Purchasers, Users, Influencers: Sorting Out the K-12 Market
I’ll just come out and say it. K-12 education is a whacky market. Typically, if you market and sell curriculum products, the person who purchases your educational solution doesn’t use it, and probably doesn’t even understand it (Purchasing/Business Office). The stakeholders (Superintendent/District Curriculum Director) generally have nothing to do with its implementation or use. The implementers (teachers) frequently — and oftentimes mistakenly — aren’t targets of your marketing or sales initiatives. And you never market to the actual users (students).
So what rabbit-hole did we fall into here? Is this all starting to make sense yet? If not, no worries. Look through the looking-glass and come to terms with the fact that you’re operating in the strange, strange land of K-12 education. While there’s no easy way to short-circuit these quirks, there are ways to make sure your marketing and selling is pointed in the right direction.
Think Beyond the District.
District-level administrators are a constant target of educational providers. With good reason. They are the overall stakeholders. But if you focus on districts only, you’re ignoring the power of influencers. Market to both influencers and decision-makers using top-down, bottom-up tactics to ensure you maximize your efforts.
Keep Districts in Mind, But Not As the Main Focus.
Another ramification of a district-only strategy is accessibility. It’s very hard to get the attention and hold the interest of district-level personnel. Go to those coveted supervisor conferences. Get district-level lists and keep them in play. Overall, there aren’t that many district staff as a percentage of the entire marketplace. But as noted before, augment your efforts with influencers.
Keep Site-Based Educators in the Mix.
In many regions and in many instances, school sites make a large amount of curricular decisions. That certainly is the case if your business is supplemental materials. While all providers want to land the big fish with a district-wide sale, sometimes the best starting point for that to happen is to be successful at a school in the district. So for elementary schools, target principals. For secondary there’s a lot to choose from, but consider subject-specific department chairs.
Good Things Happen in the Summer.
If you ignore the sales cycle in education, it’ll run you over. A majority of school orders occur over the summer and feed the coming school year. Plan your marketing year with the knowledge that you’re building awareness in the fall, and driving consideration, demos, trials, and so on in the spring. You can lose an entire sales year if you don’t adhere to this, and that will be painful for your business.
Market to Needs, Not Product Attributes.
While we all love our products and services, we frequently rely exclusively on product attributes in our marketing. If we don’t speak in terms of educator need, we’re not getting through with our messages and communications, and we’re likely contributing to the illusion that our products are commodities. Avoid sounding just like the competition by digging deeply into what educators need, and how your company serves that need.
K-12 is certainly a whacky market, deep in complexity. A lot of providers don’t have the time or patience to navigate through it. That leaves opportunities for those who do. As with any discipline, diligence and the smart application of our insights pay off, and lead us out of the rabbit hole.