Everything I Learned About Sales & Marketing, I Learned From Running Fraternity Rush

Jan 25, 2013, by Tawheed Kader (TK), Founder and CEO

It was the Fall of 2006. I was a Senior at RPI and somehow I ended up being in charge of running Fraternity rush. At the time, we operated and owned three houses off-campus and we needed to have a certain number of active brothers to sustain our budget and our lifestyle.

Much like the rest of the greek organizations on campus, our numbers were hurting. Even the largest houses on campus had a couple of terrible years of recruitment. To make matters worse, our house was about to lose about 17 of our active brothers come graduation which meant that 4 years ago was about the last time we held a successful rush.

During that fall rush, we ran one of the must successful recruitment periods in our chapter's history and effectively 2.5x'd our size to a whopping 60 active brothers for the first time in nearly a decade.

(before picture to the left, after picture to the right)

Looking back on it, that year was my training grounds on everything I crystallized in my head around Sales and Marketing. Here are the core principles I instilled as Rush Chair and the same principles I still apply to ToutApp today to excel at Sales and Marketing:

#1: Have a "pulse," The walls in the house don't do the talking.

One of the biggest problems we had during Rush was the lack of engagement from brothers during the recruitment process. In prior years, we held events, had people over, but there was a general feeling that the awesome house, and our video game room with 16 TVs would just "sell itself." I mean, CLEARLY we're so awesome, right?

It was one thing to have a rush calendar, host events but it was a completely different thing to actually engage with the people that came to the events, forge a personal connection, assess their fit and actually get them to pledge to join the organization.

Much is the same in Sales/Marketing today. Having a website, a blog, and hosting a webinar isn't enough. Each and every member of your sales/marketing team need to have both an individual pulse and a collective pulse that screams "We are human. Let's talk. Tell me about yourself."

#2: Have (Rush) events we love doing ourselves

Rush Events are the primary way to get freshmen to come check out your house. Consider it our version of doing lead gen. An event like "Video Game Night" would be our version of hosting a webinar do something fun together but also have a general undertone of selling the house.

As Rush Chair, I took a long hard look at the Rush Calendars from prior years and figured out one key theme. We were holding a bunch of events that seemed like great "rush events" but were actually things that no one in the house actually liked doing. Hence the low brother engagement. Hence the low yields.

The same is true for Sales/Marketing today. If you are trying to hold a Webinar and no one in your company culturally enjoys or likes doing a Webinar don't do a Webinar!

For us, I made a list of events that I knew our brothers would love doing and end up doing for fun regardless of the fact that it was recruitment month. So instead of "Frisbee Tossing" which is arguably something we may do sometimes but wouldn't do on a regular basis, or "Anime Night" which only 5% of the house engaged and probably 1% of the Freshman population enjoyed, I created Happy Hour Fridays who doesn't want to get together and have some wings and fries once classes are finally done for the week!?

As soon as I threw out the events that we were doing for the sake of doing rush events, and substituted them with more formal and grandeur versions of what we usually do for fun, something magical happened: Engagement from the brothers skyrocketed.

Do stuff you love doing anyway and tie it into your Marketing/Sales process. Everyone will have more fun. Everyone will win.

#3: Don't bother trying to convince anyone of anything

I believe that in Marketing and Sales, very little convincing actually goes on.

Early on in the rush process, I worked with a few brothers to make a short list of characteristics that we wanted in a brother in our house.

We came to terms really quickly that our house wasn't the one for the jocks (although we did have one or two), and it wasn't the one for the uber artsy types (although we had one or two of that as well), and we probably didn't want any stoners or gangsters since that'd just be a risk management problem (we had enough of that).

We quickly got to a pretty good profile of the type of brother that

  • a) we'd be able to recruit and more importantly
  • b) we'd love to have in our organization.

Once we sorted that out, we made sure as many of the engaged brothers as possible understood this. The key message was "don't waste time convincing the jock why we're cool, double down on the kid that loves video games and wants to grab some pizza late at night."

Even the best marketers and sales people do a poor job at being able to change someone's core values and principles. Don't bother trying to pull a fast one. Don't bother trying to convince someone that doesn't agree with your core values or beliefs.

Brothers didn't waste time on people that wouldn't convert or be a good fit, and doubled down on the people that did fit our profile. Even more so, whenever we went out to campus to invite freshmen, it became that much easier to spot our ideal profile and ignore the rest.

Interestingly enough, I used this principle on the brothers themselves as well. I saw prior rush chairs over the years passed groan, moan and complain about lack of brother engagement. At the beginning of Rush, I made one simple declaration You're either IN or you're OUT. I'm not going to come chase you down to do work for this.

I knew early on that there would be a set of brothers that cared enough to show up and do work, and a separate set that would

  • a) do nothing but also
  • b) complain about "how terrible rush is going"

I didn't bother trying to convince the lazy brothers. Instead I focused on the brothers that helped and gave them as much support and energy I could give them.

In short: Don't waste time trying convincing people. Focus on finding more people that believe in the same things that you believe in.

#4: Always look for Leverage and Network Effects

This may sound way to fancy for a simple frat boy from Upstate New York to think about but this played a huge role in our recruitment success.

When I pledged AXP, I never planned on joining a fraternity. However, my roommate pledged because I said "sure why not" I pledged because he said "what else are we doing anyway?" and the guys across the hall from us and next to us said "let's just do this."

Call it peer pressure, call it groups, call it tribes, or call it the bottoms up model network effects and targeting groups of people give you a level of leverage unlike any other in Marketing and Sales.

In our recruitment process, I kept a spreadsheet of every single freshmen that came in through our doors. I grouped them together based on where they lived and prioritized clusters of people with color coding. (I am NOT joking)

At every one of our Rush meetings, we highlighted the GROUPS of freshmen that we were recruiting and I assigned brothers to each of those groups so they would go down to their dorms and hang out.

Truth is, the other stuff helped the rest of the brotherhood band together around Rush. However, this principle alone got us the type of huge number of conversions that we saw that year. We effectively put in the same amount of effort we'd put into rushing ONE freshman but since we were recruiting and converting in groups, we got multiples in return.

In Sales and Marketing, Tribes and Groups are a powerful principle. Find out where clusters of your target audience hang out, or find one person that can get you access to a whole network of people and double down your efforts on them.

In Conclusion (#5)

I'm not Sales or Marketing genius. I'm just a guy that learned a few things running my Fraternity rush. When I found myself running a company that sells software TO sales professionals and helps make their lives better, I decided to start reflecting on what I know more and expand my knowledge.

Truth is, all the experts in the field make Sales and Marketing such a tough and complicated thing.

#5: It is tough to achieve greatness in these fields, but it in my opinion, based on what I've learned, it all comes down to a few core principles, the most important one being: Be Human. Have a Pulse.

But more on that later….

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