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Recruiting _IS_ Sales

Posted on August 13, 2017 at 12:00 AM by Darin Ninness

(This article, written by Michigan Wing's Maj Robert Haase, appeared on in September of 2002. Almost 15 years later, its just as relevant to recruiting as it was then. It is reprinted here with permission.)

OK. You have the freshly mowed head, the spiffy uniform, and a really long list of the great things to do in CAP. You go to the local school, mall, or juvenile detention center looking for new recruits, and lo and behold, there they are! The conversation may go something like this…

“Are you guys in the Army?”

“No we’re in the Civil Air Patrol. It’s the official auxiliary of the United States Air Force.”


“We do all kinds of things. We have weekly meetings where we learn about the military and airplanes. We have weekend activities where we camp, shoot off rockets, visit air museums, and march in parades. In the summer we have a thing called encampment where you live on a military base for a week, and we also have other activities like ranger school, flight schools, and PJOC where you learn about Air Force pararescuemen. Cadets who go far enough in the program can even get involved in IACE which is a program where cadets visit other countries and learn what cadets in those countries do. We even do search and rescue. It’s really cool."

“Yeah, cool...”

Then they walk away.

Why? Because you made one of the most common mistakes in sales: you tried to sell the product based on its features. The things listed above ARE really cool, but that doesn’t mean they will spur someone to join up. Your recruit is just thinking “So what?”

“What do you mean, Major? That got ME to sign up”. While that may be true, in recruiting, we need to grab the attention (and the commitment) of people who might not immediately see the benefits of weekend bivouacs or learning how to drill.

I have recruited in large cities and tiny little towns. CAP has something for almost everyone. If you aren’t pulling in 15 or 20 recruits at a school drive, you are probably not hitting them with the message they need to hear. They are all saying “So what.” We need to get past the “So what”.

How do we do this? By not focusing on the features of our program, and instead, focusing on the needs of our recruit. By learning the needs of that recruit, we will be able to show them the features of our program that will appeal to them and why they should join CAP. Lets take a non-CAP example so that it is easier to visualize what I mean.

Let’s say you want to buy a new coffee mug for that special senior member. He broke his last one on an especially hard jelly donut a month ago, and he has been grumpy ever since. If you don’t get some caffeine into him soon, who knows what will happen. Let’s get to that mug store and get that mug!

“Hello sir, welcome to Mugshots. How can I help you?”

“I’m looking for a coffee mug for my squadron commander. He’s pretty picky about this kind of thing, so I want to make sure I get the right kind.”

“Ah, well here is the one you want. I guarantee it. It has a wide bottom, double walls, a hard rubber exterior, it comes in bright pink and lime green, and the handle is 6 inches long.”

You are looking at this monstrosity and thinking “So what? It’s butt ugly AND $10.”

“I think I’ll look around.” 

After about five minutes, you bolt for the door and try the store up the street.

“Welcome to the Dee Cup, I’m Dee. Can I help you?”

"I’m looking for a coffee mug for my squadron commander. He’s pretty picky about this kind of thing, so I want to make sure I get the right kind.”

“Oh, well where does he generally drink coffee? Does he need it for the office or for driving in the morning?”

“Well, he DOES drink coffee in the office, but he also needs to have it in his vehicle when we are doing search and rescue.”

“Ah yes, of course. Does he only drink coffee, or does he also need to be able to carry cold drinks in the summer?”

“Um, I hadn’t thought of that, but when we are doing summer searches, I’m sure he would want to be able to drink something cold.”

“Do you happen to know if he has cup holders in his car?”

“Excuse me?”

“Cup holders. You know, those little circular holes in cars that hold cups?”

“Oh, Heck no. We have this CAP van that is older than my parents. He usually just keeps it in his lap or props it up on the dash board when we are parked.”

“I have just the cup for him then. This mug right here has a wide, no skid bottom so that he can leave it on the dashboard without it sliding or tipping over. It has double walls that create an insulating barrier of air. This barrier will keep his coffee hot and his cold drinks cold. The handle is extra long so that it is easy to grab without looking, and the bright colors it comes in make it easy to find and identify.”

“Yeah, that sounds like just what he would want. Thanks”


Same product, same customer, different outcome.

What Dee did was called needs satisfaction selling. She gathered a little intelligence on the customer, and then used that intel to show the customer why her product was right for them. If the intel had been different, she might have sold the product differently, or she might have sold the customer something else entirely.

“Wow, that’s just peachy keen, Major, but how can I apply that to recruiting? I’m not selling ugly coffee cups.”

Glad you asked! You can do the same thing with recruiting. Instead of just spewing lists of activities and benefits at the recruit, try to get to know them a little bit. A teen that is really into airplanes may not care about PJOC and ranger school. Some kid who wants to be a Navy SEAL may have no interest at all in color guard or visiting air museums. By talking WITH the recruit instead of AT them, you can target the conversation on the things that they ARE interested in instead of hitting them with everything you’ve got.

When hunting squirrel for dinner, a few pellets from a bb gun will be much better than a hundred from the shotgun. Sure you can hit the squirrel with both, but only one gives you something to work with afterward.

Moreover, once you learn where their interests lie, concentrate on that, not CAP. Let’s say someone is interested in flying. Instead of saying “CAP has orientations flights, model rocketry, and AE classes. Come to a meeting so you can join”, try to build an entire conversation that addresses what the recruit is interested in. Look at the program from their point of view. Maybe something like this…

“We have regular aerospace education classes which give you a good foundation of knowledge about how aircraft work. We have orientation flights where an experienced pilot will take you up and give you some real experience in the cockpit. Each of the 9 orientation flights is different so you get something new each time.

"Once you have been in CAP a while, you can become eligible for a flight academy. This is really cool because if you are on your toes, you can actually solo at the end of the week. It’s intense ground school and air training, but it a great experience for someone who wants to be a pilot. It is also considerably cheaper than going to some local aviation school, especially if you can get a scholarship.

“Our AE officer can tell you more about that at our meeting. If you give me your phone number, I’ll give you a call and arrange for you to be able to attend one of our meetings.”

  “How do I gather that intelligence, Major?” This isn’t a hard as it seems. You simply ask them what they are interested in. There are a few questions that I have found that can lead to a good recruiting pitch. Here are some examples in no particular order.

  • “Are you interested in the military?”
  • “What is your favorite subject in school?”
  • “Have you ever been flying?”
  • “How much CPR and first aid training have you had?”
  • “What clubs or organizations do you belong to?”
  • “What kind of survival training do you have?”

 The answers to these questions will give you an opening to talk about how CAP does these things. I’m sure you could come up with some questions of your own. Now the answer to some of these may be completely negative. You may find that the person likes nothing that we do, but even that is valuable to you. Instead of boring some poor slug who couldn’t care less, you can use your time to go after someone who WILL be interested.

More importantly, people respond when you take an honest interest in what they like or feel. When you ask them about their interests and show them how CAP could address those interests, you aren’t someone who is just trying to sell a program. You are someone who is helping them fulfill their interests. That is going to win them over faster and more effectively than some rehearsed speech about things they don’t care about. 

Categories: Management

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