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Teaching Creative Types How to Sell

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For businesses in the arts, “sales” can feel like a dirty word. But sales generate revenue, and revenue is what allows a dance studio to serve its mission, through paying staff, growing programs, and expanding opportunities for students. 

And it’s not just front desk and administrative staff who have a role in selling, either. Though we may think of teachers as artists and educators, they play a key role in sales—both in selling a studio’s culture and values in an abstract sense, and selling classes and programs in a more literal one. 

Since sales isn’t an obvious part of a dance teacher’s job description, studio leaders should explain to their artistically-minded staff members how they fit into the studio’s big-picture sales strategy—and give them the tools and training to sell from the classroom with confidence.  

Why teachers are also salespeople

It may seem more natural for sales pitches to come from a studio’s administrative staff. But since teachers spend the most time with students—and have hopefully earned their respect as well as that of their parents—their opinions and suggestions are going to have more weight than that of any other staff member, says Lisa Pevateaux, owner of Elite Dance Academy in Boulder and Broomfield, Colorado. “They believe in what the teacher says. Sometimes when it’s the front desk, it seems like, ‘you’re just trying to sell me something,’” Lisa says. 

Teachers also know their students best, and can offer the kind of strategically personalized recommendations most likely to result in a sale. Many studios, for instance, practice some version of a “plus one” sales pitch, where teachers recommend an additional class that would benefit a student. Who else but a teacher would know that the student who is always wiggling at the barre might enjoy hip hop, or that the highly musical dancer would likely excel in tap? Teachers have the best sense of where students will thrive personality-wise, too, Lisa says, which is an important factor when attempting to increase enrollment of a competition team, or in a program that requires an audition or serious commitment. 

 Pam Simpson, owner of Forté Arts Center in Morris, Illinois, says that, in a way, teachers are always selling—after all, there’s no better sales pitch than an engaging, entertaining class. “We want them to sell the culture and the family vibe in their classrooms,” she says. 

Getting teacher buy-in

For teachers to excel in their role as salespeople, they need to understand—and get excited about—this part of the job. One straightforward way to foster this excitement: reward teachers for their role in a sale. At Tonawanda (NY) Dance Arts, for instance, owner Melanie Boniszewski and director Kelsey Griffin focus teachers on selling by making clear that raises are tied to hitting studio-wide goals, such as increased student retention or enrollment growth.

At Forté Arts Center, if a teacher converts a sale (meaning a student signs up after a trial class or class recommendation) or earns back a dropped student with a personalized “we miss you” card, they may receive a bonus. Teachers also receive their own report cards with metrics such as student retention, drops, and trial conversions, and those with the best metrics are rewarded and celebrated at an annual event.

Lisa’s annual staff performance reviews also use sales metrics such as trial conversions and class growth. She finds that making these numbers accessible to teachers helps them understand that “they are responsible for the front lines of our business,” she says. 

Practice makes progress

Most teachers—especially those coming from a studio without a strong emphasis on sales—won’t come to you as expert salespeople. That’s okay, says Kelsey: sales can be taught, she says, though it may take time for teachers to get comfortable with this part of their role. 

Give them some sales 101 instruction to help them succeed, whether this looks like signing up for staff-wide sales training through MTJGD™ or incorporating a brief sales training session in your onboarding for new teachers. At Tonawanda Dance Arts, teachers keep their selling skills sharp throughout the year by roleplaying sales conversations at staff meetings. Kelsey and Melanie also created a sales script, which teachers can use as a guide when they’re feeling unsure of what to say when, or how to make a pitch feel natural. 

Teachers’ roles in selling will look different depending on your studio’s programs, culture, and staffing, so make sure your training is specific to what you’re asking teachers to do. Some studios may have teachers focused on in-person conversations, for instance, while others may have teachers spending more time on the phone or emailing. Think about whether you want your teachers to focus on getting students excited about additional classes and programming, or selling the benefits of those opportunities to their parents—or both.

But remember, teachers can’t put general sales skills to work unless they are informed about your studio and programs. At Elite Dance Academy, Lisa holds weekly staff education sessions about what’s going on at the studio. This keeps teachers in-the-know about upcoming programs and opportunities, as well as which are appropriate for which students. She also makes sure teachers have helpful talking points or statistics on hand, like the fact that 95 percent of successful level one students (meaning students who eventually move up to level two) at Elite Dance Academy take two classes per week. When a parent asks if their once-a-week student should add a class, the teacher can confidently say yes, and cite that statistic. “That’s easy to say, and it’s not salesy,” says Lisa. Make sure teachers have ready responses to frequent concerns, too, she suggests, by educating them about costume pricing or recital fees. 

Creating easy systems

Though you want your teachers to have a hand in sales, the primary focus of their role should always be teaching. And while some teachers might be highly invested in your studio, Pam says, others may be less involved because they only teach two classes a week. The key to making selling easy and seamless for all—and not a distraction from teachers’ main job—is having foolproof, efficient sales systems. 

