Marc Gray is the founder of Odyssey College Prep and Director of College Counseling Relations for the Highlands Company, where he helps IECs and college counselors use aptitude testing to enhance their practice.
This post continues our discussion on how to sell aptitude testing services. The key to persuasive selling centers around authenticity. Your most successful technique lies in believing that your aptitude testing services have the potential to revolutionize your students’ academic and career journey. Whether a seasoned veteran or a newcomer, your efficacy depends on this.
The heart of effective selling lies in maintaining balance and grace in those conversations. We must do two things for customers to see the value of our services. Writer and marketing expert Donald Miller argues that we must establish 1.) empathy and 2.) authority to position our brand as a solution to a customer’s problem. When we do, customers will buy our services, even a service as niche and highly specific as aptitude testing.
In this post we’ll focus on a way to fulfill that second requirement: establishing authority. Knowing your competitors’ services and pricing is one way to do this. Understanding your competitors in the broader aptitude testing market is essential. This level of insight enables you to differentiate the Highlands Ability Battery (HAB), address the potential concerns of parents, and underscore your aptitude testing service’s distinctive advantages. Thus, a comprehensive understanding of your industry and a finely tuned sales approach is vital to persuading parents about the value your service provides.
Rules of Talking About Your Competitors
As a consultant, it’s crucial to be familiar with the entire market of aptitude tests. However, there’s a right and wrong way to speak of your competitors. And you want to desperately avoid doing it the wrong way. Bringing up your competitors the wrong way carries significant risks. You may come across as insecure and threatened by another brand. To avoid those risks, please read these three rules of engagement when discussing your competitors with your customers.
Rule 1: Never Resort to Mudslinging Other Aptitude Tests
Competitors exist because they provide value. They’re doing something right. And there’s nothing wrong with acknowledging that. A competing product that does an excellent job at something doesn’t detract from the value you provide. When customers bring up Johnson O’Connor, AIMs, or YouScience in a positive light, I pay close attention to what they appreciate about the product. I also freely acknowledge what each aptitude test does well when necessary.
For example, during one sales call, a potential customer said this:
Potential Customer: I plan on taking my daughter to Dallas for the AIMS Aptitude Test. I’ve heard they have more resources for college planning. Why should I test my daughter with you when I could go there?
When a potential customer makes a statement like this, we have two options: reacting defensively or adopting a practical approach. While there have been times when I have chosen the former over the latter, in this case, here’s how the conversation went.
Me: Could you explain what you mean by “college planning resources?”
Potential Customer: Well, they have ways to help students pick their major and select colleges.
Me: AIMS gives many resources for college prep. And, anyone can access those resources on their website right now. It’s also the longest of the three aptitude tests available, mainly due to its additional musical and artistic aptitude measurements. If your daughter aspires to be a musician or artist, AIMS could be a practical choice. Their work is commendable, but be aware that their services are nearly double our price and necessitate a weekend trip to Dallas.
Potential Customer: When you say “almost double,” how much does AIMS charge?
Me: They charge $925. And remember, if you’re driving from Little Rock, AR, to Dallas, expect to pay for gas, hotel, and food, plus the $925. That usually ends up costing around $2200.
Potential Customer: How much do you charge?
Me: We charge $500. This includes administering the assessment to your daughter, and a 2-hour debrief where I review her results with the two of you. You’ll also gain access to me in the event you need my team and I for further guidance.
Potential Customer: My daughter is interested in engineering, so perhaps your assessment will work fine…
I receive many calls where the caller doesn’t convert to a new customer. However, this one did. The parent called me under the impression that the HAB was an inferior product compared to the aptitude test they wanted to buy. While that wasn’t accurate, I didn’t need to dwell on the client’s misconception and disparage one of our competitors. After all, the AIMS aptitude does great work. There’s no need for me to say they don’t. So instead, I focused on how the HAB might be more accessible and affordable to them. I only brought up our competitors to illustrate that.
You should only bring up your competitors to contextualize your services. Never speak of your competitors as an inferior product or even in a vacuum, just as a product that solves problems differently than yours.
You can then accurately tell them how the Highlands Ability Battery compares to it. You can also highlight the HAB’s unique strengths and how it might fit their needs better than another assessment. This builds far more credibility than feeling threatened by a competing service. Spend your time during a sales call building up your services, not slinging mud at your competitors. Mudslinging will make you look more insecure than effective. This brings us to our second rule of discussing aptitude testing competitors.
Rule 2: Understand You Have Nothing to Prove
Some parents are suspicious of aptitude tests. They fear the HAB is just another scammy personality test proliferating on the internet. Honestly, I can’t blame them. Many parents aren’t aware that aptitude tests aren’t personality quizzes. While some personality assessments are valuable, many low-quality assessments are out there. And of those, many are little better than a Harry Potter Sorting Hat Quiz. Thus, parents have a right to be suspicious.
Also, consider what parents are hiring you to do. They’re not picking out a bumper sticker; they’re hiring you to advise their children and guide them toward a secure future. Additionally, aptitude testing usually isn’t cheap. So, they’re approaching you for a pricey service regarding the most critical person in their life: their children.
