Selling to Schools (Part 1)
By Len Scrogan
The challenge of selling to schools reminds me of a flowing description I penned in a soon-to-be published book:
Imagine a river, deep and fast, charging downwards through a majestic canyon, slowing to a crawl as it ambles its way through a lush green valley. Although a winding river may at first seem unremarkable in its flow and function, it is actually teeming with hidden complexity. Upon closer inspection of a river we unveil a lively, changing, and connected environment, one consisting of currents, undercurrents, pools, eddies, meanders, weirs, swells, and even flood cycles.
My careful analogy is this: Like rivers, selling to schools is never that simple. Much like a river, selling to schools offers hidden complexity. In a recent discussion between a group of educators and ed-tech industry folks at a large national conference we all agreed that, in education, there is no single homogeneous customer for displays, content, services, or solutions. To the contrary, the decisions for procurement of technology by schools can be labeled according to these diverse models:
Model 1: The district makes nearly all of the decisions. Students and teachers don’t. All purchasing is strongly controlled and filtered by organizational gatekeepers.
Model 2: The district makes the decisions, but does so in collaboration with teachers; teacher advice is solicited broadly or sought individually through teacher representation on adoption committees. I have even seen the gatekeepers overruled by these collaborators.
Model 3: Purchasing decisions are logically split. The district may be the decision maker on a core portfolio of resources, while individual schools can still go ahead and buy anything else. In other words, the district makes make some decisions, (with or without collaboration from teachers); schools can do the rest. And yes, school-level gatekeepers can be just as protective as their district counterparts—especially if they happen to be a school principal or a powerfully influential lead teacher.
Model 4: Purchasing decisions and authority are splintered. The district purchases items they perceive as enterprise-important; the schools can acquire items that are community-important; lead teachers or department heads can procure essential departmental or grade-level resources; and — wait for it — teachers can supplement through own classroom budgets. This approach is, of course, far more complex than the previous models; it’s an open playground, not a walled garden.
Model 5: Students or teachers create their own. Although this rarely applies to hardware acquisition, it is a phenomenon we do see in schools in the arenas of content and services: students or teachers create the content as opposed to purchasing it. Students and teachers provide technical services within the school as opposed to procuring it from the outside.
The above models should prompt some worthwhile deliberative thinking. If your company is going to sell to schools — hardware, content, services or solutions — can you see beyond the calmly mesmerizing currents of what you may already believe about the educational market? Can you instead peer deeper and recognize the tremendous hidden complexity inherent in selling to schools? Here are some important questions you should ask yourself about selling to schools:
- Do you really understand the diversity of the school market? (See this insightful infographic)
- Do I have the best situational strategies in place to sell effectively to my educational customers, based on the models above?
- How will we know if, in fact, we are using the right strategy for our target marketplace?
- Do your marketing plans merit an “all the above” strategy for reaching the education market? (Again, I am referring to the models listed above.)
- Most importantly, do your independent or in house sales reps really understand the complexities outlined in the above models, and know how to navigate these waters?
In selling to schools, do you just see a placid and unremarkable river?