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How to grow a training business: Marketing solutions for your 5 biggest challenges

By Gordon Johnson

Last month, we reached out to training company owners to get insights into the hurdles they encounter while trying to grow their businesses and the marketing strategies that prove effective for them.

Here’s a rundown of the top five takeaways gleaned from their feedback.

#1 Challenge.  I can’t find enough good training leads.

A large majority of you said that your biggest challenge in growing your training business was finding quality leads and the right decision makers. This is a common challenge for most of the training companies I work with.

They have a hard time finding buyers with the budget and the need for what they’re selling. Of course, the sales process becomes infinitely easier once you find the right prospect with the need and the budget.

So, what’s the solution?

90% of the time, generating leads costs a lot of time and money. Simply put, you must invest more into sales AND marketing. The fastest growing training companies that I know spend a very healthy percentage of their revenue on sales and marketing. If you’re not spending 20%, then chances are you’re usually in feast or famine mode and sales is a roller coaster ride.

One shortcut that works for many of my clients is to buy lists of those qualified buyers. You can get these lists from lead subscription services like ZoomInfo and Lead411, but they tend to be limited on training buyers. The list that several of my clients are using that has the most training decision makers and is the most well maintained is the one from the Mentor Tech Group.  

#2 Challenge.  My email marketing doesn’t work like it used to.

A big part of a marketing strategy for a North American training business is email marketing. Many training companies depend on e-mail marketing and getting a good response is becoming more and more challenging every day. The biggest challenge is writing e-mails that prospects open, read, and respond to. Most e-mails get less than a 10% open rate, and a much lower response rate.

Getting prospects to respond is quite an art form. One way to immediately improve your e-mail marketing is to change your mindset a little. When you write the email, focus hard on just one thing: What is going to get your prospect to respond. Not click-through. Not open. Respond! Try it out. It’s like magic.

Here are more e-mail marketing best practices:

  • Always add value – Self-centered messages rarely work, and they tend to alienate buyers faster than you can say SPAM. Your expensive prospect lists will quickly burn-out and become ineffective. The key to success is the long-term nurturing of your list. To do this, you need to add value with every email. Of course that means keeping the sales pitches to a minimum. I like a 4:1 ratio of value to sales pitch.
  • Establish a personal connection – Your emails need to sound like a real person wrote them and not someone from marketing. This is surprisingly hard to do for most people in our field. Here’s a solution. Write the email as if you were writing to a person you know. I guarantee this will be very different and much better than what you would have written otherwise.
  • Spend a lot of time on the subject line – For some reason, the subject line is usually the last thing we write before we send an email. But, it’s the most important part because if buyers don’t open the email, then nothing else matters. Think of the subject line as the gatekeeper. You don’t have to sell to the gatekeeper; you just need to get past them. So, sometimes a mysterious or cryptic subject line is enough to get an email opened.
  • Text-only emails sometimes work much better – They are also easier to design than graphic-intensive emails. This is counter-intuitive because marketers think flashy is what gets people’s attention. However, for an email, you’re not trying to get attention. You’re trying to keep people from deleting your email. Flashy emails get deleted first.
  • Do three types of emails – Different buyers prefer different types of emails in your ongoing nurturing campaigns. So, your marketing calendar should mix it up:
    • Text-only emails
    • HTML emails (for things like newsletters and webinar invitations),
    • and prospecting emails. Keep in mind that the most effective prospecting emails are highly personalized and sent one at a time.
  • Forward emails – People open forwarded emails at a much higher rate than the “original” emails. This is because forwarded emails don’t look as spammy.

#3 Challenge. We look just like our competitors.

Many of you said that your competitors are winning too much of your business. Customers don’t see the difference between you and other training companies who are offering the same courses or training services at a lower price.

Fact is, customers can be penny-smart and pound-foolish. Aren’t we all? There’s no point in arguing with that. I’ve seen training companies argue for years with their customers until most of their market share was gone.

This is a messaging and positioning challenge.

What do you do? Create a new playing field. If you don’t like apples to apples comparisons, then become an orange. The trick here is focusing on your customers problems, not on your product. You must identify your prospects real hot buttons and what keeps them up at night and build your services and messaging around that.

Finding out what’s important to them takes a lot of digging, but once you’ve done it, your business will be changed for the better. After that, the product almost sells itself and before you know it, you’ll occupy a playing field all your own.

#4 Challenge. Marketing is overwhelming. Where do I get good advice?

I asked what blogs you’d like to see written about how to market a training company and how to grow a training business. There were three areas where you said you needed information the most: e-Mail marketing, getting referrals, and SEO (Search Engine Optimization). Fortunately, there’s lots of great information already out there:

  1. Generating Referrals: I like Joanne Black at www.NoMoreColdCalling.com. She is the expert in generating referrals. You can e-mail her at joanne@nomorecoldcalling.com and take a look at her blogs.
  2. e-Mail Marketing: I haven’t seen any good articles written about e-mail marketing for training companies. I think everyone keeps their secrets close to the vest. Once you find something that works well in e-mail marketing, you guard it like it’s gold. If you want to hear what I’ve learned about e-mail marketing, contact me or go to http://www.gordonljohnson.com.
  3. Search Engine Optimization (SEO): The keys to maximizing search engine optimization are,
    • Focusing on the right keywords (By far the most important thing)
    • Building a lot of “evergreen” content around those keywords
    • Getting a lot of linkbacks
    • Investing a lot of time in marketing your content
    • Getting your on-page SEO in order
    • Here’s a good article on how to do SEO the easy way.

If you don’t have a lot of time to learn the ins and outs of SEO, which most of us don’t, then I would highly recommend partnering with an SEO consultant. The great ones will save you a lot of time and will dramatically increase your website traffic. However, the great ones are hard to find. Unfortunately, for every one of those, you’ll find twenty others who are a waste of money.

#5 Challenge. I don’t know what marketing I’m missing.

Since I don’t know your marketing plan, I don’t know what you’re missing. But here are two marketing tactics that work consistently for training companies and most of you aren’t doing them enough.

  1. Webinars: There’s almost no better lead generator and awareness builder than webinars. The problem is they take a lot of time. One of my clients ran an average of one webinar per week for several years and each webinar pulled in about two hundred good contacts. That’s around ten thousand contacts per year. The results were lots of sales and an amazing return on investment. The beauty of webinars is that most of the attendees walk away with a positive perception of your brand. Make sure you include webinars in your next marketing plan.
  2. Ask for Referrals: It’s the best lead you’ll ever get, but few of us ask for it enough. Doing it right requires a formal system for asking for referrals and doing it at the right time and in the right ways. Here’s an good article on 5 ways to increase referrals.

It’s refreshing to know that we’re all pretty much in the same boat with the same marketing challenges.

If you don’t have a big marketing budget to work with, read this blog: 10 Ways to Grow Your Training Business without Spending a Dime on Marketing

And here’s an infographic on the same topic: Infographic: 10 Ways to Grow Your Training Business without Spending a Dime on Marketing

Contact me if you’d like to learn more about how to grow your training business.

About the Author

Gordon Johnson

Gordon Johnson has been a marketing leader in the corporate L&D industry for over twenty years. His specialty is developing transformative marketing strategies that generate qualified sales opportunities, employing the latest digital marketing channels, coupled with traditional techniques to achieve industry-leading brand awareness, widespread web presence and high-impact value propositions. Other marketing concentrations include content marketing, messaging, social marketing, positioning strategy, analyst relations, events, account-based marketing (ABM), email marketing, customer success and lead-generation. Contact Gordon.