Rookies in the education market make a set of common mistakes. There are five concepts you need to grasp about selling to schools that will help you avoid execution error as you enter the learning market. Consider these the iron laws of marketing to public schools. Accept them, nay embrace them, and your job will be easier.
In my consulting practice I go through these topics with almost all clients who are entering this market from other industries or countries. In this series I will post my thoughts on each of these rules and I welcome your comments and reactions. We will cover:
Part 1. Obey the calendar. Schools buy on a regular schedule, design your business around it.
Part 2. “Education” is not a target market – it’s an industry. No matter how great your product you need to pick a target market to focus on.
Part 3. This is a zero sum game. In order for you to win someone else has to lose.
Part 4. Teachers don’t have the time to take the rough edges off your product. Teachers make or break a product.
Part 5. It’s all about learning – mostly. You need to know the politics of selling to schools.
Iron Rule #1 Obey the calendar.
It doesn’t matter what you are selling – 60%-70% of your sales will come in the months of May-July. There are two reasons for this. First – most schools want to install, organize and train on new products during the summer when the kids are off. Introducing big changes during the school year is just too tough. Second, most school fiscal years go July-June. This means that they either have money left at the end of the year to spend in June or they are spending out of new budget authority in July.
This ebb and flow affects the entire business.
Sales – The fall season is spent generating prospects, during winter you demonstrate and write proposals, and spring is time to close the business. Deals do happen outside of this window (30%-40%) but they are spread over 75% of the year.
Product Development – In order to meet your goals you need to schedule product releases so that you can demonstrate them starting January 1 and ship them starting May 1. It may be necessary to pilot products starting Aug 1. If you are shipping an update it needs to be ready by May.
Marketing – Marketing works 2-3 months ahead of sales – creating awareness campaigns in the summer to run in the early fall, sales tools during the fall months, events during the winter months, and then planning for the next year in the spring.
Support – This group will always have a spike during the May-August time frame and it is useful to have a cadre of trained part-timers who can step in during these months to help with installation and training issues.
Finance – Your line of credit also needs to carry you through the lean months – make sure finance understands this.
I’ve worked in computer hardware, enterprise software, textbooks, supplemental materials, and education technology and they have all followed this schedule. You are not likely to be the exception to this rule.
In many ways this is similar to the retail world with their huge annual spike at Christmas. The good news is that with decent pipeline reporting you can usually tell several months ahead of time what your sales are likely to be. Budgets for education are set at the start of the year so there isn’t the kind of economic uncertainty you find in retail. Most of the companies I’ve worked for were able to predict within 10% what their annual sales were going to be by the end of the 1st quarter (usually January).