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How To Handle Telephone Inquiries to Your Martial Arts School

By Christopher Caile

Does your martial arts school have an organized plan to boost enrollment? Most do not. As a result, many potential new students never sign up.

Inquiry phone calls about your school, classes and costs are a critical first step in any martial arts sales/marketing strategy. How you handle them and what you say can make the difference between getting the student or not.

The "How Much Does It Cost Question"?

Potential students often call around to various martial arts schools on a shopping expedition. Often they start with a cost question, because they really aren't sure what to ask. This can be a trap, because if you don't motivate them to actually visit, they will never know who or what you are and what you are offering. They will judge you on cost alone.

Thus try to engage the caller in conversation so the whole cost question becomes less important. But sometimes the caller persists on talking price. When this happens it is best to answer by giving a ballpark cost answer such as:

"We aren't the cheapest or the most expensive, but we have several different programs and payment plans. I will have someone explain them as well as our schedule to you if you are interested. Why don't you come in and observe a class, and we can explain our various plans. Better yet, try a class out to see if you like it."

If you just answer the caller's cost question, this gives the cart before the horse. Cost will have less importance if the person finds out that he likes you school or prefers it to others.

Strategy Of Response

A basic strategy is, as quickly as possible, to begin to ask questions of callers rather than the other way around. This way you can find out a lot of information from your callers and build rapport. Exchanging information is helpful to the callers too. By talking charge you can guide them through many of the important answers and also get a chance to invite them to visit or take a trial lesson or lessons.

No matter what callers ask, ask how can you help them. Then let them know your name and ask who you are speaking with. Write their name and other information on a Caller Information Form. This creates a record for later use.

Using A Caller Information Form

Creating a Caller Information Form shows you have put thought and planning into your overall sales and new student recruitment strategy. It is a way to plan how you respond to incoming inquiry calls.

This form should include:

1- The caller's name, address, telephone number, date of the call and other pertinent information.
2- The time and date of a school visit or free class or classes.
3- The name of the person who talked with the caller on the phone and the person to ask for when he or she visits.
4- A list of questions that are often asked and how to deal with them.
5- Your own list of questions. Under each question list how to respond if callers say "yes," or "no" to your question, or include a list of typical responses, which can be checked off for each caller.

Here are some typical questions you could use. Each questions should also a list of possible responses (that can be checked off).

  • How did you hear or know about our school?

  • Are you inquiring for yourself or another?

  • Is this for an adult or child?

  • What are your goals in studying ____?

  • Do you have any martial arts experience?

  • Did you ever visit the school before?

Your Goals

During the phone call your first goal is to build rapport and interest with the caller. This leads you to your second, and most important goal: to get the student to visit your school -- to look at the facility, observe a class, talk to other students and instructors. This is what sells. Words alone through a handset seldom do.

You might also suggest a trial class or classes. You will be surprised by the number of people who will take you up on this.

Building A Caller's Commitment

In either case, with a visit or trial class, don't leave the invitation open ended. If you leave it vague, the caller won't give any weight to the offer and won't make any commitment to visit.

It is much more effective to make a specific date and time for the visit. Also, tell the person the name of someone who will be expecting them, so when they arrive they can ask for him or her.

At this point it should be relatively easy to get a call-back number and/or e-mail address. If they aren't really interested in showing up, they won't give you this information. But, if they give it to you, it also symbolically reinforces the commitment the caller has made.

Finish the call with a confirming question, "So XXXXX (name) will meet you on XXXXXX (date and time) to show you around?"

If a person has agreed to a specific date and time of visit and then confirmed it with a positive commitment answer, he or she has given a small verbal commitment which has been shown to be effective.
Your appointment thus becomes just like one made for an doctor or accountant, or business meeting.

The day before the visit or trial class it helps to call and remind the of the appointment.

Do's and Don't Of The Telephone Personality

If you are answering calls directly, or calling back those who have left messages on your answering machine, there are a few important things to remember.

How you answer the phone is critical. So in a warm, friendly voice say something like, "Hello, this is --- the name of your school -- how can I help you?"

Avoid answering the phone with a sharp or hard "Hello", "Yeh," or other short, unprofessional greeting. This is a real turn off. It immediately creates a negative image.

Present a positive vocal image. Just as a person's visual image gives an immediate impression, a vocal one does too. Thus, your phone personality is critical. People respond positively to a friendly, cheerful and enthusiastic voice, to someone who is helpful. So if you can, choose a person to answer the phone who has these qualities. A friendly voice draws the caller into a conversation and makes him or her want to listen to more.

Use the caller's name in your conversation. People like hearing their name. It adds friendliness and makes them feel more welcome. Also show interest in the caller, his interest and background. People will appreciate your interest and will feel welcome.

Don't rush callers, or act in a hurry. Be patient and listen.

Don't interrupt to make your point. You might be right, but the caller "takes away a point" every time you do this.

Don't over sell. Never boast about your school, or try to convince your caller how good you, your school, style, teacher or art is. Here again, you may be right, but you may sound arrogant, even rude. You will also probably produce a mental hang up and lose the potential student.

Remember the initial call to your school is an important step in your overall recruitment of new students. It is often taken for granted with little thought on how to handle the call and what to say. Remember that the goals for any incoming call from a potential student are two fold. First to build rapport and interest. This leads to the second and critical goal: to get the caller to visit or take a trial class or classes.

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About The Author

Christopher Caile has been a student of the martial arts for over 40 years, and a teacher for more than 35 years. He has an MA in International Relations with a specialty in southeast Asia, and has lived and traveled in Japan, Okinawa and south and southeast Asia. He is 6th degree black belt in Seido karate under Kaicho Tadashi Nakamura, a long time student of aikido under Roy Suenaka (Wado-kai aikido), as well as a student of other martial arts (including daito ryu aikijujutsu, judo, boxing and several Chinese arts) and Zen. He is also a teacher of qi gong (Chinese energy medicine), in which he trained under Master Zaiwen Shen and is Vice-President of the DS International Qi Medicine Association.

In his business career he has been a newspaper journalist and entrepreneur of several business ventures, and he designed innovative telecommunication and marine products which were developed in companies he founded. In 1999 he founded (which went live in August 2000) and its parant company eCommunities LLC.

To find more articles of interest, search on one of these keywords:

business, martial arts business, teaching martial arts

Read more articles by Christopher Caile

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