasing more lessons. Thats a big no-no in my book and honestly thats just rude and insulting. We paid good money for the lessons, I want my full 45 minutes! Unacceptable in my book.
All too often I hear stories like this. While they are often associated with franchise studios, this approach is equally used by independent studios. Someone decides they want to learn to dance, goes to a studio, and signs up for lessons. They enjoy the lessons and learn a great deal, but they are constantly bombarded by sales pitches. Some respond to this pressure and buy more lessons, some decide to look elsewhere, and some… they just leave. I find all three circumstances to be unhappy endings. Those who feel they were bullied into lessons rarely learn from them, while those who seek other studios often feel guilty for their decision, and those who leave have lost a wonderful opportunity to join the dance community, as surely as we have lost the pleasure of their joining our community. This week let’s talk a bit about why studios use high-pressure sales tactics (and why some don’t), how to turn these tactics to your advantage, and, when all else fails, how to avoid being suckered in.
What Me Pressure?
It doesn’t take a particularly keen mind to come to the main reason studios use high-pressure sales tactics: they work! Cynics will say that some studios will use whatever tricks they can to make more sales and increase their profits. Defenders of high ideals will say that if the studio doesn’t make a sale then it can’t spread dancing, and that whatever (legal) tactics are used, they are justified by the proliferation of dancing. Both views are technically correct to varying extents, but they don’t explain why these particular tactics are used.
When I taught for a franchise studio I was taught a number of these high-pressure strategies. I was taught how to repeatedly emphasize points, how to tie everything back to the students ongoing development as a dancer, and how to illustrate a student’s progress. I memorized several sales scripts, as well as responses to typical questions, and how to allay nearly every concern before a student could raise it. And I’ll say this: they worked. I used these techniques and students responded. When I was asked for permission to experiment with other sales pitches and was granted it, the experiments always demonstrated that these high pressure tactics were, on the average, the most effective way to make sales. But why?
At a party, I was speaking to a gentleman who worked in sales for a music company. As we compared sales methods he said that every succesful sales pitch followed the same seven steps:
- Introduction. Set the potential customer at ease.
- Ask about the potential customer’s needs.
- Ask, “What else?”
- Explain how your product or service will meet their needs.
- Ask if they agree that their needs will be met.
- Ask for a sale.
- Thank them.
This is it, the entire sales process distilled. I found it was nearly 50% more effective than the generic high-pressure tactics we used previously, but when those tactics were used correctly they hit the exact same points. High-pressure tactics are intended to determine your goals, make sure you know that your goals will be met, and conclude wit a sale.
This may seem somewhat superficial, but in the following sections you’ll how you can turn this to your advantage.
Being Pressured for Fun and Profit
High-pressure sales tactics make a lot of people uncomfortable. Whether we feel too many expectations are being placed on us, that our ability to make decisions is not being respected, or simply that it is a slimy approach, many of us don’t respond well to this approach. Once you understand the purpose of the high-pressure approach, however, you can defuse it and even use it to make a more-informed decision.
Let’s start with a common high-pressure approach: the one-on-one sales conference. A student or couple is sat down in a private room with a studio manager or their teacher – or both if the studio is tag-teaming them. The door is shut, charts are produced, and the studio representative begins a rehearsed speech about the benefits of further instruction. Many students feel this makes the studio seem shady – the phrase “used car dealer” appears frequently – but that’s not its purpose. The one-on-one approach, the closed door, is not intended to isolate the student but to focus the student. You’re not there to hear a pitch but to get information. All too often, the studio representative fails to understand this, which is when it gets slimy. I can tell you from personal experience: I would much, much, much rather have a student that will interrupt the flow of my pitch with constant questions, then have to read to them from a generic sales guide. Use this time to your advantage. Ask questions, get information, and make them get off-script. If a teacher feels a student is responding, she won’t care about the sales script; she’ll want to feed the student’s excitement and interest.
The number one thing that we hated to hear in those rooms is, “I need to think about it.” We didn’t hate it because it was a polite way of saying no, but because even when genuine (and the student usually meant the best intentions) reality would step in and people would forget to think about it, or make their analysis. What is it you need to think about? The worst thing that can happen isn’t that you don’t sign up for lessons, but that you leave without all the information you need to make your decision. What do you need to think about? Cost of the program? Duration? Comparisons to other studios? Enjoyment? Utility? Your goals? Whatever your concerns are, share them with the studio representative. He or she is there to address your concerns and figure out solutions.
Here are some questions you should be asking in these meetings:
- What is the total cost of the program?
- What is the total cost per lesson?
- What is included in the program?
- How long will it take me to complete?
- How will I be able to use my dancing after I finish the program?
- What happens if I am not satisfied with the program?
- What happens if I need to stop my lessons?
- What is the policy on refunds and/or cancelations?
- How many students attend group classes/practices/parties?
- What is the gender ratio of your events?
- Who will be my instructor?
- What happens if I want to change instructors?
- What happens if my instructor leaves?
- What happens if you cancel class or a lesson?
- What other services do you offer and what are their associated costs?
- How long do students stay with you? What is the longest? What is average?
- What are your instructors’ qualifications?
- What would a comparable package cost me at another studio? Why do you charge more/less?
Feel free to print out the list and bring it with you. If the studio representative can’t answer each question adequately, run. If the studio representive won’t put the answers in writing – especially where refunds are concerned – seriously consider going to another studio.
No Means No
Above all, however, never allow a teacher to turn your lesson into a sales meeting. This is your time and you’re paying for it. Complaining to the instructor is unlikely to get him or her to stop the pitches. Instead, ask to schedule a separate meeting specifically to discuss your next enrollment. The teacher, having accomplished his or her goal of initiating the next sale, will be able to focus wholly on the lesson at hand. Remember: it may not be the teacher’s choice to use such tactics. They may be studio policy, in which case he or she won’t be allowed to stop pressuring you without such a meeting scheduled. Approach this meeting sincerely, listen to what the studio representative has to say, and share your concerns.
Sometimes, despite asking the right questions and turning the sales meeting to your favor, however, you won’t be enrolling. Maybe you’ve met your goals and simply aren’t interested in furthering your dancing. Maybe you are interested but don’t think the studio can help you. Maybe you just can’t afford it. Whatever the reason, tell the studio representative.
Some people will bristle over this. “My reasons are private,” they say, “I shouldn’t have to share them to get someone to back off.” That may be true, but the teacher-student relationship is complex and, when a student disappears without giving a reason, it’s hard to avoid taking personally and, as anyone who’s ever been dumped without knowing the reason will tell you, it’s hard not to keep digging to discover the why of it all. You may think you’re being kind by not telling your teacher, “I want to try taking lessons from Joe Bagofdoughnuts,” but if we know Joe is a great teacher this is actually very helpful to hear. If you say, “These lessons were a treat but I can’t afford to continue them,” we know that no amount of badgering in the world will change your bank balance.
The key to stopping the hard sell is to once again invert the high-pressure tactics. A teacher focusing all his attention on selling you something has all his attention focused on you. This is your opportunity to make clear that you won’t be buying, and to do so in a way that makes clear further sales pitches won’t change your mind. Be direct and give a reason.