Education Market Leadership Series: Part 2 of 6

How to Reassess Education Marketing and Sales Processes in a Changing K-12 Market

Companies are consolidating. Publishers are re-strategizing and re-reorganizing. Developers of educational products and services are selling to districts with historically tight budgets. And the districts themselves are rethinking the way they buy given the various pressures and uncertainties in government. All these elements are beyond the control of leaders who are being held accountable for their companies' success. So what can your company do about its core "go-to-market" sales and marketing strategies in order to stay relevant in a changing school market? 

This is the second article in the Education Market Leadership Series. Before you read on, I suggest you quickly review the introduction to the series and the exercise I proposed in article #1.

Rule of Thumb: Don’t Get Trapped by Legacy Mindsets

In my previous article I discussed a simple but critical step of company leadership: acknowledging what they can’t control. In that article I also bluntly stated that people who work for companies that serve the education market love their products more than their customers do. I say this because I see it often. A big part of my job as an objective advisor is to help identify blind spots and denial issues. These can come from legacy attitudes or company identity narratives that aren’t as true as they used to be, yet still drive the organization’s overall thinking and behavior. 

The way your employees see your company determines the stories they tell about the company (consciously or unconsciously), and therefore, determine what everyone in the organization believes. That overriding belief, manifest in the organization’s collective mind, is what determines which issues, problems, solutions, or market forces the company’s leadership team and employees will or will not consider, and how they will consider them. Further, these stories and beliefs affect a company’s processes. It’s important to understand this causal link between the company narrative and the company processes, because once we establish processes, we have a tendency to make them habits. In other words, after a time, our processes go unexamined. When a market is in flux, as it is in the education industry, unexamined processes may lead to less than stellar outcomes. 

The Quintessential Process to Re-examine Your Processes

In order to maintain, reestablish, or even create continuing relevance with the school market, I developed a sequential process that helps leaders reexamine their processes so they can stay as relevant and connected as possible in a changing market. I call it the Quintessential Process because it helps uncover less than ideal processes and reveals what type of process will yield optimum results. This process has four steps:

  1. The Assess Phase. An open and honest assessment of the company’s self-definition and self-perception in the context of its market will reveal potential blind spots, denial issues, and weaknesses. One way to do this is to conduct a survey of employees and customers. There are two key things to keep in mind for the Assess Phase. First is asking good, hard questions. Second, the results must be evaluated and considered with an open mind. If your leadership team isn't open to the results you might uncover, then this exercise will be a waste of time. The leadership team must determine whether objectivity can be achieved by an in-house effort or if an outside facilitator would keep things more objective, given the personalities and proclivities of your leadership team. My experience is that the latter option has a much better chance of uncovering issues and analyzing the results objectively.
  2. The Accept Phase. As discussed in my previous article, it is very difficult to direct energy, mindshare, and resources to a new reality when we are stuck in old mindsets. Accepting the assessment is critical to creating a path to move forward. Without full and complete understanding and acceptance by the leadership team—and subsequently, throughout the organization—a company will have difficulty making the right adjustments.
  3. The Adjust Phase. Adjusting allows your leadership team, and eventually your employees, to take the newly-revealed realities and either adjust existing processes, or create new ones that will allow them to thrive in that reality. Over-adjusting—due to fear or aggression—can be just as debilitating to an organization as making the wrong adjustment.
  4. The Advance Phase. Most people resist change. It’s just human nature. Once your leadership team reevaluates how your employees (collectively, your organization) define themselves using the Assess, Accept, and Adjust phases, it is easier—actually natural—for the entire organization to behave to that new definition. Employees can (and will) change the way they go about their business if they understand and accept the new driving definitions that will move the business forward. We behave according to what we think is true—whether it is actually true or not. That's the way our minds work. When organizations fail to make necessary changes, it’s usually because the organization is still clinging to old definitions that drive old ways of thinking and behaving.

Two Examples of Reassessment: Closing Thoughts for Leaders in the Education Market

The Quintessential Process™ not only uncovers and identifies core debilitating issues, it also reveals the most effective way for you and your leadership team to change processes in order to create optimal outcomes and fully optimize your business. The process is also key to uncovering big new opportunities.

Leaders of companies that serve the education market will find value in looking outside our industry for examples of how important it is to reassess. A good example of this is when Apple stopped defining the company as the enemy of Microsoft and began defining itself as a company that introduces technology that is so disruptive that it redefines entire industries. A bad example is what Kodak did when it invented the digital camera. The company that was defined as inventors, innovators, and, largely, film developers, failed to find a way to take advantage of a technology that would eventually render film irrelevant.

It's funny how most of the business world missed the irony of Thursday, January 19, 2012. That day Apple, once a struggling computer company, announced a new technology that promises to revolutionize the textbook industry. It was also the day that Kodak—a company that once owned 85% of camera sales and 90% of film sales announced it was filing for Chapter 11. The company that owned the film processing business failed to uncover blind spots and denial issues that led to nearly fatal business processes. When markets change, processes need to be reexamined. In closing—it's a simple statement of fact that, like Kodak, too many leaders of businesses that serve the education market ignore, to their own detriment, the need for reexamination.

For the next article in this series, we’ll dive a bit into the sales process and discuss The Four Rules of Engagement, as well as whether to throw out your current product demonstration.


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About the Author

Joe Caruso is owner/founder of Caruso Leadership, a management consulting firm that advises education companies, as well as CEOs, Admirals, and Leadership Teams from every industry on optimizing outcomes by applying the principles of The Quintessential Process. An author and frequent education industry keynote speaker, Joe’s best-selling book "The Power of Losing Control" has been featured on PBS and an audio series from Nightingale-Conant. Learn more about Joe and his work at

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