Vendors in the education industry should aim to understand administrators’ challenges and be helpful, not just make a sale.
By Jacob Hanson
Educators and ed tech companies have the same goal: to help provide the best education possible by inspiring and supporting today’s generation of teachers and learners. To achieve that goal, schools aim to implement the most innovative tools and instructional models to improve teaching and learning—but these changes don’t happen over night. It takes time, strategic planning, and professional development to ensure that students are receiving the absolute best education possible.
It’s like buying a new car. When you start to look at cars, you may not even realize your current car has any issues. Over time, you notice that the gas mileage you’re getting isn’t as great as it used to be. You start to look on the road for cars you may like, and you ask friends and family for advice. You conduct research, read reviews, go to the dealership, and shop around. It may not be until a few months later that you actually decide to make the purchase. Oftentimes, that purchase is made with the salesperson who is most trustworthy and has been the most helpful during your search.
While choosing an LMS may not be exactly like buying an SUV, educators and administrators do follow a purchasing pattern a lot like the one I just described. Many have ideas on technology or concepts they’d like to implement, but don’t exactly know where to start or how to ensure that it will be more effective than what is currently being done, so they start researching. That’s where ed tech companies have an opportunity to step in and provide the support and direction educators are looking for to best solve their problems.
Be a Helper, not a Huckster
Selling to educators isn’t like selling in any other industry. These decision-makers are bombarded by hype-filled messages from an explosively growing number of providers competing for their attention and business. The thing is, educators won’t invest their time or energy in a company they don’t trust.
Education decision-makers are savvy consumers. They want the best tools to make their teachers’ job easier, to make instruction more effective, and to increase student achievement. Here’s the catch: just like you, they don’t want to be sold to. They get information on new tools and solutions by reading industry-specific publications, taking to Google, and by talking to fellow educators about what works for them. So how can ed tech companies become a part of the conversation and build trust with educators? By providing advice, being a “friend” in the process, and meeting educators where they are.
Finding Your Audience
Sharing thought leadership is the 21st-century version of back-scratching: if you aim to help, to understand, and to provide support, your customers will support you. Instead of blasting out repeated messages about price breaks or new product features, ed tech companies are much better off conducting their own research to identify their audiences and understand how they can help. No two districts are alike. While they may share similar challenges, the devil is in the details. By truly understanding theses nuances, companies are able to personalize their outreach rather than taking a one-size-fits-all approach.
By showing a willingness to understand their prospects’ problems, ed tech companies are able to offer more specific advice, whether that be a story about how another customer solved the same challenge, or tapping an internal expert who has helped guide many other leaders through a similar situation. Remember, more often than not, your product is only part (potentially a small part) of the larger issues your potential customers are looking to solve.
Behind the scenes of every ed tech company, there is a team of masterminds whose passion is to improve student achievement and ease the heavy burden today’s educators carry. These folks come from a variety of different backgrounds, oftentimes the classroom or district office, and aim to understand educators’ unique struggles. By showcasing your company’s thought leaders to best support prospects and customers, you demonstrate that your company is larger than the solutions it provides. You start to become the valued partner decision-makers are looking for.
If you create and disseminate valuable, relevant, and consistent content that provides solutions to educators’ challenges, these professionals will see that you are not just interested in the sale, but share their goal of moving the needle for their teachers and students. This sort of genuine interaction through content is a great way to gain educators’ trust and become a reliable resource to help them grow.
What Kind of Content?
Just like you and me, decision-makers in our industry ask Google all sorts of questions, so ensuring that your content is findable in addition to being valuable is imperative. You can invest all the time, money, and energy in the world in creating great content, but it’s not going to help anyone if they can’t find it. To get started, you need to understand where your customers get their information as well as why they are looking for it. That may be through social media, your blog, a search engine or through word of mouth. Once you identify where your prospects and customers get their news, go meet them there!
As I mentioned above, educators often rely on testimonials or efficacy-based case studies from fellow educators to validate tools and solutions. More and more ed tech companies are showcasing their customers’ success stories to validate their solutions.
Along with customer stories, educators appreciate quick and easy resources that don’t take long to read. Many vendors are creating checklists, ebooks, infographics, and blog posts with quick tips. Oftentimes, this content is not designed to “sell” the product, but to provide educators no-strings attached advice on how to address their challenges, large and small.
Having a plethora of these personal stories and various types of helpful, dynamic content on a variety of topics will help you appeal to a large audience, build trust, and show that you are more than just a product. This approach demonstrates that your company understands your customers and is here to help. Don’t keep your expertise a secret—use it to help those you aim to serve.
Continuing the Relationship Past the PO
While sales are a clear milestone on the road to success, it’s important to remember that when the PO is processed, your relationship is just beginning. To show their value as partners after the purchase, ed tech companies should continue to engage with current customers and offer support such as professional development and other helpful resources. Educators will remember this sort of added value throughout your relationship.
By offering relevant content that doesn’t directly lead to a product, ed tech companies can demonstrate understanding of educators’ pain points, offer up relevant, timely help, and ultimately prove their value. Your company’s name does not always need to be front and center. The advice you can provide holds a much higher value in the eyes of your prospects, customers, and the education industry as a whole.
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Jacob Hanson is the managing partner of PR with Panache! Follow Jacob on Twitter @PRPanacheJacob. He comes from a family full of educators and is extremely passionate about public education and improving student outcomes.