CXO

Filling up the classroom

Every business needs to get customers through their doors, and computer training schools are no different. If you own or manage a computer training company, read what several of your competitors are doing to fill their classroom seats.


The ability to get students into class is the key to a successful training organization. We interviewed owners and managers of training companies to find out what their strategies are for keeping the students in their classes. In addition to offering a variety of courses, these companies:
  • Survey local businesses for training and retraining needs
  • Offer unique and specific training
  • Generate publicity by writing books and articles for professional publications
  • Attend to student or client needs to encourage repeat business



Tap the local market
One approach to finding students that works for many schools is to meet the needs of industries in their respective markets. This approach is used heavily by New Horizons Worldwide, an international training company with offices in major markets, including New York City, Los Angeles, and Chicago, as well as Antwerp, Belgium; Berlin, Germany; and Edinburgh, Scotland.

The majority of New Horizons business comes from corporate clients.

“We ask our customers what [training courses] they need,” said Gene Longobardi, senior vice president of North American Operations. “I want my account executives to be able to say, ‘You tell me what your problem or challenge is, and I’ll solve it.’”

“Our franchises learn a business model that includes the best sales system in the industry,” said Longobardi. As part of that business model, the company directs funds, which would typically be used for advertising, toward hiring more account executives “who would actually establish a relationship with customers and be a point of contact for them,” Longobardi said.

One way New Horizons account executives find a corporate client is by “cold calling.” The company also uses a program that helps their national clients arrange for training at their branch businesses around the country.

Finally, New Horizons offers a free day-long training course to executives in charge of a company’s training. If the decision-maker likes the demonstration, that starts a chain reaction.

“At that point, we begin to understand the customer better, what the company’s challenges are technology-wise, and we start building that rapport and that relationship,” Longobardi said.

Another way to get through the corporate training account door is by combining training with the sale of hardware and software.

Shannon Schaefer, who is in charge of training programs for Colorado Computing Solutions in Denver, says her company has had great success by customizing what they teach to the equipment and programs customers buy.

“We may go to a customer and be working in their data center, and once they find out we do training and we customize it to them, then we get in the door that way,” Schaefer said.

“People buy from people,” she said. “We’re going in there and understanding what they do, how they do it, and the technology behind it.”

Find a niche market
Some schools find their students by offering training that is hard to find anywhere else.

“We are in a very niche market,” said Norm Kelson, managing director of IT audit and information security training at the U.S. headquarters of MIS Training Institute in Framingham, MA. “We specialize in the IT audit and the information security market, so much of the stuff we teach, nobody else teaches.”

Most MIS students come to the school via their employers, Kelson said.

“We are strictly Fortune 500-base,” he said. “Our courses are high quality and the cost reflects that. Our main clientele is large corporations.”

Even so, the company spreads the word to potential students and client companies in a variety of ways, he said.

“Much of our marketing is through direct mail, word of mouth, and the Web,” Kelson said. “We have a good amount of repeat business from students, and a lot of repeat business from companies.”

The power of the written word
Don’t underestimate the power of the press, according to Gary Patterson, who, along with Kevin Vandever, owns NexSource of Chicago, IL, and Louisville, KY, which provides training to system operators and IBM AS400 programmers. Exposure in trade publications has been instrumental in drawing students to their school.

“Probably the biggest way we get students is through the books and magazine articles we write,” Patterson said.

Vandever has a book coming out in June entitled Subfiles in RPG IV: Rules, Examples, Techniques & Other Cool Stuff, and has written a column called “Blackbox” in AS/400 Technology Showcase since 1998. He writes another column in a related publication called Midrange Computing.

Patterson has written an article on e-commerce security called "Polly Want a Hacker?" in the October 1999 issue of Midrange Computing. He has also written the materials for a number of AS/400 training courses and seminars.

In addition to attracting business from exposure in the press, Nexsource uses telemarketing to existing client companies, along with faxing and e-mailing course information to them.



Today’s students, tomorrow’s customers
Wesley Schissler, president and director of operations for the Computer Career Centers in Louisville, KY, said that most students have to take several prerequisites, such as DOS, advanced DOS, and Windows classes, before they can start on A+ work.

“We get some that take the A+ and they want to go on. Maybe they want to go to MCP and they will take what accounts for the first three classes toward their MCSE,” Schissler said.

These students become repeat customers, he said.

Schissler and Jim Baumann, director of sales and marketing for the New Horizons Learning Center in Louisville, agree that repeat customers are important sources of students, and whether students will sign up with a company again depends on their experiences with your school the first time around.

Future customers can be found in people who are sent to the school by their companies to learn specific skills.

Within that group, you’ll find a number of students who want to take certain classes but their company won’t foot the bill because the courses don’t apply to their current jobs, Baumann said. It’s helpful to keep in mind that if the students really want those classes, companies will often look at the possibility of reimbursing them in the future when the new skills better apply to their jobs.

Corporate clients and repeat customers save him from spending money on advertising, Baumann said.

“We have so much word of mouth and so much referral business coming in,” Baumann said, that he doesn’t have to advertise.

Customer service counts
“We do customer service really well,” said Longobardi. “We want to make sure that, whether it’s a front desk person or an accounting person, the customer is satisfied. We work hard to make sure our customers have a positive experience all the way around, so they will come back as well as refer people.”

In Denver, Schaefer finds that paying a lot of attention to her customers is something they value because they aren’t getting that kind of help from everyone.

“Once they find that attention, they don’t always shop around anymore,” she said.

Whatever size or kind of school you have, Schissler sums up the ongoing challenge.

“You are always looking for students because you always have someone graduating.”
Share your ideas on the best ways to attract new students to your school. While certain common elements seem to work for most schools, methods of finding students can be as unique as the owners and operators of the schools that are looking. What’s your secret? Post a note below or e-mail us your comments.

Editor's Picks

Free Newsletters, In your Inbox