Guest blog post by: Warren Hawkins, Student, Harvard Graduate School of Education

Selling to schools can be complicated, drawn-out, and ultimately disheartening for many early stage edtech companies. However, there are strategies you can implement that will improve your outcomes. Last Wednesday, Jillian Hufnagel, vice president of sales and operations at Private School Innovator, shared her thoughts on maximizing the fruition to frustration ratio of a K-12 private school sales campaign.

1) Hone your message.
You dial the number of a target school and after a few rings hear, “This is Sharon of X Academy, how may I help you?” What is your pitch? If you don’t know or it takes you more than 15 seconds to deliver it, you need to invest more time in developing your pitch. It’s critical to tailor your message to the needs of the person and school on the other end of the call or email. Through research, questioning, and being conversational, you can identify specific pain points that your product addresses and make these the core of your pitch. Regularly schedule internal sales meetings for your team to practice and provide feedback on pitches.

2) Expect pushback.
A strong pitch alone will not close the deal. From budget constraints to implementation concerns, schools will have a multitude of objections and you’ll need to be ready to address each one. For example, let’s say you call a school to promote a digital resource and are told, “sounds interesting, but we can’t put any student information online.” It’s helpful to meet with your CTO to gain a better understanding of your company’s technology and how best to address potential concerns. Your product will need to be FERPA and COPPA compliant. In addition, you should be able to share resources that address security features. Once you’ve identified customers’ biggest concerns about your product, you should be ready to discuss them and offer thoughtful responses that show you thoroughly understand the issues.

3) Understand your decision-maker.
Perhaps you have determined that the principal is the ultimate decision-maker in terms of deciding whether the school will purchase your product. It is equally important to identify other gatekeepers, stakeholders, influencers, and users that interact with that decision-maker. For instance, being cordial with the office manager who receives incoming calls is crucial since that person is a gatekeeper in terms of connecting you to the principal or passing along your message.

Other examples include:
• Gatekeepers: front office staff and the leadership team
• Stakeholders: parents and community members
• Influencers: board members and other private schools
• Users: students and teachers

4) Be aware of budgeting cycles.
There are over 33,000 private schools in the United States. Not only is it important to know where the bulk of these schools are located, but also it’s critical to understand how they operate. Regardless of a decision-maker’s willingness to purchase your product, the school’s budget will likely determine whether you close a deal.

That’s why it’s important to reach out to schools as they are solidifying their budgets for the next school year since decisions are still fluid at this point. For most private schools, this occurs in mid-summer. However, other schools sync their budgets to the calendar year, which means they finalize their budgets in January.

Percentage of Private Schools in States

Map of US

5) Build internal champions.
An enthusiastic company founder is not enough to ensure the success of an education product. You will need to cultivate excited teachers and schools that can share their experiences with potential customers. Start by identifying a pilot school that your team can work with closely and provide with a lot of customer support. From there, leverage users that are big fans of your product by asking them to write blog posts and share them through social media. In addition, include a compelling testimonial in your email signature. Schools are also highly influenced by other schools, so consider connecting prospective schools with schools that champion your product.

6) Manage your metrics.
Goal setting may be difficult at an early stage, but is important nonetheless. Most of your metrics will be based off the calls and events that your team has been able to execute. Once you know your sales funnel process, you can begin to determine the conversion rate of each stage. This will allow you to project how many calls or other sales events will be required to reach a particular sales goal. Moreover, it is critical to adopt a customer relationship management system like Salesforce to keep information updated and actionable.

Example of a Sales Funnel

Sales Funnel

Not only can these six tips enhance your success as you are just starting out, but also they are futile if you do not build and maintain credibility. If you tell a principal you will call him or her back in two months, it is crucial that you follow through with what you said to demonstrate your reliability. With a strong game plan and the trust of current and future customers, there is no limit to how much you can grow your company.