Navigating K-12 education sales can be tricky. Unlike in many industries, selling to the K-12 market “requires you to understand the whole education ecosystem,” says Paula Reed, President and CEO of BizEducation Consulting. This ecosystem “varies from region to region, from state to state, from district to district and sometimes from school to school.”
View the Webinar: How to Navigate Sales in the K-12 Education Market
Reed has spent many years learning the ins and outs of education sales and marketing. During a recent webinar hosted by C. Blohm & Associates, she shared the following insights into how companies can increase their sales to K-12 schools and districts.
Align your sales and marketing efforts.
If your sales and marketing teams aren’t in complete alignment, then they’re pulling you in different directions—and it’s almost impossible to reach your goals. Reed tells the story of a company she worked with that invested thousands of dollars in marketing materials, only to throw those materials away when the sales team discovered they didn’t resonate with clients.
While education sales and marketing personnel have different roles, “they should be in sync with their messaging,” Reed says, “which should show how the (company’s) products or services match what the market is seeking.” Make sure your sales and marketing teams attend the same training and have opportunities to collaborate in developing messages that are effective.
Do your homework.
A key challenge in selling to schools is that each district operates a little differently, with its own unique power dynamics and purchasing processes. The more informed you are about your customers and prospects, the better prepared you are to navigate those various dynamics.
“One of the biggest complaints of school district leaders is when sales reps show up and haven’t done their homework,” Reed says. “You should always know as much information about a district and the people attending your meeting as you can in advance. The biggest no-no is to walk into a district meeting and ask the superintendent, ‘So tell me about your district…’” Sales staff can use websites such as Niche to learn as much as they can about the demographics of a district beforehand.
Read articles in the education trade press daily. “You need to keep up on all the trends and what is going on in education,” Reed says. Also, peruse recent school board meeting notes to gain insight into a district’s priorities. “You can learn a lot about what people are talking about in communities,” she explains.
Research your competition, so if you’re sitting in a meeting and someone says we have such-and-such a product already, you’ll know how to compare your services with those. Join education webinars and networking groups to learn about the industry. Understand how procurement processes and education funding work.
“The more you’re in the know,” Reed says, “the more administrators will respect you.”
“Doing business in the K-12 marketplace is all about relationships and how you build them,” Reed observes. “If anyone tells you anything different, they are wrong. It may sound cliché, but building relationships is truly the key to success.”
Building relationships is about more than just making contacts with people via a networking event. Exchanging professional information may provide you with notes about someone, Reed says, but that’s only a start. To build a foundation for a relationship requires much more.
“Have compassion for what educators are going through right now,” she advises. “Understand their challenges. Build connections with school district cheerleaders—those folks who find your products and services to be wow.”
Building a business relationship takes time, energy, true interest, and follow-up, Reed says—and “being genuine and authentic always helps.”
Keep the focus on students.
Student success should always be at the forefront of your marketing materials. Have research done on your products and services to verify their impact on student success. Design graphs and charts to demonstrate the results visually. Make sure your sales reps can explain these results in simple terms.
If you can show that your product or service has a positive impact in students, “you will win,” Reed says. “You might have the greatest technology platform or the finest equipment for schools, but seeing screenshots or pictures of equipment doesn’t emote a need for change. When you share out how your product helps students in whatever way, that’s the best marketing tactic.”
For more expert advice from Reed on how to successfully navigate education sales and marketing, see her full presentation here.