As I post this, it’s mid-August. We escape the remaining dog days at the pool, the beach, and maybe even in air-conditioned offices. But if you market products or services to K-12 education, then now’s the time to build awareness. Now’s when you announce to the market who you are, why you’re special, and what makes your products so amazing.
Since K-12 education mostly purchases on a school year cycle, the marketing work done now for most products and services feed into the 2014-15 year that culminates in a summertime purchase. So right now, you’re firmly on the launching pad of your entire sales year.
So the clock is ticking. Loudly. You’ve got until mid-November to work past introductions and into the range of familiarity. That’s because in January, your core marketplace – K-12 school districts – are entering into the “Consideration, Trial, and Purchase” phase. So are you ready?
If so, here’s what you’ve got at your disposal:
An Outbound Plan
An integrated approach is key, since the best plans won’t tie themselves to a single outbound mechanism. We put a lot of weight on email marketing these days. Part of the problem with that is so does your competition, so prospecting lists are overused. While email communications should be a strong arrow in your quiver, an email only strategy might leave you lean in the leads department. Augment email with other viable direct-contact techniques.
An Inbound Plan
We hear a lot about inbound these days, but rest assured it’s not a fad. Inbound marketing programs build highly qualified leads, critical for smart business acquisition and to kick your outbound email campaigns into overdrive. By creating great content and making sure that it’s discoverable, you’re developing your potential customer base in an unassuming way. Tie together your inbound and outbound tactical approaches for best results.
A Wickedly Good Sales Presentation
If you have a strong sales channel, now’s the time to tweak the sales presentation to make sure it’s incorporating your most recent positioning and accurately represents your product offerings. A more modular approach to a sales presentation is always the way to go. It allows the right flexibility so your sales team can be nimble during the range of sales situations they’re likely to encounter.
A Top-Notch Web Presence
It’s the first place that your market will go when exploring the pros and cons of signing on as a customer. The money you invest in a quality website loaded with great content is money well-spent. Without a doubt, it’s the face of your business. The more that face is friendly, current, and loaded with customer-facing content that shows you understand and can help solve the biggest problems out there, the easier closing business becomes.
The Right Disposition
Hopefully July allowed for rest, relaxation, and some time to recoup. Because now comes crunch time, followed by the long-haul. And then it begins all over again! We serve an amazing, important, and at-times quirky marketplace. It takes a lot of work, but it’s always worth the effort. The rewards can certainly be amazing.
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.
If 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?
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.
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.
Outside 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.
Is 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.
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.
Among 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.
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…..
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.
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.
When 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.
#5: Be yourself. Be unique.