Outbound Marketing to K-12 Education: Top-Down, Bottom-Up

A top-down, bottom-up market approach.
A top-down, bottom-up market approach.

For those of you who are veterans of selling and marketing to K-12 education, you already know what a challenging market it is. It’s a place where purchasers, influencers, and users are a tangled and confusing jumble of business office staff, administrators in district offices and at the school site, and classroom educators. It’s a market that differs from state-to-state, and each district may have distinct practices that make it unique. And Common Core isn’t going to make it any easier.

For traditional K-12 educational selling, sales generally pursues district-wide or multi-school orders, what’s termed “top-down” sales. Their communications are to high-level administrators. Direct outbound marketing can add reach and awareness by focusing on school-based influencers – critical to a purchasing cycle within education– with a “bottom-up” strategy. It also establishes and reinforces key messages to both influencers and decision-makers, greatly increasing brand awareness and making the sales process work smoother.

Depending on product offering, smart direct outbound tactics can uncover sales opportunities that don’t require sales rep intervention. This frees rep time to pursue larger opportunities rather than chase smaller and less significant accounts. When marketing and sales works in a coordinated effort with this “top-down bottom-up” strategy, the potential for increased business is significant.

DM to K12 Ed CoverIf K-12 is your marketplace, then download the free 16 page white paper Direct Marketing to K-12 Education: A Review. Topics include:
• The First 7 Steps: How to Initiate a Direct Marketing Program
• Will It Work for My K-12 Business?
• Who Should I Target?
• The Contact List: The Lifeblood of DM
• What’s Most Important in a Direct Marketing Initiative?
….and more.

Your Personality is Showing: Don’t Let Boring Messaging Kill Good Marketing

Einstein having fun
Your Personality is Showing.

Regardless of what you market, from ball bearings to particle accelerators, you communicate with people, not companies. People don’t want to be talked at. Like you and me, people want to be talked to. We don’t want to hear another blatant sales pitch. We want to know that our needs are understood and can be met.

And we don’t want to be bored. Having a serious product in a serious marketplace does not mean you need to have dull and droning marketing. Boring = no interest = no sale. But, like most things in life, it’s just not that easy.

Read my Business2Community post for tips on personalizing your messaging and trim the blah blah blah from your writing.

Still Relevant: Direct Mail Marketing to K-12 Education

Emptier than they used to be.

Direct mail is very old. Like 150 years old. But sometimes, erroneously, old is viewed as irrelevant, especially in our hyper-speed, Mountain Dew fueled digital world.

For outbound, digital tactics have all but eclipsed direct mail marketing. And in many, many ways, that’s a great thing. Digital offers some enormous benefits, like speed to market, quick testing opportunities, and lower costs.

But the success of any outbound marketing program is based heavily on list quality and responsiveness. This is where outbound digital-only marketing plans suffer. Email lists are difficult to keep clean and relevant. We typically have at most two physical addresses, home and work. We have change-of-address forms to make sure our addressing information is up-to-date. But most of us have many email addresses. Old work addresses, unused email accounts (like gmail, yahoo) that are needed to take advantage of proprietary software. If someone is prospecting to those addresses we don’t actively monitor, the emails are getting through but aren’t getting read.

Another issue is that — and this is based on my own experience — most companies don’t work very hard at or know how to keep their email lists clean. Many times lists are scattered, reside far and wide within the organization, and are filled with questionable email addresses.

PostmarkOutside of some retail catalogers, most companies are doing less direct mail, if any at all. The overall perception is that mail costs more; it’s more labor intensive; it takes too long to get out into the marketplace; and a very real issue….no one on staff really knows how to do it.

All are valid concerns. But I believe adding mail as part of an overall integrated outbound strategy when marketing to K-12 offers an opportunity to stand out, be noticed, and drive revenue. Here’s why:

Educators are a mail market.
Educators like mail. It’s a high visibility, low-interruption tactic.  I’ve been sending mail to K-12 educators for 20 years. Many have specifically told me that this is what they do: they initially scan an offering and if there’s potential, they file the mail in their drawer. When budget time rolls around, they revisit their mail file and see what might fit their upcoming needs.

In-boxes are jammed. Mailboxes aren’t.
Since we’re heavily reliant on email marketing, educator’s in-boxes are overstuffed with offers. Since there’s less direct mail than there once was, mailboxes offer an opportunity to stand out.