Of course, some parents harbor skepticism. However, don’t consider their suspicion of your services a personal attack. You should look like this on a sales call:
Otherwise, you might look like this:
What matters most is that you understand the HAB’s worth as a valuable assessment. It’s validated by an independent psychometrician and continues to be the golden standard of aptitude testing in the US. Tell them that, and then ask what their concerns are. You’re selling your services, not defending a thesis. Don’t feel you must defend the validity of the HAB. If they want more information to vet the product, refer them to an article on your website about what the HAB does. You can also refer to several articles on the Highlands Company’s website, such as the ones below.
Articles for Parents and Potential Customers:
- Abilities Assessment? What’s That? – “I want to better understand my child’s unique abilities and how to foster them. Can an aptitude test help with this?”
- The Power of Feedback: Why the Highlands Ability Battery Includes an In-depth Debrief Session – “What happens after the test? How will I understand the results and their implications?”
- Transforming Careers with Data-driven Results: How Aptitude Testing Will Provide Real Insights for Real-life Solutions – “How can an aptitude test guide my child’s future career decisions? Will it have a tangible impact?”
- Your Natural Abilities: What the Research Reveals and How They are Measured – “How reliable is the Highlands Ability Battery? What scientific backing does it have?”
- Specialized Abilities and How You Learn Best – “Can an aptitude test help identify the best learning strategies for my child?”
These articles are great at clarifying the different features of the HAB. However, I’d recommend you write some articles on your own website to filter the information through your brand. Again, in any sales call, we want to position our aptitude testing services as the solution to that client’s problem. And if they go to your website and see the testimonials from your other clients, they’ll draw closer to seeing you as their expert. Just remember, it’s just a sales call, not a competition. Inform, persuade, and ask questions. Don’t defend.
Rule 3: Ask Questions Before Getting Defensive
As I mentioned, some parents are mistrustful of aptitude tests. When that happens, kindly remind them that the HAB is a validated tool and part of your process. It helps parents ensure their child has all the guidance they need to prepare for college and their career. If a parent touts another aptitude test as superior to the HAB, don’t try to prove them wrong. Instead, ask what led them to that conclusion, and you’ll take the first steps to resolving that concern.
For instance, In the scenario above, I encountered a parent who insisted on using another assessment. I asked them to elaborate on their reasoning. Their responses gave me insight into what they valued in an aptitude test (in this case, the pricing), allowing me to address those particular points as we discussed the HAB further.
Getting defensive risks souring your relationship with the client. By approaching the situation with curiosity instead of defensiveness, you can help the client feel heard and understood. This approach often allows for a more productive conversation about the HAB’s benefits. Here are some questions below you can ask instead of being defensive:
- “In terms of your child’s future career or college path, what kind of guidance do you expect an aptitude test to provide?” By understanding the parent’s long-term goals for their child, you can explain how the HAB aligns with these objectives.
- “Could you tell me why this other aptitude test might be more suitable for your child?” This question encourages the parent to openly share their thoughts and reasoning, allowing you to understand their point of view.
- “What specific features or results of this other test appeal to you?” This allows you to pinpoint the aspects the parent values most in an aptitude test and enables you to address those specifics concerning the HAB.
- “Is there a concern about the Highlands Ability Battery that makes you consider the other test?” This invites them to express doubts or misconceptions about the HAB, which you can address directly.
Keep in mind that it’s natural to feel protective of the services we offer. However, taking a moment to understand where your client is coming from will help you better serve them. Listening and empathizing with their concerns paves the way for a more open, productive conversation.
Remember, your customer is the hero of this story, not you. You act as the Guide, the Obi-Wan if you will, and the client is Luke Skywalker. And to be a guide, you must be empathetic, not defensive. If I’d like to beat this Star Wars analogy into the ground (which I do), consider this. Luke would never have taken his first steps to becoming a Jedi had Obi-Wan been a defensive know-it-all. In the end, your ability to handle potential objections with understanding can serve as a testament to the professionalism and credibility of your services.
In the next post, we’ll look at each of the other popular aptitude assessments in the market and how they compare to the HAB. If you found this article helpful, consider signing up for the Highlands Company’s Newsletter. This will update you on advancements in the aptitude testing industry, new training available, and how to market your service best. If you’re new to aptitude testing and are interested in using it in your practice, Schedule a Call With Me to discuss more.
Highlands Consultant Marc Gray is the founder of Odyssey College Prep and the Director of College Counseling Relations for the Highlands Company, where he helps IECs and college counselors use aptitude testing to enhance their practice. Marc specializes in using aptitude testing to help students create impactful research projects to differentiate their college applications. With ten years of experience in the test prep industry, Marc uses cutting-edge technology with his staff of tutors to show students how they best learn and how to optimize their testing experience including helping to raise their ACT and SAT scores.
 Miller, Donald. “How to Position Your Brand as a Trustworthy Guide.” Building a StoryBrand, https://buildingastorybrand.com/position-your-brand-as-a-trustwor
 AIMS. “The Aptitude Handbook.” Squarespace, AIMS, 2014, https://static1.squarespace.com/static/57fbabb61b631be17ec6bfc2/t/57fc544de4fcb5f48d6dbea0/1476154479010/The+Aptitude+Handbook+May+1+2014.pdf. Accessed 2 July 2023.
 Neiner, Andrew G. “Technical Report: Reliability of the Highlands Ability Battery.” Highlands Ability Battery, September 2013, https://www.highlandsco.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/10/1-Neiner-Technical-Reliability-Report.pdf. Accessed 2 July 2023.