By John Kinsella
Grooming divemaster and instructor candidates starts early and demands a personal touch.
It was a life-changing phone call. Commander Jim Williams was on the line from California; heady stuff for an 18 year old from Dublin, Ireland in the early 1980s. I had responded to an ad in Skin Diver magazine with a letter of inquiry about PADI Instructor training in San Diego a couple of weeks previously and this was the follow up. Cmdr. Williams was affable and a great listener (a great salesman!) and by the end of the call he had convinced me (easy) and my mother (not easy) that I should immediately book a flight and enroll in the College’s next 10-week instructor development program.
I did. And that phone call marked not only the beginning of a career as a PADI Instructor, but also a lifelong friendship. The world’s a different place now; sending a letter or returning a form to request further information seems absolutely ridiculous. But the power of the personal touch, Jim’s picking up the phone and taking a genuine interest, remains exactly the same. And it’s still an extremely effective way to make friends and fill leadership-level courses.
Face to face, it’s often as easy as taking a moment to privately compliment and encourage a particularly keen student diver. It’s amazing how often you can tell, even during an entry-level course, who’s going to get seriously involved in diving. Taking a real interest in that person’s success and clearly mapping out the continuing education opportunities is always well received and rewarded.
When you can’t see the person you’re talking to, there’s nothing more important than follow up to turn anonymous inquiries into PADI Pros. The medium makes no difference (other than keeping expectations of a swift response high!). Whether it’s a contact form from a website, an email, a tweet or a post, or even an old-fashioned phone call, take every contact personally. Make absolutely sure that you (or your staff) make the time to get to know (remember to listen and not spew off set sales spiels) the person behind the ping. Time and again when you look at the compliments sent in about PADI Members, happy customers highlight speedy response to requests for information.
The strategy works on a larger scale too. Personalized emails generally outperform anonymous ones. In one A/B test, an inbound marketing company sent out a promotion to two similar market segments. One group got an email from the company; the other got an email from a specific person who worked at the company. The actual email content was exactly the same. Guess which had the best response?
At this level, when dealing with someone about to commit serious time and money in becoming a pro, get personal and take the time to get to know who you’re talking to. Your new friends, divemasters and instructors will thank you.