Last updated: September 28, 2018
How I learned my inbound sales process for tutoring
Tutoring is an inbound sales gig. By this, I mean that leads contact you through email or phone by virtue of your marketing efforts. You do not cold call or cold email leads in order to to get them to work with you, for the most part. This is a good thing, too, as cold calling is nerve-wracking and unpleasant.
The sales process I use for my tutoring is designed to efficiently get people from that initial contact to paying me, without making it seem like that’s what I’m trying to do. After all, although you’re trying to get paid, your client is trying to learn. They’re not averse to paying you, but they want to make sure they’re getting bang for their buck.
This took me a long time to learn. When I first started working as a tutor, I often came off as desperate during calls. The reason why? I was desperate. As soon as someone contacted me, I’d think, “Oh my god! Someone wants to hire me!” Then I’d freak out, do my darndest to get them on the phone, then yammer away on the phone until they (hopefully) hired me.
In other words, my sales process was a mess. Even worse, a lot of the people who were convinced by this sales process were bad clients. They weren’t bad people, but they were often disorganized, broke, or constantly trying to get one over on me.
I’m reminded of one almost client early on, who agreed to work with me, then, when it came time to pay me, tried to suddenly cut my agreed-upon fee in half. When I told him that was unacceptable, he told me I was the reason that so many young men ended up in prison, namely “education is too expensive”. He was not a good client.
I’m much better now. Probably 80% of the people who contact me now end up working with me after my sales process. Even better, the people who work with me are good clients. They respect me, and they’re willing to pay what I ask, because they trust I can deliver what they want.
Speaking of that, it’s probably a good time to discuss what it is a potential good client wants. That’s the next section.
What the people you want to hire you as a tutor want (i.e. good clients)
A good client wants to hire someone who they are confident can and will work with them to achieve their goals. They understand that it is ultimately their own responsibility to achieve their goals, but they need someone to teach them how and to motivate them. As such, they are looking for someone knowledgeable, reliable, and confidence-boosting. Once they find a person like that, they are willing to pay them a fair rate for their expertise.
Given that’s what a good tutoring client wants, the sales process of a tutor is to convince a client that you are knowledgeable, reliable, and confidence-boosting. You want to convince the client that, if they work hard, you can help them achieve their goals. Then, once they’re convinced of your worth, you ask for a money and time commitment.
Fortunately, because this is an inbound sales process, a lot of the work is already done for you by your marketing efforts. You don’t have to go above and beyond to convince the client. They contacted you because they were already somewhat convinced by the work you put in. You just need to seal the deal. I’ll discuss how to do so in a little bit, but first I want to talk a little bit about who should read this guide.
Who should follow this inbound sales process (besides tutors)
This is a sales process that I developed through a lot of talking to potential tutoring clients. But it’s not only appropriate for tutors. Essentially, this is a guide for anyone who’s in inbound sales, dealing with consumers, and has a specialized skill that people pay a lot for.
So, if you’re a consultant, personal trainer, IT guy, or sports massage therapist, this is a good guide for you. On the other hand, if you are trying to sell to big businesses, your sales process needs to be longer and more specialized.
On the other, other hand, if you’re dealing with a lot of walk-in customers or same-day appointments, your sales process should be as short as possible. For example, if you run a maid service, a lot of people will be happy to book you sight unseen. Let them! Just put a widget on your website so they can get someone out to their place immediately.
For people in the first group, though, here’s the process.
How to Sell as a Tutor
I developed my sales process over a lot of experimentation. This was painful experimentation, because when I got it wrong I would lose a potential client. By opportunity cost, it probably cost me around $20,000 to develop this process. So, pay attention, because this is some expensive information.
My sales process is as follows:
- Initial emails to get basic information about them (2-3 short emails sent by me)
- Phone call to get more in-depth information about them, and answer any immediate questions they have (10-15 minutes on the phone)
- In person meeting or video chat to explain what they can expect from working with me, as well as to arrange pricing and logistics (20-30 minutes in-person or over video chat)
Initial emails for basic information: first steps to your inbound sales process
When people first contact me, they usually send me something like the following message.
It’s a short, concise message, written by someone who needs a tutor for a specific reason. As such, they are almost certainly going to be a good client for me. However, I am not going to jump into calling them, or immediately asking them for payment, or anything like that. I want to sell my services to her, but I don’t want her to feel like she’s being “sold”.
Instead, I respond with a short message, so she knows I’ve seen her email and I’m interested in her personally. One of the big advantages of being a one-man shop is that I can be personal, and I take advantage of that with my sales process.
I send another follow up email to her for a bit more information. Then I ask for a time to talk to her on the phone.
And that’s it for the initial emails. We scheduled a time to talk over the phone, and now we’re set.
You see? It’s not rocket science, or some incredibly slick, sneaky sales process. This woman already knew that I was a good tutor because she had seen my website. She just needed to be reassured that I cared about her individual situation, which any tutor has to do. Once we covered that, we could arrange for the initial phone call.
