Conversations with a School Leader

From time to time Agile sits down with educators to find out how purchasing decisions are made in their schools and districts. This conversation took place with the Superintendent of Schools in a rural system in Virginia.

District Profile:
Over $25,000,000 annual budget
Over $8,000 per pupil expenditure
Two elementary schools, one middle school, one high school
Over 2,000 students
Over 400employees – over 200licensed teachers

Q&A with the Superintendent

What are the major items that are purchased by the district?
1. Turnkey mobile computer labs 
2. Transportation – all kinds
3. Textbooks

Who is responsible for selecting the vendor for those purchases?
Me, the superintendent.

Who within your district are decision makers?
IT manager, Innovation Leadership Group (department heads), Transportation Manager, Superintendent

During what parts of the year are purchases made?
We make most purchases in the early spring because of year-end money that we want to spend. And, late July and August before the school year begins.

How do you learn about products and services that the district may wish to purchase?
1. Past experience with vendors and particular products
2. Licensed dealers
3. Word of mouth

What makes you purchase a particular product?
Purchasing decisions are very collaborative and the input of my colleagues is the biggest influencer in what is ultimately purchased. Staff regularly come to me to discuss new programs or services.

What catches your eye most when you receive marketing communications?
The communication must be timely and relevant or I don’t look at it. E-mail especially must have a subject line that is relevant or I won’t open it. Communications that demonstrate that a product improves achievable results always catch my eye.

Do teachers ever have conversations with you about communications they’ve received and products they’d like to purchase?
Yes, but teachers talk with their Principal’s first about products they’d like to purchase. Principals then talk to me about the items needed for their schools.  

What are the most significant changes in spending in the coming year?
We have already experienced a RIF with a 10% decrease in staff. We will continue to have reductions in salaries and benefits because of a decreased tax base.

Take Aways for Education Marketers
 While Superintendents have the ultimate purchasing power they are not making purchasing decisions in a vacuum. It’s important to direct any marketing communications to several people within a district at various levels of the system. For instance, you may send a direct mail piece to both the Superintendent and the district-level Curriculum Director as well as to teachers who will be the end-user of your product. If you get teachers excited about the possibilities they will lobby for the purchase to their Principal who will take the matter up with the Superintendent. Make sure you leverage the power of school-level personnel to help you make a sale even when the sale is made at the district-level.
Make sure all of your communications are addressing the pain points of who you’re sending them to. What interests teachers about products is different than what interests a Superintendent. Be sure to customize your messages for your different audiences. Use personalization to let people know you’re talking directly to them and understand their needs. And make sure your messages are targeted to the key decision-making and purchasing periods throughout the year – early spring, late July and August.


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