Are we connecting with Mom?

As a young auditor, I was admonished to avoid merely following the workpapers of the previous year.  A fresh approach or perspective often provided new insight and reflected improvements within the industry.  This was in the days before personal computers so we had volumes of personally prepared sheets in legal sized binders. And every year, standards and expectations changed.  We had to as well.

My daughter followed that part of my career path, working in the same city for another of the national firms.  Twenty-five years later, the entire technology had changed, requiring fewer people and much less paper.  My approach would have shed little light on the process of auditing a generation hence and I suspect the pioneers of new approaches and processes were not inclined to merely “follow the workpapers.”

In the field of higher education, it is interesting how the processes of thirty years ago remain in effect, with minimal change.  This is especially true in the area of admissions. Today, we have added visit coordinators and statisticians but the paradigm of recent grads traveling all over the countryside to meet with prospective students is very much the same.  Efficiency is likely improved by customer relationship management (CRM) tools and the permutations of names that can be bought but the general paradigm remains somewhat unchanged. The lowest on the org chart is called an admissions counselor. These recent grads ”report” to nearly everyone.

Pondering the sales organizations of other commercial enterprises one concludes that higher education may indeed be unique. Elsewhere, the sales responsibilities given to recent grads involve robo-calling prospects to set up appointments, providing support to seasoned reps, gathering statistics or being a “genius” where the young person accumulates vast amounts of product knowledge for a few years before becoming a junior representative, paired with a veteran.

One may ask whether anything has changed in thirty years to merit even the smallest adjustment to the higher education paradigm.  Well, if you’re at all like me, forty years ago I was not looking to Mom for direction with the college search.  She represents the strongest influencer today.  The task is to convince Mom and Dad, along with Junior that this college is the best fit for the student’s needs and wants.  But while Mom may have cast a modicum of respect toward a young admissions counselor a generation ago, society’s pecking order has shaped her into “take-charge Mom” today.  She likely has a career and has invested more time than can be imagined at soccer and volleyball games. 

She is a force to be reckoned with.

Across the desk from her is a delightful recent grad with little sales training who rightly views his societal position as a few rungs below his own Mom. He is a “counselor” and not a “closer.” Mom drives the conversation and he is along for the ride.  Is it any wonder that there has been such an emphasis on price today?

Let me suggest that we, as an industry, benchmark against other sales paradigms.  Do any of our “counselors” look vaguely like Mom?  Does it make sense for a visit coordinator or statistician to command a higher salary than the people who are supposed to be attracting the new crop of students to land at our place?  Why would we pay a major gifts officer three times what an admission counselor makes when each counselor is responsible for multiple millions of dollars from multi-year relationships?

I think we have it backwards.

I think we’re following the workpapers.

What do you think?