Initial phone call for more in-depth information: second step of your tutoring sales process
Once I schedule the phone call, I call them (or they call me) at the appointed time. I am always incredibly punctual for anything having to do with tutoring, and this is no exception. If people are paying you per hour, they want you to show up on time.
The importance of punctuality should be obvious, but I’m always amazed when I try to hire someone and they can’t show up for our first meeting on time. The most important and basic part of selling is that you promise something, then they pay you for it. In the case of tutoring, you promise that you can help them academically. If they can’t trust your promises, they will not pay you for your promises. Therefore, the first thing that you promise them (a phone call at a certain time), needs to be a promise you keep unless you absolutely have to postpone.
Anyhow, I usually start off the phone call by introducing myself (if I called them). I make a little bit of small talk: “How are you?” “Weather’s nice now, isn’t it?” “You’re in the Seaport District, right?”
Then, I segue into talking about tutoring in a pretty blunt fashion. I just say, “So, you’re interested in tutoring for the GMAT, right?” Often, they’ll say yes, and just start talking on their own. If they start talking on their own, great! This initial phone call should feature them talking as much as possible. I just continue to ask open-ended questions about them, their studying, and their tutoring as they talk.
If they don’t start talking on their own, first I start by confirming the information we already covered in in the emails. Then, I go on to ask them questions about their tutoring goals, educational background, and relevant information to our working together: what’s their weekly schedule like (i.e. do they have time to study)? What’s their timeline like for completing the exam? Do they have test anxiety? What are their goal scores?
These are pretty similar questions to what I asked over email, and serve much the same purpose. It makes them feel confident that I care about them and their individual circumstance.
If they have any direct questions for me, I will answer them on the call. Some people don’t have any questions, and I’m okay with that. Other people have questions that they absolutely want to get answered on our first phone call, and I’m okay with that too.
Once the conversation hits a natural lull, I say, “Well, for next steps, let’s find a time to talk in person at my office. I can answer any lingering questions you might have, and go over my tutoring philosophy. After that meeting, if everything is good, we can find a time to start work together.”
I arrange a specific time and place for our in-person meeting while we’re still on the phone, then I hang up. Then, I immediately confirm our meeting time and place over email.
Don’t let them hang up the phone without confirming a meeting time! If you don’t confirm an in-person meeting time, the ball is in their court. And, if the ball is in the client’s court, it will be a long time (if ever) that you hear from them again.
In-person meeting to seal the deal: inbound sales home run
Once again, I’m punctual at my in-person meeting. When I meet them, I greet them and make a bit of small talk. I ask them if they want any coffee, water, or tea. Then I lead them to where we’re meeting, which is preferably the same quiet conference room I have my tutoring sessions in.
First, I ask them if they have any lingering questions I can answer. These I answer immediately and directly. After that, I launch into my tutoring philosophy spiel.
In my spiel, I explain how I use a practice test to gauge a student’s initial strengths and weaknesses. From there, I develop an initial lesson plan to fix their weaknesses and shore up their strengths. Once we both feel that the initial problems have been addressed, the student takes another practice test and we reiterate.
I also explain the error log, which is a subject for another blog post. I explain how I’ve found that error logs are very effective tools because they force students to focus on what they’re weak on (which is a hard thing to force yourself to do), and, through periodic review, allows them to capture the breadth of the broad exams that I teach. They also serve as a visual record of everything the students have learned, which is a nice motivation.
The disadvantage of the error log, I explain, is that focusing on things you’re bad at and redoing them if you get them wrong is not fun. Test preparation, I tell them, sucks. However, because I want them to work on their own time as well as with me, I will allow and encourage them to email me whenever they have questions about the subject we’re learning.
The point of this spiel is explain what to expect from tutoring to clients, to reassure them that I have a plan, and to gently let them know that the onus of improving is on them. Also, I can tell them that I will support them in achieving their goals, even beyond our immediate meetings.
I ask them if everything I said makes sense. That’s their chance to ask questions. If they don’t, then I move the subject to pricing.
What I say is: “Normally I charge $160/hr for GMAT tutoring, and I ask for a minimum of 10 hours. Given your current score and your goal, I don’t think we’ll have any trouble hitting that minimum. But is that price okay with you?”
If they say no, or seem hesitant, I say: “I also offer discounts to people depending on their individual circumstance. For people I discount tutoring for, I normally charge them around $130 to $140 per hour.”
Then we decide on an hourly rate. I inform them that I accept Venmo and Paypal, and ask which one they use. Then I tell them that I’ll need them to pay for 5 hours or 10 hours of tutoring in advance.
Finally, we once again set up a time to meet, this time for our first tutoring session. I make sure they know that we’re meeting for 2 hours for our first meeting, and that I’ll need them to send me money and complete a practice test beforehand.
Then we’re done! I immediately send them an email after they leave confirming our meeting time. I also ask for 5 or 10 hours payment, and give them information on how to pay me. And I send them a practice test, and ask them to complete it before we meet.