Don't hate on us

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In September 2000, I walked into the exhibit hall at the National Association for College Admission Counseling (NACAC) conference in Washington DC for the first time as a vendor. For many years I had attended this event as an admissions counselor, director of admissions or marketing coordinator.

But this was the first time I was on the other side. And I was overwhelmed.

Brian Niles (right) and TargetX colleague and Consulting VP Jeff Kallay at NACAC 2010.

Not because it was my first time as a business owner and exhibitor, but because I couldn’t imagine how anyone in admissions could enter the hall and know where to begin, who to speak with, what to look for.

Over the years, I’ve come to realize that this overwhelming feeling has gradually turned to a sour distaste for the exhibit hall. But it doesn’t have to be that way.

Next week many of you will travel to Denver for the 2012 NACAC Conference. I’m going to be in the exhibit hall with my colleagues from TargetX (booth 518, for those of you keeping score). And I thought I would provide some advice on how to embrace the opportunity that comes from the vendors in attendance.

1. Be prepared. Don’t enter the hall and just walk around. Look to see who is going to be there. Click here for a map. Contact us ahead of time and arrange a time to meet. Sign up for a booth appointment on our website. Read about us online — don’t come to the booth and say, “I heard your name, but I don’t know what you do.”

2. It’s ok to say “No.” One thing I learned in sales training is that the best time to learn that a prospective client isn’t interested in what I offer is as soon as possible. I don’t want to waste your time and I don’t want you wasting my time. So it’s ok to say to us “thanks, but I’m not interested.” If I were a prospective student, wouldn’t you want to know that as quickly as possible so you could focus on those students that are most interested in your college? It’s no different in the exhibit area.

3. Set a clear action step. Sales aren’t closed at exhibit booths. So if you are interested, set up a clear follow-up action step with the vendor. Maybe it’s a visit to campus or a phone call to discuss specifics. You’re going to learn a lot at this conference and need to have a plan to take advantage of what you learned so you can improve your recruitment efforts.

All of this sound familiar? What we do in the exhibit hall isn’t much different than what you do when you attend a college fair. If you think about what it must be like for prospective students to get the most out of a college fair, those same concepts apply to you at a professional conference.

If you’re going to NACAC next week, come by to say hi. I’d love to meet you. If you won’t be there, I hope to see you at another conference sometime soon. Best wishes and safe travel.

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About the Author:

Brian Wm. Niles is the Founder & Chief Evangelist of TargetX, a higher education CRM company. He is a well-respected voice of change in an industry that is at a tipping point, struggling to be more effective and efficient. After helping colleges adopt new tools and processes for recruiting students, Brian and his company have expanded into other functions on campus, including student retention, alumni relations and fundraising. Brian has become a leading advocate for enterprise-wide CRM (Customer Relationship Management), which he sees as the future for colleges desperate to engage with students, prospective students, alumni, potential donors and other key constituencies. Brian regularly appears as a keynote speaker and workshop leader at conferences around the country, presenting on technology and institutional change in an entertaining and informative way. And he is author of the higher education book, "Overthrowing Dead Culture: A Vision to Change the World of College Recruiting." Prior to starting TargetX in 1998, Brian spent his career in college admissions and enrollment management positions and as a marketing and enrollment management consultant. He has earned a master's degree in education from the University of Pennsylvania and built TargetX into a multi-million dollar technology firm serving more than 450 colleges and universities.

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