The trial program, in its many configurations, has been a staple in the martial arts school enrollment process for a very long time. A trial program invites the prospect to come into the school to try anything from a single class to a month of classes for free or a small fee.
A good trial program takes the pressure off of sales and onto teaching, which is where you want it. It's hard to get someone to enroll in your school for a year with just a visit. To do so requires more sales skills than most of us are capable of on a consistent basis. The trial program allows your teaching skills to do the selling for you. This is more comfortable for you and the prospective student.
We're going to look at a few proven trial and non-trial strategies and then discuss the process as it relates to your school.
I have always advocated a two-lesson trial for $19.95 that includes a uniform. Essentially, I'm selling the uniform for $19.95 and providing the two 20-minute lessons as a bonus.
I like this process for good reasons. People who will pay $19.95 to take two lessons have already pre-qualified themselves for joining. Free lessons often bring shoppers, not buyers; in other words, people who are interested in martial arts but do not have the means to pay.
When people call, close on the appointment for taking the trial lessons and use a visit to the school as a fall back if they won't commit to taking the trial lesson course. This has worked at hundreds, if not thousands, of schools.
Guaranteed Enrollment Tour
In the early 1990s, Rick Bell of EasyPay introduced the Guaranteed Enrollment Tour. This took the student through five stations that presented the benefits of martial arts to the prospect and finished at a custom poster that EasyPay had designed. The poster helped the salesman convey the benefits in a pretty emotional manner. If the student balked at the financial presentation, the sense of risk was alleviated by a 30-day money back guarantee.
Andrew Wood used a hybrid approach at his Martial Arts America schools. He invited a prospect to the school to get an eight-page information kit. When the prospect arrived, the instructor invited him to take a trial lesson on the spot. This lesson concluded at the point the instructor felt the student was at his or her height of excitement. This was often a six- to eight-minute lesson followed by a presentation in the office for the close.
A successful strategy that involves free lessons has been done best by Bill Clark in Jacksonville, Florida. His concept is not a new one, but the execution is. He calls it the VIP enrollment process. He developed it with the help of Fred Mertens.
The concept is that the only way to join his school is to be recommended or referred by an existing member. That is not a new idea. However, he has taken this to a new level. He requires his staff to go into the community and strike up conversations with prospects in shops, standing in line, walking the sidewalk, in restaurants, and anywhere else they might be. The conversation determines if the prospect has any interest in training. If so, the staff member presents the prospect with a VIP card, which entitles her to a 30-day trial membership that includes a uniform at no charge. The instructor explains that the school only allows referrals in, so the instructor will refer her.
The strategy is to have them take two private lessons that are essentially the same as any two-lesson trial course. After the first or second lesson, depending on how well each went, an enrollment conference is made. The conference strategy is to offer three options for paying: a high monthly tuition, a slightly discounted tuition paid in five months, or a single payment with a significant discount.
This is a pretty standard presentation strategy, with the exception being that the instructor then offers to discount the membership further by crediting the value of the VIP pass off the annual program. So if the annual was $999, the student can reduce that $100 more by signing on that day. You would be amazed how many students will then cut you a big check.
Trial Month Offer
Tiger Shulmann Karate, arguably the most successful franchise in the industry, currently uses a $79 trial month offer that includes two private lessons and a uniform. Again, the idea is to enroll them after the two lessons.
You may be thinking, that's what I do or that's a good idea. Look a little closer. Reread them and you will notice that some of the largest, wealthiest, and most successful martial arts school owners in history use the trial lesson concept. Certainly, Tiger Shulmann and Bill Clark are in that picture.
This is not to take anything away from Rick Bell and Andrew Wood but, for the most part, they dealt with small schools. Both are excellent salesmen, and that's an important requirement to make any non-trial introductory program work. You have to be able to close someone within 15 to 20 minutes of his walking in the door.
The intro tour and the eight-page info book/quickie lesson put the burden of enrolling on the salesmanship of the instructor instead of the experience of the student. It's very difficult and a bit intimidating to have to make a decision to join a martial arts school within a half hour of walking in the door. It's like getting married without dating first. It's fast.
If you agree that the three dominant learning methods for the human population are divided into visual, kinesthetic, and auditory learners, you can be sure the kinesthetic will be hesitant to join without first physically experiencing the classes. That's one third of your market. The visual learner often needs time to go through your materials to help him get a grasp of what you are offering. That's another third of your market. The auditory learner may be best suited to listen to your pitch and act.
I'm not saying these are definitive percentages, and I don't believe anyone is 100 percent one way or the other. But the fact is that you would not buy a car without driving it first. I like people to know how we teach before joining. I want high-quality students, not only in terms of their ability to pay but also in their commitment to stay.
This is especially true if you are enrolling students into 12-month agreements when they join. Many areas allow people to cancel a contract before three days has elapsed. This is a …cooling off¯ period that allows people with buyer's remorse to get out of an agreement. Buyer's remorse is common, and we've all experienced it, whether someone persuaded us to make a bad purchase or we persuaded ourselves and wish we hadn't. The ratio of buyer's remorse cancellations for hard-sell enrollments is far higher than for more trial lesson based selling enrollments.
Imagine hard selling as the instructor on one side pulling a rope, with the prospect on the other side pulling back. He who pulls the longest usually wins. That's why car salesmen will babble on about anything and even step between you and your car to keep you on the car lot. They know the longer you are there, the more they will wear you down and the odds of closing you increase. It's not a fun process for either party. I know because I have pressure-sold many martial arts courses.
Widely recognized as the man who revolutionized the martial arts industry, John Graden launched organizations such as NAPMA (National Association of Professional Martial Artists), ACMA (American Council on Martial Arts), and MATA (Martial Arts Teachers Association). Graden also introduced the first trade magazine for the martial arts business, Martial Arts Professional.John Graden's latest book, The Truth about the Martial Arts Business looks into key strategies involved in launching a martial arts business and includes Graden's own experience as a student, a leader and a business owner.Graden is the author of six books including The Truth about the Martial Arts Business, The Impostor Syndrome: How to Replace Self-Doubt with Self-Confidence and Train Your Brain for Success, Mr. Graden has been profiled by hundreds of international publications including over 20 magazine cover stories and a comprehensive profile in the Wall Street Journal.Presentations include: The Impostor Syndrome, Black Belt Leadership, The Secret to Self Confidence, and How to Create a Life Instead of Making a Living, John has taught his proven and unique principles of success to thousands of people on three continents since 1987.From keynote presentations for thousands to one-on-one coaching sessions, John Graden is a dynamic speaker, teacher, and media personality who brings passion and entertainment to his presentations.