Collegiate campus rep programs are a growing business trend, with industry giants like Spotify, Coca-Cola, and Microsoft heading up networks with thousands of students on every continent. At their core, the business principle behind these programs is simple: You use college kids as sales reps to advertise your goods on their respective campuses.
If you’re skeptical about the potential of these programs, take a second to think about it: Companies are finding loyal followers to market their products to a gigantic demographic worldwide. It sounds like a dream come true for most business owners.
Of course, running one of these programs is a lot easier said than done. College students can go totally MIA when you need them the most (why don’t they respond to emails?), and a lot of them don’t stick around that long, making it hard to build real camaraderie and a sense of belonging. Additionally, there’s the issue of sales: Sometimes thousands of college students on the ground don’t translate into significant growth for your company.
So how do you create a campus rep program that adds to your business instead of bleeding your resources dry? There are three key points to keep in mind.
1. Start (Seriously) Small
Many companies launch gigantic programs from the beginning, trying to employ hundreds or even thousands of students to rep the company. I’ve personally been involved with campus rep programs for small businesses and startups that employed 100+ college students right off the bat. The more the merrier, right?
Wrong. The problem with this approach is that there’s no personalization or accountability, meaning students feel no need to be stellar employees. In addition, the vetting process isn’t as selective, so there’s no way to ensure that every campus rep is the cream of the crop and truly dedicated to your cause. Finally, if you’re just getting your program off the ground, trying to keep track of so many college students when your program is still in the guinea pig phase can be a rough combination—especially since you generally have to communicate with them virtually.
Instead, downsize the program you have in mind and start with a few loyal campus reps who are excited to be part of a new venture and dedicated to making your program work. It’s easier to keep track of progress and form real relationships with your representatives in the long run. Even more important, you’ll be able to get closer with these students—which will help make your program even stronger.
From a business perspective, you might be hesitant to downsize your program for fear of potentially losing sales. But starting off small can lead to a bigger payoff in the long run. For one thing, your reps will individually be better stocked with an arsenal of awesome products and more attention. But even more importantly, you’ll be able to make changes quickly. If the program isn’t working as well at first, it’s easy to get feedback and tell 10 campus reps to change their sales strategy and monitor every single one of them to track their progress; it’s a lot harder to do the same thing with 100 reps.
2. Compensation is Key
Do your campus reps get a commission from the sales they make or hard core professional development training in return for their work? At the end of the day, one of the cardinal rules of running a campus rep program is, “Thou shalt treat campus reps like other employees.” If your campus reps don’t feel like they’re getting anything (monetary or otherwise) from being part of your venture, there’s no reason for them to stick around. Look at it this way: Would you keep a job that added nothing to your professional skill set or network and didn’t even pay you? Probably not.
Before launching your program, take time to figure out exactly what you’ll be giving these students in return for their help. Companies like ASOS and Apple offer campus reps a commission and also hook them up with company products. Other organizations opt for more professional development training and networking. Whatever you choose, create a business plan for this system in advance, and make sure the students who get involved also know what’s going on before they begin working so that there’s no question of compensation or incentive in the future.
Obviously, from a business standpoint, it might seem like you’re draining funds to pay for these college employees. But if your campus reps feel taken care of from both a career and monetary standpoint, they’re much more likely to stick around. Providing financial incentive also fires up a competitive edge to the program that can make campus reps work harder.
3. Build it to Last
Building a program for the long haul seems obvious, but it’s surprising how many campus rep programs take on a “Here’s the product, go sell it, bye!” approach to managing those involved. Students can sense disorganization and a lack of direction (not to mention, being taken advantage of), so if there’s no vision for the future of the program, they aren’t going to be inspired or motivated to succeed. But if you create a campus rep culture of goal setting, progress reports, and recognition for those who meet or exceed expectations, you’re much more likely to have a stellar program.
Building a long-term plan for your campus rep program also doesn’t have to be nailed down to the last detail—even a simple Google Doc will do! For example, as director of campus programs for HelloFlo, I start off each semester with a two-page overview of what the semester looks like. This summary includes major events, programming ideas, incentives, and a place for reps to provide input.
From a sales perspective, give college students goals. What is your sales goal for the semester? How much will each rep need to earn on average to reach that objective? Are there any incentives for reps that make the most money or put on the best event? Get your campus reps excited!
Overall, don’t treat your campus representatives any differently than you treat the rest of your team. Like all other employees, they want dedicated, impactful colleagues, compensation, and structure. If you can provide students with these guarantees, your program is going to be golden.