By: Jacob Hanson
When COVID-19 forced districts around the country to move to distance learning this spring, some edtech companies inundated schools with marketing messages for products that may or may not have been helpful. As the school year ended, an article in THE Journal summed up many educators’ marketing fatigue: School Superintendents to EdTech: ‘Please Stop.’
Hundreds of edtech companies showed enormous goodwill by offering their products or services for free during the school closures. Some of those used a “free for now” approach and are currently facing the tricky transition to asking those inundated superintendents to pay for a product they’ve been getting for free. What I’ve been reading and hearing from education leaders is that they more than likely won’t continue using the vast majority of the free tools that their teachers used in the spring. Due to severe budget cuts, they may not even have the ability to evaluate these products, even if they have been effective.
Companies are going to have an extremely difficult time converting these free users to paid. More often than not, these tools were being used at the virtual classroom level, without a CAO dictating what teachers can and can’t use. Now that it’s summer, districts will be asking hard questions: Is this content research-based? Is it actually effective? Do they have evidence? Another recent article, in Hechinger Report, pointed out the perils of edtech companies touting research that turns out to be “shoddy.”
Facing all these headwinds, how can edtech companies make the sales they need to keep the lights on? Here a few suggestions.
Expand Usage of Existing Customers
For all the reasons I mentioned above, now would be a great time to take a hiatus from cold-calling. Districts leaders are much more likely to work with trusted partners rather than trying to implement a new solution. For salespeople, that means it’s time to look at your existing customers and see how you can expand usage across more campuses or grade levels.
If you can, take a hard look at usage data and offer a clear value proposition for why expansion makes sense for your customer. This will be an effective approach for you both. The good news is that these current users have already evaluated your product and made the decision to purchase at some level, so you’ve already cleared a huge hurdle.
It’s Better to Be Trusted than Disruptive
Even if you had very positive conversations with district leaders prior to the school closures, be very cautious in how you approach them now. I’ve heard that some superintendents have started a blacklist based on the volume or disruptive way that companies have marketed to them. If you end up on the list, that district will never do business with you again or in the first place.
A sounder strategy is to move away from overtly “sales-y” tactics and look at how can you be in places where these folks are going to find their information. What are you doing on social from an organic perspective or a paid perspective? What are you doing from a PR perspective? What are you doing from potentially an influencer perspective?
Influencers are a perfect example of the power of trust. If they earned the trust of their audience for very specific reasons before the pandemic, that trust is still there. You may not see the exact same results you did six months ago, but district leaders will still respond to those folks who have earned their trust.
On Twitter and LinkedIn, I suggest seeking out new chats or groups that have popped up around specific topics or challenges that your brand can contribute to. The right approach is essential. Interrupting a Twitter chat of administrators getting to the meat and potatoes of their issues by chiming in to tout your SIS is going to get you nowhere.
In the absence of in-person meetings, edtech providers have to build relationships the same way we’re doing a lot of things these days: through a screen. I actually feel like this could benefit companies that historically haven’t had field reps or a travel budget. They actually have a leg up, because it's the only way they know to connect with their prospects.
Once you’re gotten to that coveted phone call or Zoom meeting, resist the urge to distort what your product can do to fit the current situation. I saw this when Common Core first started and some companies slapped a sticker on their products saying “Common Core-aligned.” The same thing happened when social-emotional learning (SEL) became a buzzword. Companies that barely touched it found some way to connect to SEL. Now is not the time to try to be more than what you are.
With all the uncertainty facing districts this fall, the best thing any company can do is show how your solution can be seamlessly used in a brick-and-mortar classroom setting, at home, or in some form of a blended model. Good luck, and we look forward to hearing your success stories!
Thanks for sharing!