Works well within the K-12 purchasing cycle.
If your product or service taps school budgets and is purchased on a school cycle, you’re sending lead generation messages in the fall, and move to order generation messages from January until May. But ordering typically doesn’t happen until the summer. When the purchasing season rolls around, an educator can put a sticky-note on a direct mail piece that says “order this for me please” and forward it to their business office for purchasing. Because of that, mail survives the rigid timing cycle much better than email.

In conclusion, direct mail shouldn’t replace your outbound email marketing strategies, but rather augment them. As part of an overall integrated outbound program, don’t dismiss mail until you test its merit.

More resources.
If you’d like more information specifically on how to structure your own direct marketing program to K-12 education, download the free e-book on the subject from Insight29.

For more about direct mail in our digital world, read the Forbes piece.


The Recipe for K-12 Marketing Success

School BuildingIs there a single recipe for K-12 marketing success?

All businesses are different, and so are the nuances of what they need to do to succeed. But there are definitive foundational elements to building, maintaining, and running a top-flight company whose marketplace is K-12 education.

What follows is a list of what’s important to successfully do business in K-12. Or in any marketplace, for that matter. If you’re interested in more in-depth information, you’ll find it in The K-12 Marketing Toolkit, a 13-page PDF that’s available for free download. Or Direct Marketing to K-12 Education, a free 16-pager.

If it’s broke, fix it.
In my opinion, there’s nothing worse or more damaging to a business than repeating tired, vague tactics that don’t yield results. There’s a saying that they teach people learning fire safety: stop, drop, and roll. I’ll reapply the saying to further my point. Stop doing what isn’t working. Drop it like a bad habit. Roll out something different. And quickly. Make status quo thinking a four-letter word.

Make something, sell something.
It’s a simple statement, but a vitally important one. Product-driven companies focus on the “make-something” side, on occasion at the exclusion of the “sell-something” part of the business. Other companies will shortcut product development to speed a product to market. Not too good. Bake your marketing and selling into your company, just as you do for product development.

Master your channels.
Single one-offs aren’t going to get you very far, or create the groundswell you need to build awareness or sell. Coordinate your efforts so they become bigger and more impactful. Just doing more doesn’t mean success. Doing more of the right stuff means success.

Onward ho.
By the same token, your marketing should be a long, slow march. If you pay attention to your marketing efforts only on leap years, you’re going to find your business having some serious performance issues.

Time it right.
This is vitally important. Timing is everything when marketing products or services to K-12. Unless you’re tapping discretionary teacher spending, then you’re tapping school budget. And like immutable laws of physics, rules definitely apply for decision-making and spending. And even the most aggressive offer in the universe won’t change those cycles one bit.

Alway remember that keeping to the fundamentals is key. Start with a strong business plan. Always consider the path to market. Sell, sell, and then sell some more. Keep as lean as you can without hurting your operation, and in particular, your customer. Have great customer service and customer care. Understand cost structures. Recognize opportunities, and come to terms with barriers as they present themselves. Marketing and selling to K-12 isn’t easy, so go to school on the K-12 marketplace: know how difficult it is to navigate, and know what you need to do to have your voice stand out among the multitude of other voices.

Photo:  Buckyboot

Social Media & Caveman’s Fire: The Evolution of Social Media

FireAmong the leading questions I’m asked is “how do I best take advantage of social media for my business?” And there are good answers to that question. Creating content is one. Building relevant networks is another. But what I’m finding is that the real question I’m asked is “what the heck is social media, really? And please help me to make some sense of it!”

We once tamed fire. We learned how to best control it to do remarkable things like keep us warm and cook our food. While a dramatic analogy, social media is in some ways like the early interactions with fire. We know it has amazing potential. It can and already has opened new avenues and possibilities for worldwide communication. But how do we fully come to terms with it?

Though confusing for some, or maybe most, we’re exactly where social media should be right now. And like early fire, social media has untold benefits once we understand how to best use it.

Sit by the fire, relax, and read the full article at Business2Community.

Use Consumer Tactics to Enhance Your B2B Marketing

Business and professional markets respond to the same tactics used in consumer campaigns. People at work are still people. There’s no such thing as marketing to institutions, only people, and they’re very much consumers too. And what works, well, works.

