Published on 2014/03/24

Switching Gears: Transitioning to Serving Businesses

Switching Gears: Transitioning to Serving Businesses
It can be new terrain for continuing education leaders to start serving businesses, rather than individuals, as customers, but the payoffs for the institution are significant.
As professionals in lifelong learning, we’ve come to mostly understand how to position our educational offerings in the student marketplace. Yet perhaps we’re overlooking a prospective market: businesses.

The business-to-business (B2B) lifelong learning marketing process has some significant differences from the business-to-student/consumer (B2C) model.

When your continuing education program decides to enter the B2B space, there are a number of considerations that need to be made, especially when it comes to marketing. Below are four of the key focus areas continuing education leaders need to consider when marketing toward businesses:

1. Economics of Training

When I say economics, I don’t just mean the cost of the training, but the cost of labor and return on investment — both from increased production and increased employee satisfaction — are just some of the key elements in business training. When working with businesses, focusing on the value, not the price, is the key element. The value of the training can be explained as happy employees making extra profits for the company in very simple terms. As well, provide all cost information in one total; the ‘nickel and diming’ of fees, parking and everything else can add up to unhappy final bills for the business’ accounting office.

2. Class Scheduling and Logistics

Is class during work hours, or on the employees’ own time? On-site at the office or on the school campus? Having class during the work day, on the campus, seems to be the most popular with students. Employers seem to prefer to have the employees in the office ‘in case of emergency’ and to have class during non-work hours to minimize downtime. It’s your challenge as a lifelong learning professional to find common ground. I’ve found offering class from 12 to 8 p.m., twice a week — with dinner provided — is good common ground. This format involves the employer paying half the labor and all of the tuition, with the employee kicking in some extra time while getting a free meal from the university.

3. Finding a Contact

The human resources or training manager might not always be your best contact. Their title and role in the company might seem like your best ‘in,’ yet I’ve found group leaders, area managers and supervisors are sometimes the best connections because they understand the needs of their workforce firsthand, have a budget authority and focus on getting the training delivered.

Word-of-mouth marketing with a business is fantastic; once one unit completes training, other area managers may come asking for the same type of training for their staff. And so the circle grows.

4. Customer Service is Key

Streamlining the process for large group enrollments, pre- and post-testing to measure performance and inviting your contact to sit in and observe class are some aspects of effective customer service. I’ve found inviting my contact to have lunch with the class allows the students to see that the company is checking in, and provides a sense of connection for the contact, even if he or she isn’t personally completing the training. In some cases, I’ve gone as far as inviting the CEO or local area VP to come on the final day of class and hand out the class completion certificates and pose for pictures with the students — just another way to create the personal connection through effective customer service.

The startup effort and long lead time with a business as ‘students’ can be a drawback to some lifelong learning professionals. Yet, by starting with the tips above and refining them based on your market and experiences, the opportunities for enhanced outreach and service can be beneficial for your continuing education program and institution overall.

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Readers Comments

Hickson R 2014/03/24 at 7:16 am

From my experience, we have almost always done training on-site as opposed to on our campus. Employees tend to like this arrangement because they’re familiar with the workplace location, commuting time, facilities and so on. It makes for less orientation needed at the start of our training. As well, it can help the employer (our client) visualize where our training fits into their operational need when we actually work on their site. I say this to remind institutions interested in breaking into the corporate training market to develop training that’s “mobile” and can be easily delivered off campus.

    John DeLalla 2014/05/29 at 3:28 pm

    Thanks for the excellent comment – and you’re right –
    on-site is a great option for many business clients. In the past our program has been ‘mobile’ all the way to Europe, and frequently within our geographic area. An additional upside to on-site classes is the extra space made available on campus for another, traditional class. Extra revenue, more service/outreach, and more students – a trifecta for a CE program!

Curtis Keller 2014/03/24 at 1:16 pm

I think John hits it right on the head with the need for CE units to enter the corporate training market. If you want to talk marketing efficiency, there’s nothing quite like making one pitch and getting tens or even hundreds of students (as opposed to an individual student). There are certain industries that higher education institutions have already broken into; healthcare and aviation come to mind. However, as industries and occupations increasingly become professionalized, there will be more employers looking for training and skills upgrading for their employees — an opportunity CE units should not pass up.

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