One such system could involve having administrative staff doing the heavy lifting of prep work for a sales campaign, with teachers brought in strategically at a key moment. For instance, when selling participation in a recent production of Peter Pan at Elite Dance Academy, administrative staff put together trinkets and small cards for students with the message that their teacher wants them to be a part of the show. All the teacher needed to do was hand it to the student, but “it felt magical coming from them,” says Brandy Kapustensky, Elite business operations manager. “It’s easy for the teaching staff, but valuable from a customer perspective.” Similarly, Elite Dance Academy staff place easy-to-read posters about upcoming classes, camps, or programs adjacent to classroom doors, allowing teachers to give short pitches at the end of class without having to refer to email or remember lots of information. 

Trial classes should also be systematized for optimal results, while making it easy for the teacher. Pam says her trial class conversion rate increased when Forté Arts Center implemented an easy-to-follow system for teachers. Before class, the teacher prepares a notecard, to be given to the prospective student at the end of class, with space for a quick written note specifying something the child did well. After class, personalized note in hand, teachers walk the prospect to the front desk to talk to the parent. (The trial student is also assigned a designated “buddy” at the start of class, which adds to the students’ comfort level.)

At Elite Dance Academy, where Lisa expects a minimum 75 percent trial class conversion rate, teachers take a moment the evening of a trial class to call the parent using Slydial, which ensures the call goes straight to their voicemail (that way no one gets tied up on the phone at the end of the night). The teacher leaves a friendly message, thanking the family for participating and talking about the child’s experience in class that day. After this personal touch, administrative staff follow up via email with more information and a more direct sales pitch. “Your customer wants to be the hero,” says Lisa. “And we are meant to be the guide. So what better guide than the teacher who teaches the child dance?”

Tips for Getting Teachers to Sell Successfully

Hire teachers who understand their responsibility to sell.

Kelsey says to make it clear during your hiring process that teachers are expected to have a hand in sales, and evaluate candidates according to their response. Though it may not have been a common expectation at a past teaching job, candidates should be aware that your studio’s approach to sales includes all staff members. Those prospective teachers with an outgoing attitude and an enthusiasm to help the business grow will be a better fit than those who prefer not to engage beyond the classroom walls.

Support teachers with a big-picture sales plan.

Clients will be turned off if they feel they’re “being sold” on everything all the time. Instead, create a strategic sales plan tied to your studio calendar year that doesn’t resell the same population over and over again. At Forté Arts Center, sales initiatives like “bring a friend” week in October and “try it free” week in November are built around past enrollment trends and target different types of students at different points of the year (older vs. younger, recreational vs. competitive, existing vs. prospective).

Make sales personal.

While it may feel easier to offer general, universal sales pitches—meaning targeting your entire studio with a single sales message—this can feel less than authentic, says Brittney Erickson,  Forté Arts Center operations manager and marketing director. The more a sales pitch is informed by a student’s interests, personality, and capacity, the better chance you have of it being successful. Brittney, who also teaches at Forté, says “pathways” meetings (short conferences with the parent, student, and teacher) help teachers learn about the dancers’ goals—dance-related and otherwise—which helps them suggest classes and programs that are a good fit, such as joining a competition team for more performance experience, or increasing ballet classes in order to earn pointe shoes.

Do your homework—and don’t oversell.

Knowing what not to sell clients on can be key to retaining them: if you continue trying to upsell a highly dedicated student who is already at the studio every day, you might risk burning them out, or appearing as though you don’t have their best interests at heart. “Sometimes the sell is that they should do less so that you can keep them for longer,” says Lisa. She also says it’s key to have a system—a spreadsheet or database with detailed student information—to make sure you don’t try to sell a student on a program that conflicts with another passion, or have a teacher recommend a class that they don’t realize the student is already taking. “You look foolish recommending something if everybody knows they can’t do that for social or financial reasons, or because they ride horses competitively,” she says. “Put more emphasis on the human instead of the numbers.”

Lead with value, not price.

A universal sales tip, especially true for teachers: talk about value rather than dollars and cents. At Tonawanda Dance Arts, this idea is put into action at open houses when parents are invited to watch the beginning of a class—where, hopefully, they see their child excited and engaged— before they receive logistical details and are prompted to enroll. “If you lead with price, you become just a commodity,” says Kelsey. 

And when the conversation does turn to cost, language matters: Kelsey suggests using the word “investment” instead of “cost” or “price.” At Elite Dance Academy, Lisa doesn’t want her teachers talking money at all. “If people ask teachers about pricing, teachers send them to the desk and say, ‘That’s not my area of expertise’,” she says. “Then it doesn’t make it so dollar-and-cents focused.”

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