But wait, there’s more!
Certainly, not every consumer tactic will get results. But specific tactics that you should consider include…..

  • The timed offer.
  • A call to action.
  • The right price.
  • Clarity of message.

Act Now!
Read the complete posting on Business2Community.

Bragging Rights: 5 Tips for Using Demos as a Marketing Tool

Demos do this.
Demos do this.

We all know that proper positioning of our products is essential. But for a strong and lasting business, even the most brilliant positioning will never take the place of showing off your great offering using demos. When you have great product, bragging rights apply.

So use demos to showcase your offering while building awareness and understanding. Product demonstrations hold enormous sway in the sales cycle, and if done properly and can significantly speed the process. And they do not only have to be part of a one-to-one or one-to-group sales presentation. That opportunity may take a long time presenting itself. Or worse yet, it may never do so. Demos should be accessible to prospects during the information gathering process, as well as being an integral part of outbound communications.

Some here are some recommended guidelines when creating your product demo:

Keep it light.
In part, your demo is a highlight reel of how your product works, why it’s important to the marketplace, and how users can benefit. So keep it brief, informative, lively, and showcase your best stuff.

Open doors let the customers in.
Open doors let the customers in.

Keep it accessible.
If you’re concerned that your competitor will gain access to your demo, guess what? They’re intensely more motivated than your prospects, so they’ll gain access regardless of the roadblocks you put up. So what you’re really doing is blocking access to your prospects. Don’t make it hard for anyone to see your overview demo.

What to see more? Then take names and emails.
You want to collect some contact information so you can remarket to those who have shown more than just a passing level of interest. One great way of proceeding is to create a shorter overview demo, and offer a second demo that’s more in-depth and detailed. Open access to the detailed demo by requiring a name and email. If someone balks at leaving behind their information, odds are they were never intent on becoming a customer anyway.

And then…..gently use those names and emails.
The point of building this contact database to remarket, but not more frequently than every 2-3 weeks or so.

There are many very good demos out there to provide you with inspiration. I recommend scouring the sites of competitors and also those outside your marketplace. This will give you ideas to allow you to broaden your approach and allow you to produce a truly standout demo.

One final tip: pay very close attention to the scripting of the demo. While all components – graphics, branding, imagery, pacing, background music, vocal choice, and so on – are important, you’ll find a clear, concise script that ties into your overall messaging and brand promise is the foundation for making an impactful video.

The K-12 Marketing ToolkitOnline demos are just one tool in your marketing arsenal. For those of you who create educational products and services, you’ll get a deeper look at others in the free 13-page pdf guide The K-12 Marketing Toolkit: 11 Essential Components.

 Photo:  Richard Croft


5 Ways to Keep Your Messages Simple. And Effective.

KISSWhen you keep your communications simple, you’re creating access. And clarity. And that allows your core message to be heard louder and clearer.

It’s the difference between being on point. Or rambling around its peripheries.

The KISS principle certainly applies to messaging, as it does to most things we do in life. But when we create outbound communications, there sometimes exists a habit to “kitchen-sink” the information. We become adamant in our attempt to tell the marketplace everything about our business and its products in the nanosecond we have to catch and hold attention.

By doing so, we add to the noise rather than detract from it.

Five ways to allow your outbound messaging to cut through the noise:
#1: Keep it simple.
#2: Edit ruthlessly.
#3: Meet needs.
#4: Differentiate.
#5: Be yourself. Be unique.

Read the complete article on Business2Community.

Photo:  Hey Paul Studios

K-12 Education Marketers: Arm Your Reps with a Winning Sales Presentation

You can win here.
You can win here.

It’s marketing’s responsibility to make sure the sales team is fully on message, so provide them with a top-notch, killer sales presentation. With one at their disposal, one that they can used in nearly all selling situations, then you’ve made important strides to maximize your sales potential.

So what are some attributes of a really great, highly effective presentation?

Adaptibility. If you design your presentation to be modular – able to be cut into any number of independent components on the fly – then you’ll be arming the sales organization with a valuable tool. As they uncover specific needs, they’ll be able to focus in on those needs and sell in a more strategic way.

Simplicity. Yes, the KISS principle applies. Make it protracted, make it complex, make it about anything other than how you solve pain points, and you might as well be talking to your dog. And you’ll get the same vacant looks from both your dog and your prospects. (Though your dog will still love you regardless. Site-based and district stakeholders, well, they won’t).

