Selling Your Thing to Schools

By: Tekniska museet
  Ten tips for companies or individuals trying to sell to schools.   I am surprised at how often I am asked for tips or advice on selling things to schools. I am quite open in saying that ‘selling’ is not really my area but I guess that calling yourself a ‘consultant’ suggests ‘salesman’ to the minds of many people.  
So, for anybody, individual or company, interested in selling their thing to schools, here are my tips and advice;
1) Make sure your product or service is relevant. The main purpose of schools is to educate pupils, so make sure your product is educational or can be used in teaching or learning. There is also a good amount of administration that goes on in schools, you might feel your product or service fits more with this. That’s great but first please make sure that your product doesn’t create more administrative work for staff but fits in with current administrative needs and, ideally, makes the tasks easier.
2) Understand the role of technology in schools. Be wary of the belief that the role of computers in schools is to ease the burden of admin for teachers so that they have more time for teaching; this is a lie. At no time have computers resulted in less work for teachers and many teachers are fearful that they create more work.
3) Get to know your customers. I would have thought that this would be central for all salesmen but what do I know! You are not really selling to ‘schools’ you are selling to a person, get to know that person and their job. Take the time and effort to listen and understand them an what they are trying to do but, and this has to be a careful balance, do not waste their time.
4) Build a reputation and a track record. I guess reputation is essential in education as in other fields. It is difficult to explain the success of a company such as RM in education. How can a company that sells overpriced, underspecified computers to schools do so well? You will find few people in the field of educational technology who have a good word to say about RM, in fact many people see them as ‘whipping boys’ to be slagged off at any opportunity. Yet, the company has done extraordinarily well in English educational technology and that is mainly down to the fact that people know them as an educational company with a track record of working in the education sector. If you do not have a track record of supporting and understanding education, how can you expect your customers to take you seriously.
5) Offer something for nothing. ‘Education’, unlike other ‘markets’, is not going to use your product or service to help it make money, nor is educational computing about saving money. So there is little financial motive for schools to adopt your ‘thing’. This is perhaps the biggest difference between education and other areas such as business or commerce and it is one which will trip up many companies trying to sell into education. Schools like to try products before they buy them, which is not unreasonable, especially as it is unlikely to be the user or person you sell to who will benefit but, hopefully, the pupils they teach. So always be prepared to offer trial periods and consider the ‘freemium’ models which offer a certain level of functionality at no cost and improved features with a price.
6) Ask yourself who your customers really are. Schools are mainly buildings, they don’t buy anything so trying to sell to them is a waste of time. So ask yourself who is your thing for? It could be for teachers, it could be for admin staff or maybe it’s for the pupils. In which case try to tailor your promotional material and your marketing efforts for the right people. Obviously, if your product is for pupils, then schools will not view you favourably if you try to market to them through the school but kids aren’t always at school so try to market to them (or their parents) at home or elsewhere where kids hand out (do they still use that phrase?)
7) Don’t Cold Call. You can try but, to be honest, it is likely to be a very frustrating experience. Teachers are very busy people and usually haven’t got time to talk to you on the phone. Heads, Deputies and Heads of Departments may have a bit more time for you but first, you’ll have to get through the receptionist, who’s probably been told not to allow any cold callers through! Email may be a bit better but don’t expect a reply immediately! So if you can’t cold call, you have to find other ways to market your products; be imaginative, attend educational events, look to support or sponsor events, maybe arrange your own events (and see 8 below)
8) Show your face and your logo. Get yourself known within education circles, attend education events, network with staff or even try running your own events for education. There really is little to beat networking and getting to know potential customers by face. Don’t always be selling, though, remember you’re there to get to know people and make contacts.
9) You do have a website don’t you? It is expected that anyone and everyone will have a website nowadays, and a facebook page and a twitter account. In fact, some people will visit a company’s website for evidence that the company is genuine, is active and for background information. So do make sure your site is up to date and that as much information as a customer may need is available via the site and via your facebook page and also make sure that you are active on twitter (e.g. make sure any twitter enquiries are answered promptly).
10) Hey, where are you going? Don’t sell a ‘thing’ then move on with the money in your pocket. Nobody likes this, including schools. Keep promoting your products and services to your new customers, let them know ways of using your thing and the ways other people are using it. Make the school feel valued for having bought into your thing and often they will promote it for you!
So that’s my ten tips, if anyone has any more please let me know.

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