My longtime friend and business partner Tom McKechney asked me to author an article on my sales and marketing experiences within Higher Education. By way of background, I started out my career “selling” into Higher Ed some 35 years ago, when I began working for a scoreboard manufacturer in Chicago. In those early years, I called on Athletic Department leadership by attending trade-shows, making campus visits, doing demonstrations and participating in countless Requests for Proposal. My job was to establish trust in our ability to manufacture and deliver world-class equipment and offer a superior level of sophistication, customization, reliability and customer service compared to our competitors. It was always difficult to make sure that schools were really comparing apples-to-apples, so I took it upon myself to establish that trust and reputation in the marketplace. We stood behind our products!
When Credentials LLC started in 1997, the approach was much the same. Our company was looking into providing an “outsourced service” that touched upon the most sacred of holy grails in Higher Education: Academic Records! Establishing a reputation of trust among registrars was paramount to our survival. Tom and I attended our first AACRAO Conference in our hometown of Chicago in 1998. We were too late to be an exhibitor, but decided to attend the conference as inquiring minds, going to sessions on FERPA and other topics related to Academic Record management.
Our mission was to get up to speed on the industry in order to determine if our idea had any merit. We invited other conference attendees to a suite we had rented, where we introduced the concept of outsourcing degree verifications by providing a “demo” of the software (2 screens that went nowhere). Needless to say, there were some very trusting souls (Eastern Illinois, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and a handful of others), that were interested in getting rid of the sometimes rude and often demanding phone inquiries about their former students.
Credentials’ service concept was to establish trust within the industry and create a better operating procedure for the schools and their alums. We did exactly that by building a system that was FERPA compliant, available 24/7, secure and generated a shared income stream. We became the “trusted source” for an auditable, written confirmation of academic records. The rest, as they say, is history!
The bottom line is that outsourcing requires the entity to prove itself by providing a better service than can be offered by the custodian, while being an accurate reflection of the Institution. This is true whether it is food service, ticket sales, providing Information Technology services or Academic Record functions. The key to success is establishing the trust and proven record of accomplishment by providing superior products, reliability and great customer service. Automating everyday manual transactions also raises the bar by eliminating errors and omissions as well as providing huge cost savings. These factors motivate decision makers to shift away from the “that’s how we’ve always done it” mentality.
Word of mouth, which is probably the strongest motivator to make a change, is huge in this industry. However, as compelling as the proposition of outsourcing degree and verification services may be, there are still a small percentage of schools that choose to do it “their way”. The number of schools not choosing to outsource their transcript processing (both electronic and printed copies) is even higher. The staff’s time savings, in addition to improved customer experience to the students are huge beneficial outcomes of outsourced transcript processing. From those perspectives, you’d think that adoption rates would be much higher percentages! As the adoption rate continues to rise, the industry as a whole is developing “trust” in outsourcing these “production type” services in order to focus their resources on mission critical enrollment services. Welcome to Higher Education!