Go Talk StopBrief. Being self-indulgent with other people’s time is a sure way to ice new business. Go too long in a meeting, and even the most engaging presenter begins to sound like Charlie Brown’s teacher. Waawawa wawawa wa. Pass that point, and you’ll get no sale.

High-Interest. Use multimedia, use anything visual, but do all you can to say away from droaning, mind-numbing bullet points. Let’s face it, we all know that presentations can be boring, boring, boring. You don’t have to do magic tricks and saw a person in half; but if your presentation induces narcolepsy, then you don’t need me to tell you that the sales group won’t use it and you’re launched right back to square one.

And if your marketing team can’t provide sales with a presentation that meets their needs? Then among other things, you’ll certainly be dealing with…..

Brand dilution. And confusion.  Marketing is the brand Sherpa. They’ll be sure to overlay the proper branding in your sales presentations to keep it consistent and clearly communicated.

Inconsistent messaging. As a component of branding, marketing is the message Sherpa too. So if you don’t define that message and let your reps deliver it to the marketplace during their calls, then it’s a certainty that the efforts will not live up to potential.

Lower sales. That’s because top-notch reps will be spending way too much time devising their own presentations instead of selling.

The K-12 Marketing ToolkitIt’s marketing’s responsibility to provide the tools to instill a solid brand and to help facilitate the sales organization’s tireless quest to grow the business. If you’re interested in learning more about what’s required specifically for the K-12 educational marketplace, download a free copy of the 13 page PDF guide “The K-12 Marketing Toolkit: 11 Essential Components.”

Photo:  Luis Argerich

The K-12 Marketing “End Zone”: January through April

So where did all my customers go?
So where did all my customers go?

January is the “beginning of the end” for all of us who market to K-12 and rely on funding from school budgets. It’s the start of what can be termed the K-12 marketing “end zone.” January through April. It’s during that period of time when we aggressively market our wares to align to an incredibly and at times intolerably rigid purchasing cycle. If tapping school budget dollars, that cycle culminates with purchases made during the summer. Miss the cycle, and you’ll find that your product or service radically misses its potential for the school year. And you have to wait 12 months for a repeat. That’s a long time for even the strongest of businesses.  You’ll likely find your business prospects are left out in the cold.

So the scenario plays out like this: you’ve spent the fall growing awareness and gathering prospects. That’s great, that’s exactly what you should be doing. Now is the time to move prospects through the funnel, and transition them from cold to warm. In general, you would have spent about 40% of your annual budget during the months spanning late August to mid-November.

But when the holidays are over and the chill of January settles around us, out comes the big marketing guns, and it gets serious. That’s when you shift gears from awareness-building messages to those that ask for business. It’s the time of year when you tell your best prospects exactly why your product meets their every need, and work hard to have them nod their heads in agreement. It’s when your call-to-action shifts from the “take a look at this” messages of the fall to “buy before June 30th and get this amazing deal!”

So just a few ways to make the most of the next four months: Purchase cycle Jan - Apr

Email Deployments
• Create and deploy outbound emails routinely from now through the end of April. Begin to lean it down in mid-April.
• Keep the outbound cadence steady, but keep your prospects interested. How? Deploy at most 2x per month to the same contacts.
• Vary your messages. Too much repetition will not keep your prospects reading.
• Keep it personal. If your contact record is from your own database, you should be able to personalize it.

Special Offers
Now’s the time to have offers designed to stimulate action. Like messaging, offers that are out of sync with customer needs can have a numbing effect on the sales process. Two things are critical with offers for the next few months: that you’re increasingly handing out your best ones, and that they’re intended to lead to a purchase.

I’m sure you already know that webinars are a great way to engage and inform, and also to grow your prospect base. If you don’t do them already, then you should start. They can cost-effectively create a pool of warm leads very quickly. Record the webinar, and provide it on-demand on your website, with name, email address, title, and school/district affiliation the cost of admission.

As you work your initiatives over the next four months, be sure to gear your messaging to a definitive call-to-action that leads to a purchase. Now’s the time to be serious, or you’ll find yourself having to wait a long, long time to latch into the next budget cycle.

Photo:  Christopher Michel