The Online and Professional Education Association
Valuable insights from UPCEA's trusted corporate partners.
Higher education institutions aiming to develop successful corporate learning 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 learning, we 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.
Before diving into sales strategies for corporate partnerships, let’s 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.
When preparing for a corporate partnership, here is a checklist to get you started.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Developing successful corporate learning 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 we 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.
Next up is preparing for sales. Here are several essential actions to take:
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:
If you need support planning and executing sales strategies for corporate learning 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!
Lee Maxey is Founder and CEO of MindMax. Lee has led MindMax since its founding in 2009, providing technology-enabled marketing solutions to accelerate enrollments for universities. Lee takes pride in building long-lasting relationships with MindMax’s university partners and building a culture focused on results aligned with client specific needs. MindMax provides strategic guidance, proven processes, and the latest digital tools to optimize online marketing and enrollment operations for university-affiliated continuing and professional education organizations. We are a trusted advisor to many of the nation’s top universities, and have transformed hundreds of online programs, impacting over 1 million students.
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