Every year the number of international students travelling globally increases, yet at the same time competition for those students grows. No longer is it about whether you want international students or not, it comes down to how many you need to keep your president/pro vost/vice-chancellor happy. International student revenue is now a critical line on many institution’s budgets.
#1 - Competition
While the number of agents you have in offshore markets might go up and down, the number of institutions competing for their attention is growing. You need to make sure that when comparing your institution with another, an agent has you top of mind. A healthy commission check and fancy trinkets and trash all help, but if the agent can easily bring to mind the unique benefits of your institution over another, you're more likely to get the student.
#2 - Save time and money
Most providers train agents with a combination of face-to-face training sessions, printed manuals, documents on memory sticks or even CDs. The irony of course is that while most institutions are embracing e-learning in one form or another most agents are trained the good ol' fashioned way, if at all. Most providers would say that they could do a better training and communication job than they are currently doing. By moving the bulk of your agent training online, you can dedicate face-to-face visits and direct communication to specific issues that an agent is facing rather than trying to cover off everything all at once. You can also save yourself countless hours of answering the same questions time and again.
#3 - Differentiate yourself
How many times have you gone to meet an agent on the other side of the world and you're just one of a steady stream of providers that the agent is meeting on that particular day? Heck, you've probably bumped into competitors from the institution down the road from your own. Now imagine that every provider is probably saying very similar things to you, waxing lyrical about this part of their offering or another, and then leaving the agent with a mountain of brochures, manuals, CDs and memory sticks full of admission processes diagrams, links to online application forms and so on. It's a good bet that 99% of the material currently left with the agent can be put online and delivered in a more engaging way! With the content online, there is no chance the material can go 'missing' in transit or at the agent’s office as it can be accessed anywhere there's an internet connection.
#4 - Agents are your sales people
Ok, I know that sales is a dirty word in most institutions so don't shoot the messenger, but the cold hard truth of the matter is that these agents are your sales force on the ground. If you care to ask any business with a sales focus, how important their sales staff are, they will tell you that making sure sales staff are well trained can make the difference between success and failure. You want your agents well versed in your products, competitive advantages and your institution specific application and enrolment processes. You're already motivating them with a great big fat commission cheque, so they want to sell for you, they just need to know the what, why and how.
#5 - Consistency of message
Some providers are juggling 200+ agents with a small team of international staff, each responsible for very large geographic regions. Between all the travelling, changes in immigration rules, and agent follow up and support, it can be easy to miss out on communicating new product information and so you end up sharing out of date information with agents. Keeping information consistent in one place and pushing that out to all agents means less chance of mistakes and less chance of agents saying they weren't kept informed of changes and using that as an excuse for poor application numbers…which leads us to the last point.
#6 - Insight
Once your training information is online and distributed to agents you gain valuable insight into their behaviour, what's important to them and what's not. By registering when agents log in, how often and what they look at, you can quickly see which agents are taking the time to understand your offering and which are not. This can help you decide on which agents you want to invest more time in and which agents will be tire kickers.
Given the six reasons above, it might be time to take a look at your agent training and communication programme. This doesn't have to be a massive all-consuming project. Using Intuto it doesn't need to be expensive either. Best of all it can sit alongside your agent management software, or if you don't have an online agent portal this can be a great way of getting started towards having a more productive and profitable relationship with your agents.
To see an example agent course and get more ideas for moving forward check out: http://www.intuto.com/guides-for-overseas-agents/